Saturday, 12 November 2011

Democracy and nationalism in the new Greece

Couple of points emerging from the shenanigans of last few days in Greek politics:

1. Within a week, Greece went from Papandreou’s ‘referendum/power resides with the people’ gambit to the appointment of a new prime minister that completely bypassed the usual democratic processes, plucked, as Lucas Papademos was, from teaching public policy at Harvard, and imposed on Greece without any whiff of election. But Papademos does appear to be the man Greeks want as PM, in which case his ascent indicts election as the supreme expression of democracy and exposes the (increasing) inability of democratic procedures to find the right people to direct society. Plato’s criticism of democracy is, it appears, more pertinent than ever.

2. The involvement, with four ministers, of the rightist LAOS in the new government is interesting. Just a few years ago, LAOS were pariahs, untouchable, tainted by association with the extreme right and the junta, regarded as joke figures, ultra-nationalist ranters. Now, one of those most notorious ‘ranters’, Adonis Georgiades, has been put in charge of perhaps Greece’s most important economic sector, merchant marine.

3. Despite his vitriolic and belligerent style, opposition leader Antonis Samaras is risking a lot by agreeing to this transitional government. His rival for PM has gone from the weak, unpopular Giorgos Papandreou to the ‘national saviour’ Lucas Papademos, who it might not be as easy to shift come February as Samaras thinks. What if a Papademos government manages to stabilise Greece and push through the 26 October reforms? Won’t there be a clamour for him to stay on and for general elections to be postponed? Also, we note Samaras continues to flirt with nationalism – something he’s done throughout his career – by, this time, insisting that the two ministries he wanted taken away from Pasok and put in New Democracy hands were defence and foreign affairs.


Hermes said...

A couple of thoughts:

1. Democracy is perhaps struggling throughout the Western World. In many countries there are minority or coalition governments i.e. Britain, Australia, Germany or there are interim governments i.e. Greece, Italy or there are dysfunctional governments i.e. the US, or there are growing so called fringe right wing movements i.e. The Netherlands, Finland or there are increasingly illegitimate governments i.e. the EU or other suprantional bodies. Why? Not sure but there are no great opposing world views i.e. capitalism and socialism/communism, but differences on specific issues, how to dismantle the welfare state, the challenge of emerging countries. Panagiotis Kondylis wrote a great book on Planetary Politics (which followed his tomes on conservatism, liberalism) which was incredibly insightful on what is happening today. The whole book in English can be downloaded from the web. He did state that with the so called triumph of liberal capitalism after 1989, the world was unlikely to become more peaceful, the idiotic End of History thesis peddled by Americans, but remain conflict ridden. And liberalism would face challenges as billions of people that were excluded from the world economy started to demand a similar life as we have.

2. The inclusion of LAOS ministers is a sop so as to form an interim government with sufficient numbers to push through the October 26 agreement. They have been given ministries which will have very little to do with the Troika over the next 3 months; and therefore, will not have the time to enact any laws. The problem for the major parties and the EU is if after the election, a coalition government is formed that includes LAOS ministers. Then there might be some discomfort.

3. Samaras only insisted on Defence and Foreign Affairs because he knows they will have very little to do between now and the elections and there is a lower probability of being tainted with the October 26 agreement, but he does look at least superficially as a patriot. However, if Samaras was a real patriot he would come out more definitely against the change in citizenship law, support for Cyprus, the AOZ and would be more circumspect about Turkey entering the EU.

John Akritas said...

What's peculiar is that although, undoubtedly, this grand contest between opposing world views has diminished, the vitriol in politics has not. You get the feeling that in, for example, the US – Republicans/Democrats – UK – Labour/Tories – and Greece – Pasok/ND – these people detest each other as never before. What is it that actually separates Republicans from Democrats, Labour from Tories, Pasok from ND and so on?

On Samaras, have I heard him say that he will no longer go along with the Papandreou/Karamanlis line of supporting full EU membership for Turkey and will back the Franco-German line of privileged partnership? On the EEZ, in his speech at the Thessaloniki expo in September (see video in above post), he did say that he would exert Greece's sovereign EEZ rights, but qualified this by adding this will happen only after the right preparation and calculation.