Facing up to Greece’s nightmare

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“This is a nightmare and will get worse,” my friend Maria wrote in a text today when I messaged her to say I was thinking of her in these terrible days for Greece.

On Twitter, Greeks are saying they feel numb, use words like broken hearted, many feel they may have no choice other than to pack their bags and leave the country, either because they know they won’t be able to survive what’s to come, or can’t bear to see their country finally disintegrate.

Through tactics described as “mental waterboarding” the Greek government has been brought to heel, during a weekend when the three principles underpinning the European Union were “torched” according to Fintan O’Toole. On TV news the coming and going of the men and women in suits, the statements to the media, the political speak, all suggest business as usual, common sense, a right ordering of things. But all this political play belies not only the suffering and hardship being inflicted on Greece, but also the fact that what’s happening isn’t reasonable, it’s “revenge-fuelled madness”.

Most of the mainstream media in the UK, completely unable it seems to break with the line that European leaders are models of reasonableness, failed to question what lie behind the Troika’s reaction to Syriza’s refusal to impose more austerity, or what Mariana Mazzucato describes as its, “total lack of appreciation of the reforms that had begun”.
Instead,

…the media fuelled this process and the rest is history, as the papers have of course been full of what happened next—often treating on a personal level (attacking Varoufakis or Tsipras) what should have been treated with socio-economic reasoning.

Back in 2013, I wrote about Greece, asking happens when the mood of a whole nation can be characterised by hopelessness and despair? Two years later, the election of the left wing party Syriza in January was a chink of light, that friends who knew the odds were high described as “playing our last card”. Less than six months later, what has been exposed is the extent to which Europe will go to prevent any alternatives to austerity being implemented.

It’s clear that Greece had few friends during the discussions – in an interview with the New Statesman, Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister suggested that the governments that might have been expected to be the most sympathetic towards Greece were actually their “most energetic enemies”.

He said that the “greatest nightmare” of those with large debts – the governments of countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland – “was our success”. “Were we to succeed in negotiating a better deal, that would obliterate them politically: they would have to answer to their own people why they didn’t negotiate like we were doing.

Yet the hashtag #Thisisacoup, which originated in Barcelona and trended worldwide, suggests that many people in those countries, the rest of Europe, and worldwide, opposed what the Troika was doing to Greece.

If recent events raise important questions about representation and accountability, they also highlight the need for those outside the country to support Greeks in ways that respect their agency and don’t impose unreasonable expectations on them, as Alex Andreou observes:

It is revealing of the political landscape in Europe – indeed, the world – that everyone’s dreams of socialism seemed to rest on the shoulders of the young Prime Minister of a small country. There seemed to be a fervent, irrational, almost evangelical belief that a tiny country, drowning in debt, gasping for liquidity, would somehow (and that somehow is never specified) defeat global capitalism, armed only with sticks and rocks.

Andreou also expressed a weariness similar to others on Twitter that non-Greeks have been lecturing them for “capitulating”, berating them for not pushing the GREXIT button, accusing their prime minister Alexis Tsipras of being a traitor:

My question to those critics is: What battles are you fighting in your country, city, town, right now? And at what risk? Are you not, in fact, just as bad as the hardcore austerity ideologues that want to experiment with a “toy country”, with people’s lives, and see how it pans out?

Perhaps recriminations are easier because what happened to Greece forces us to confront our own powerlessness, or ask ourselves what it is we can actually do up against such powerful forces. By retreating into arguments about what could or should have been done we avoid confronting the full scale of the loss. It’s tempting to cling on to a sense of certainty, even when it’s clear previous narratives do not apply.

Of course, it would have been fabulous if a plucky country like Greece could have stuck one to Europe. What we have seen, however, is the lengths Europe’s leaders and financiers will go to prevent that happening. That’s a reality we have to look long and hard at, as well as the fact that Greek people will be living this for a very long time. Those of us who have felt any solidarity with Greece and have been shocked by what has come to the fore in Europe these past days will then have to ask ourselves ‘what now’?

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