In Athens in the 5th Century BC the city was governed by tyrants who exploited the people for their own advantage, indeed under Draco (who gives us the English word draconian) instituting harsh laws to entrench their privilege. The Athenians expelled the tyrant, the son of Peisistratos in 510 BC and had the radical idea of not replacing him, that they didn’t need somebody to rule them, they, the people, would rule themselves. They developed the notion of citizenship, Freemen of the City of Athens who had not been debarred for a crime, and instituted δημοκρατία “Rule of the People” which we know today as Democracy. Thus Athens became the first city to be ruled by its Polis, its people, the beginning of what we now call “Politics.”
Greeks have voted in an election to bring to power the radical leftist Syriza party, which has pledged to take on international lenders and roll back painful austerity measures imposed during years of economic crisis. Victory for Syriza, which has led opinion polls for months, has produced the first euro zone government openly committed to cancelling the austerity terms of its EU and IMF-backed bailout programme.
“In Greece, democracy will return,” the party’s 40-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras told a throng of cameras as he voted in Athens. “The message is that our common future in Europe is not the future of austerity.”
The Syriza win represents another turning point for Europe after last week’s announcement by the European Central Bank of a massive injection of cash into the bloc’s flagging economy after years of trying to clamp down on budgets and pushing countries to pass structural reforms. The Eurozone is run colonially – with Greece as a troublesome outlying territory and Germany as the dominant and most exacting power. Syriza is the logical, desperate response to this. If I were a Greek, I might well think: “Why not vote for it and see what happens? I have little to lose.”
Economist Kevin O’Rourke asked recently
“Where in the treaties does it say that Eurozone monetary policy should be run in a sub-optimal and deflationary manner, thus increasing unemployment, putting the public finances under pressure and worsening economic distress more generally, so as to force other peoples’ governments to do things that the Germans think are good for them, but that have nothing to do with monetary policy?”
Message to Berlin? Alexis Tsipras’ 1st act as Greek Prime Minister was to deposit red roses at the memorial to Greeks killed by Nazis – 7% of the Greek population were killed in WWII – They rolled Mussolini’s’ Italians back through Albania in 1940 and Hitler delayed invasion of Russia to send troops to Greece. After the war those who collaborated with the Fascists became the Government with Britain’s help in a vicious Civil War and those who bravely fought the Nazis were killed, exiled and criminalised.
The right wing Governments under the wing of the ridiculous “King” were hugely corrupt and led to the notorious Greek Military Junta which fell in 1974 after the debacle over Cyprus. The PASOK Socialist Party of George Papandreou then tried to “get even” with pork barrel politics and stuffing its supporters into sinecures and protected industries which were previously reserved for right wing patronage. Greece entered the economic crisis of 2009 with all these structural economic weaknesses based on these pork barrel politics, protectionism and the fact that the “Golden Greeks” did not pay taxes and needed a 179 million Euro bailout, which has increased since, to stay solvent. Nobody in Greece trusts the Greek Banks, Courts or Public Services and dealing with any organ of the Greek State is a real trip back in time. Meanwhile under the self defeating austerity imposed by the Troika (IMF, ECB, EU)the economy has shrunk by a quarter,1 in 4 are unemployed but that is one in two of young people and real wages (which were not great to begin with) have declined by 40% in 5 years. There is real hardship and a desperation in Greece which has been kept floating by Tourism and remittances from the Greek Diaspora. The truth is the modern Greek economy makes very little the modern world wants and the great talent of its young people has been comprehensively squandered and suffocated.
Best of luck to Greece and Alexis Tsipras – bringing Democracy “The rule of the people” back home.
And to Germany which viciously destroyed Greece and never paid anything like adequate reparations I join the Greeks in once again saying όχι – No!