Since the elections of May 6, Greece has dominated media headlines in Europe, with the focus being upon the Greek left party SYRIZA who – on a platform of reversing austerity – won the second place. As negotiations with the other political parties came to a standstill and failed to produce a viable government, new elections have been announced for June 17.
Greek citizens will once again have the opportunity to vote again on the austerity program that has devastated their lives for the last two years. The unemployment rate has passed 21 per cent, more than 30 per cent of small businesses have closed down, while half of Greece’s youth are without work. Wages have fallen by a third since 2009 and more than three million people today live in Greece with less than 300 euros, while prices in basic commodities have been sky rocketing. At the same time, suicide rates are on the rise in a country that had once the lowest suicide rates in the world. As a result, and because of the economic depression it has created, the austerity program has failed to meet its fiscal targets and the country’s debt continues to mount.
However, far from advancing a discussion on the fact that a European society is being dismembered by austerity which failed to give the long-needed fiscal reforms, and accountability which, on the contrary, shrunk the country’s economy by nearly a fifth; the political and media debate is portraying Greece as a spoilt child that needs to be taught a lesson. Democracy is being replaced by a dictatorship of media and financial institutions that through the means of an ideological terrorism are determined to push further devastating austerity programs with very little discussion over their necessity and their efficacy. In this blunt atmosphere even the constitutional right of a nation to decide upon its fate through legitimate elections had been severely undermined by those voices that try to reduce the importance of the electoral vote to a referendum on whether or not Greece should stay in the Euro.
Warning over an ‘unfavourable’ result of the upcoming elections in Greece, the British PM David Cameron indicated – from the NATO summit in Chicago – that an ejection of Greece from the euro is credible and preparations are being made in that direction. In the same line IMF head Christine Lagarde warned from London that if the Greek people reject the austerity measures in the forthcoming elections “then someone has to pay the price”, alluding that the tax payers of the other members of the euro zone would have to support Greece financially for longer.
It is becoming evident that in times of crisis, democracy is in peril. In countries such as Greece and Portugal, democratic control over economic policies has been suspended for the foreseeable future. Portugal is the third country to be bailed out after Greece and Ireland and the austerity measures have plunged the economy in deep recession. All major parties in Portugal agreed upon a bail out conditional on measures that include tax hikes; freeze on state pensions and salaries; and reduction of unemployment benefits. After the defeat of the Socialists who signed the $114 billion bailout bringing deeper social cuts in the country, a coalition government of conservatives and right wings parties sworn to implement the radical neo-liberal policies in the country.
From the very beginning citizens in Greece have opposed to the austerity measures with general strikes, demonstrations and occupation of squares. The answer was unjustified police brutality, tear gas, injuries and the attempted murders of journalists and citizens (police brutality has a long history in Greece and even the murder of teenagers by the police forces is not unprecedented). In the last protests of February 2012, the coalition government of the conservatives and the socialists headed by an unelected banker approved additional harsh austerity measures while more than one hundred thousand people had gathered outside the parliament. The protests ended up in clashes with the riot police amidst clouds of tear gas and flames.
When police brutality is not effective, ideological terrorism by the mainstream media and the political elites begins. What we actually experience is a shift toward an undemocratic, authoritarian way of making decisions in Europe on economic policy. The European political and economic elites fail to understand that democracy and social justice, values upon which the concept of the European Union was built, are now being undermined by unilateral imposition of severe social cuts and wages slashes that impoverish nations and give rise to extremism and chaos.
The debate is not just about growth and austerity, although Europe has failed to produce a good policy of balancing growth and fiscal reforms. The major question is as to whether people are allowed to master their own choices or if they will be swept aside by a dictatorship of a powerful elite that imposes its will over the people.