Democracy vs Markets
What the Italian referendum tells us about the state we're in
"Evviva la libertà." The message appeared on my screen, oozing a kind of palpable joy. Hurray for freedom. It was sent by my friend Tiziana, who lives in Rome. We mostly communicate via Facebook. Lately, her posts have been mostly about two things − the Italian referendum and a Pasolini memorial event she was taking part in.
Tiziana is an actress, an acclaimed one. She has a vast experience in theatre, film, television, she has even performed alongside Irene Pappa. Lately, though, she mostly does voiceover work; the crisis that looms over Italy (and the European south in its entirety) has taken a toll on her career options.
For those analysing the outcome of Sunday's vote in Italy, Tiziana is a victim of populism, persuaded by the appealing but empty rhetoric of comedian Beppe Grillo and the unholy alliance between the backwards-leaning left and the far-right nationalists, who deny the benefits of globalisation, growth, the eurozone.
It is not an Italian phenomenon − it is the same all over the world; when the US people vote for a loud-mouth celebrity, like Donald Trump, for president; when the British decide to leave the European Union; when the Greeks vote against the terms of their lenders, saying that they lead to a distortion of industrial relations and the suppression of the middle class.
Both the Italian and the Greek referendums had something in common. They were both seen as a vote of dissent towards the European Union, despite the fact that in both cases, the mandate was different. In the case of Greece, 'yes' to the memorandum meant that the Greek people would accept the fact that the country is a debt colony, having surrendered its sovereignty to the European bureaucracy. When, in 2012, The New York Times started printing reports of what is happening in Greece under the austerity measures, the country was described as the battleground for a waging war between democracy and the markets. Reality has justified this reading of events, and especially when it comes to the newspapers estimates that Europe is seeing an erosion of its social fabric.
All this was clear in Sunday's referendum outcome. What was officially at stake was the constitutional changes that would allow for the Italian Senate to be under the prime minister's control, in order to be able to pass through the reforms he wanted to, essentially imposing on Italy more of the European Union austerity policies. Matteo Renzi could not go through with these reforms, as he was facing a hostile Senate. He was not the first country leader in the same situation. Barack Obama had the same experience and he still blames the US Senate − which is controlled by the hard-right Republican majority − for his failure to implement the 'Change' he promised in 2008.
Here in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull is forced to go through a long, exhaustive negotiating process with backbenchers in order to gain their support for the bills he wants voted. But that is the nature of democracy − or rather, representative, bicameral democracy: creating the kind of consensus that is beyond parties and niche interests, to pass legislation for the benefit of the broader community.
Renzi tried to surpass this, to neutralise the Senate, thus making one of the pillars of Italian democracy (for all its problems) toothless, irrelevant, redundant. Favouring the eurocentric dogma of austerity-as-a-one-way-street over the country's institutions, Renzi was met with the punishing vote of a people not very eager to understand why there's no alternative to the growth doctrine. Once again, a leader too transfixed on the markets proved unable to hear the people. And yet, Italians have always been concerned with the route Europe is taking. Anyone who remembers the first days of the eurozone can recall the time when Italy shifted from the lira to the euro and the outrage of the Italians who saw prices being driven up with no logical explanation, as also happened in Greece and elsewhere.
Ever since that time, European bureaucracy has been trying to appease the people, dismissing concerns and offering words of reassurance. The 'invisible hand of the market' would work its magic and bring balance to the system. This did not happen, but don't expect the European Union missionaries to accept it. Facing people who react to the loss of sovereignty, to the mandatory submission to the demands of a central leadership located in a distant part of Europe, they come back with a dismissive rhetoric that further alienates the people from the centre of decision. On one side, there are those who constantly express their discontent for the way things are evolving, who feel afraid, threatened, pressured, disillusioned. And on the other side, a leadership that suggests 'the proper' sentiment. As long as the second side refuses to hear the first, voters will go towards those who are willing to give value to their concerns. Even if they're lying.
So far, it is the right-wing xenophobes who have been exploiting − as usual − this kind of turmoil. As paradoxical as it may seem, it is not uncommon. Whenever democracy is in crisis, those profiting from it are the enemies of democracy, presenting themselves as its champions.
Anyone concerned with this turn of events − and that should mean anyone who believes in democracy − should stop turning a blind eye to this and do something about it. Not by lecturing and admonition. But by changing the policy that drives people to the extremes. By choosing a side. By choosing democracy over the markets.
- Register Now
- Tsim Booky speaks to Neos Kosmos
- Is your Greek property on forestland?
- Milo Yiannopoulos' forthcoming memoir will not be published in Australia
- Women of Greece taking to the rugby field
- Greek Tourism Professor wins another international award
- The Vow of the Nation
- The 'Bell Bearers' of Eastern Macedonia come to Melbourne
- Corruption still riding high in crestfallen Greece
- Roar signs former Greek international defender
- Enosis Day vote threatens Cyprus talks
- Tsim Booky speaks to Neos Kosmos
- In memory of 16-month-old Nikki Adipas
- 'The New York Times' picks Greece, Australia and Cyprus among best places to visit in 2017
- Greeks among the hardest-working population in the world
- James Penlidis has the answer: Go naked!
- 138 violations of Greek airspace by Turkish aircraft
- Bougias of Bourke Street
- Bulleen project to set Melbourne up as Hellenic global diaspora headquarters
- WWII Bomb forces people to evacuate Thessaloniki
- When Melbourne went blue and white
Chicago is a case study in chain migration, as relatives and fellow villagers sponsored others to come over, and this process continued for several generations
The Greek crisis is primarily a crisis of values, and so far no government has managed to restore the credibility of institutions and create standards of integrity.
My Big Fat Greek Week.
The outright majority points to the German government as cause for delay, while support for Syriza remains strong
The inaugural Womens Community Shield will be contested at Olympic Village on Sunday.
Both parents self-employed, grieving the loss of their daughter and unable to work, reach out for help to cover the high costs of the headstone after the burial last week.
Dean Kalimniou reflects on the GOCMV's general meeting for the Bulleen project, and the overwhelmingly unanimous vote amongst its members.
The Greek Community of Melbourne expects a large turnout on Sunday at the special and general meetings.
The newly promoted club put its best foot forward in the NPL1 season opener, equalising against last season's grand finalist Oakleigh Cannons.
Last weekend Northcote City began its new campaign to win promotion back to the top tier on the right foot.
Zelena Cafe Bar & Restaurant is the complete experience: delicious food, coffee and friendly service in an A-grade setting.
How does the accounting profession perceive data and utilise it to access funding? One of Australia's online lending platforms to small business answers this question.
The Victorian Association of Argos Orestikon will continue to operate within the Greek Centre on Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.
Fringe World Perth 2017 welcomes the symbiotic ethos of art, technology and myth as showcased by Australia's leading Greek creatives.
The Greek champion makes her first appearance on an Australian trackfield on Saturday, at the Nitro Athletics Tournament
Avraam Papadopoulos is headed back to the country of his birth to continue his football-playing career in the A-League.
Bouzanis's absence couldn't have come at a worse time for City ahead of this week's home match against Brisbane Roar.
Greek Australian photographer wins building development argument with his neighbours by baring it all.