Many Greeks would prefer stability to democracy
Under the present regime, the country as a whole is unsustainable
Protesters from the Communist-affiliated trade union PAME shout slogans during a rally yesterday against the government’s plans for cutbacks in medical staff and hospitals in Athens. Photograph: John Kolesidis/Reuters
I would not be surprised or even shocked to see tanks rolling into Athens to signal the advent of a military junta. Apprehensive, but not surprised. It will almost certainly not reach that point, but citizen apathy at the poverty of political life, and despair at the continuing economic decline, are setting the scene for a potential takeover by forces including the military, police and far- right political parties such as the fascist Golden Dawn (GD).
A coalition of such forces would offer not only stability – a one-party state or even a no-party state – but no-nonsense determination to deal with the conditions of a country which sees no way forward under present dispensations.
A judicial investigator, attempting to assess the culpability of Golden Dawn MPs in relation to a recent murder and membership of what is in effect an illegal organisation, has stated that the party’s aim is “the dissolution of the democratic system of government”. That system has been abused by successive governments to such an extent that its suspension would be welcome to many disillusioned Greeks.
Meanwhile, the call by the union of reserve military personnel, for abolition of the government, repudiation of the bailout programme, the expulsion of illegal immigrants and the establishment of a government of national unity, chimes chillingly with GD’s policies.
A coup in 1967 led to a military junta for seven years. Greece became a police state. One of its leaders declared categorically, “whoever is interested in human rights in Greece is a communist”. So much for democracy. Its anti-democratic behaviour included disappearances and torturings, as reported in gruesome detail by this newspaper’s Peter Murtagh in his book The Rape of Greece.
But that was several years before Greece joined the EU in 1981. If it happened today, the EU would most likely expel Greece, which would certainly exit the euro zone, a step which would upset few Greeks. The bailout was (as the IMF admits) a mistaken panic measure to save the euro rather than saving Greece. Today, the people among whom I live don’t give a damn about the euro, and they look enviously at the likely end to the Irish bailout.
Today, the passivity of citizens, already exhausted by successive waves of austerity and degradation led by Brussels and Berlin, would reduce the likelihood of any meaningful opposition to military rule. Many Greeks, quite apart from the fascists, would agree that the prospect of stability and a dependable vision of the life to come is more important than democracy, and better than the life they currently lead.
It would, nevertheless, be a police state. It is widely believed that the police have been infiltrated by GD (this is under investigation), thus creating a strong ideology and a threatening presence on the streets. A police state would be Europhobe, xenophobic, and brutally harsh on its opponents.
A government spokesman recently said, “We have used up all the fat in the economy” – referring to Greece’s inability to reduce public finances any further to meet troika demands. With the fat has gone the elasticity and resilience of the man in the street in both financial and intellectual terms.
It is unrealistic and unfair to compare Greek statistics with the EU norm, even with the similar Irish financial mess. Unemployment, the banking crisis, tax evasion and corruption are specifically Greek problems. Under the present regime (or lack of it) the country as a whole is unsustainable – politically, economically, socially, culturally and morally. A hardline government could be achieved by the expulsion of the existing middle-of-the-road cosy coalition of New Democracy and Pasok, the so-called socialists. The chief alternative is a coalition of the left (Syriza), the possibility of which has increased the rightist vote.
Public opinion has moved slightly away from GD. Parliament has voted to remove immunity from nine of its 18 members, and suspend state financial support for GD as a political party. But current opinion polls still place GD with 7 per cent of the national vote, down from 12 per cent at its highest. This would still leave it with three more seats in parliament than it already holds.
And it is not only politicians who are decrying the status of Greece. At a London conference in mid-October speakers referred to the risk Greece runs of becoming “a failed state” unless it addresses “ineffective governance and lack of public confidence”. It was argued that “targeted constitutional correction and an internationally-sponsored programme of economic reform” is the only way to save Greece and the euro zone. Whether an attempted, failed coup would give the government a sufficient wake-up call is unlikely. Greece is a tragedy waiting to happen.