Greece as a proving ground for corporate-backed nationalism.
On May 11, 2012, I posted a SitRep entitled Is There A Civil War in Greece’s Near Future? In that post I got some things right and some things wrong. Sure enough, a new election was called, the Greek people swung their vote more to the left, Golden Dawn lost seats in the parliament, and violence from the Golden Dawn party has increased. However, the Greek voters did not swing as far left as I anticipated and the increase in Golden-Dawn-backed violence has been more focused on immigrants than left-leaning Greek citizens. I believe the Greeks would have swung further left to give SYRIZA the narrow win but a not-so-veiled threat from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had its intended impact on middle-of-the-road voters with PASOK, New Democracy, and the Democratic Left forming another coalition.
I was premature to think that Golden Dawn members would immediately start attacking fellow Greek citizens when a more obvious target was easily available, immigrants. As this video shows, attacks on immigrants are becoming quite brazen in public and although the party is being investigated for impersonating police, voting numbers suggest it may not be impersonation but collusion. If there is collusion with Greek police and Golden Dawn, then the words of Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panagiotaros in this BBC video must be taken seriously and not dismissed as mere right-wing rhetoric:
Even though no one likes this, Greek society is ready to have a fight. A new type of civil war; on the one side there will be, let’s say, nationalists like us and Greeks who want our country to be like as it used to be. On the other side there will be illegal immigrants and anarchists and all those who have destroyed Athens several times… and Greece.
Golden Dawn is at war with the political system and the people who are representing it. We’re at war with domestic and international bankers. We are at war with all these illegal invaders [immigrants]… We are against everyone.
Panagiotaros goes on to claim that 50 to 60% of police are supporters of Golden Dawn and polls show that Golden Dawn is gaining popularity among the masses as well, jumping up to 14% of public support compared to the 7% it received in June’s elections. In the same poll, SYRIZA is again seeing the public support it enjoyed in the lead-up to June’s elections while PASOK, New Democracy, and Democratic Left are seeing their numbers drop as they try to pass more austerity measures, privatize more of Greece’s public infrastructure, and try to cover up the infamous ‘Legarde’s List’.
Austerity measures have sparked riots across Europe, but with the weakest economy in the EU, Greece is seeing a polarization of its population on a scale not yet found in other countries like Italy, Portugal, and Spain. As the general malaise in Europe deepens and more people find themselves squeezed by the economy, nationalist parties in Germany, France, England, and other countries will gain popularity. Greece is not the anomaly in this situation, it is the harbinger. If your German is up to it, a good overview to watch would be a documentary from the Swiss television network, Schweizer Fernsehen, entitled Europa in Zeiten des Aufruhrs: Hour of Nationalists or Europe in Times of Turmoil: The Hour of Nationalists. In the video Marine Le Pen, leader of the French party, National Front, says the Euro and immigration are the problem and similar political parties in other countries should join together against the loss of individual national identity and servitude to the EU.
Greece has been implementing austerity measures increasing taxes and decreasing incomes since 2010 causing a spike in the numbers of people considered to be at risk of poverty. In spite of the burdens placed on Greek citizens from austerity measures, the troika delayed the release of round three of the bailout loans even after the Greek coalition pushed through an austere budget that might have too high price politically. Several MPs of the coalition government voted in opposition and approval polls for the coalition parties plummeted while far left and right parties gain momentum. The troika leaders then took a begrudging stance towards the two-year extension needed for Greece to implement other austerity measures helping to fuel nationalist sentiment in Europe as a whole.
The Greek economy is expected to contract in 2013 by an overly optimistic 5%, but with the 2013 budget eliminating an estimated 10,000 jobs, the economy will probably contract even further. Greece and its creditors know that a contracting economy cannot pay back a debt burden that is currently 200% of GDP, so other means of paying the debt back must be undertaken, which could be why the current coalition government also passed a privatization law that made it easier for the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund to continue its work as “the largest divestment programme in the world.” No investor is going to willingly take the repeated massive losses holders of Greek bonds have in the form of the absurdly named ‘haircuts’ without getting something in return. The return could quite possibly be the most literal form of debt/equity swap financial institutions have ever undertaken in the form of buying Greece, one asset at a time, in the privatization market through ‘private investors’ who go unnamed.
Unnamed entities buying Greek land, public services, and companies through a technocrat-run fund where the sources of funding are opaque at best could be seen by nationalists as an extension of the type of money-laundering taking place by the people on Legarde’s List. As Greek officials try to raise capital by selling off bits and pieces of the state to please their creditors, there is a strong possibility such moves will further alienate Greek citizens from backing them in the next election. Greek officials were in Shanghai earlier this month to lure 50 billion euros in privatization purchases from Chinese investors, an issue that nationalists will no doubt use to gain more votes in the next election if the economy continues to contract.
Because Greece requires the largest amount of outside intervention to keep its economy within the Eurozone, it has become the proving grounds for a reemergence of nationalism in Europe. The left is at a serious disadvantage in this fight because the past governments have been left-leaning at a minimum and the failed economic policies of Greece are fully attributed to PASOK and now SYRIZA. As Greece gets sold off to the highest bidder, those newly invested in the country will not tolerate the thuggery of Golden Dawn’s anti-immigrant actions, nor the Molotov-loving riots of the far left as such actions hurt profits. Both ends of the spectrum are opposed to austerity and privatization. Those who invest in Greece via privatization will be the new rulers of Greece while political parties will become subservient to their needs, not the public at large.
If privatization is allowed to continue as projected then Golden Dawn will have the advantage in gaining power. Those who seek to buy Greece, if I may paint with so large a brush, come from a right-leaning (or at least authoritarian) background, will need security to protect its holdings, and will need a voice in the political realm. Golden Dawn, especially as an upstart party in need of benefactors who can help legitimize the party, can easily meet the needs of the potential, new owners of Greece. Yes, Golden Dawn represents a serious concern for Greece and Europe, but it is only a party that gains power in economically-troubled times. The real threat is actually being welcomed in with open arms by the left to buy Greece piece by piece in a vain attempt to correct bad economic decisions of the past.