Gunboat Diplomacy: Greece and Europe

It is important to remember exactly what is at stake in the Greek referendum. As Jerome Roos reminds us, austerity has decimated Greek society:

Greece has by now lost a quarter of its total economic output since the start of the crisis. Unemployment is still higher than it was in the United States during the Great Depression. Public health and other public services have completely imploded. Almost 1 million Greeks are without health insurance; 11.000 people are estimated to have committed suicide as a result of economic hardship.

Syriza, despite pressure by its Left Platform, has conceded most of its initial plans and agreed to a version of austerity. As Clive Crook writes in Bloomberg:

Since these talks began five months ago, both sides have budged, but Tsipras has given vastly more ground than the creditors. In particular, he was ready to accede to more fiscal austerity — a huge climbdown on his part. True, the last offer requires a slightly milder profile of primary budget surpluses than the creditors initially demanded; nonetheless, it still calls for severely (and irrationally) tight fiscal policy.

The response of the troika has been to demand an unconditional surrender on Syriza’s part, not only so it can serve as an example for other left-wing parties in Europe but also because Syriza represents an alternative for Europe. It is this alternative that must be seen to grovel in utter humiliation so the Europe of today–the neoliberal, technocratic Europe–can be saved. Stathis Kouvelakis is right to point out that Europe has “declared war on Greece.” This is what explains the hostility the Europe of today exhibits toward Prime Minsiter Tsipras’ call for a referendum. To put matters to the people is unfathomable. As one European minister asked Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, “How do you expect common people to understand such complex issues?”

Varoufakis asks the crucial question: “Can democracy and a monetary union coexist? Or must one give way?” The answer to that question seems increasingly clear as Greece runs out of food and medicine. Democracy may have been born in Greece but if Europe has its way it will be buried there as well.