Greece gives Europe a chance to awaken

Greece gives Europe a chance to awaken
Greece gives Europe a chance to awaken

The unexpectedly strong NO in the Greek referendum is a historical vote, cast in a desperate situation.

I was informed that in Athens people are telling a new version of a joke that originally circulated the Soviet Union in its last decade about Rabinovitch, a Jew who wants to emigrate. In the new version a young Greek man visits the Australian consulate in Athens and asks for a work visa.

“Why do you want to leave Greece?’ asks the official.

“For two reasons,” replies the Greek. “First, I am worried that Greece will leave the EU, which will lead to new poverty and chaos in the country…”

“But,” interrupts him the official, “this is pure nonsense, Greece will remain in the EU and submit to financial discipline!”

“Well,” responds the Greek calmly, “this is my second reason…”

Are then both choices worse, to paraphrase Stalin? The moment has come to move beyond the irrelevant debates about the possible mistakes and misjudgments of the Greek government. The stakes are now much too high.

The fact that a compromise formula always eludes in the last moment in the ongoing negotiations between Greece and the EU administrators is in itself deeply symptomatic since it doesn’t really concern actual financial issues—at this level, the difference is minimal. The EU usually accuses Greeks of talking only in general terms, making vague promises without specific details, while Greeks accuse EU of trying to control even the tiniest details and imposing on Greece conditions which are more harsh than those imposed on the previous government. But what lurks behind these reproaches is another, much deeper, conflict.

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras recently remarked that if he were to meet alone with Germany’s Angela Merkel for a dinner, they would have found a formula in two hours. His point was that he and Merkel, two politicians, would treat the disagreement as a political one, in contrast to technocratic administrators like the Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem. If there is an emblematic bad guy in this whole story, it is Dijsselbloem whose motto it: “If I get into the ideological side of things, I won’t achieve anything.”

This brings us to the crux of the matter: Tsipras and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who resigned after the vote in an effort to help future negotiations, talk as if they are part of an open political process where ideological decisions are to be made. The EU technocrats talk as if it is all a matter of detailed regulatory measures. When the Greeks reject this approach and raise more fundamental political issues, they are accused of lying and of avoiding concrete solutions.

It is clear that the truth is here on the Greek side: the denial of “the ideological side” advocated by Dijsselbloem is ideology at its purest—it masks as purely expert decisions which are effectively grounded in politico-ideologies.

[Extract. Appeared in Newsweek, on July 7th, 2015. (full text). Also appeared in New Statesman.]