A week is a long time in politics, as the saying goes, and never was this more clearly illustrated than in Greece over the last seven days.
One week ago, a country with no self-esteem was on its knees begging for handouts to the troika of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. This week the country has taken the first movements to stand up and raise its head with dignity.
A series of Angela Merkel-upsetting measures have already been taken: an increased minimum wage has been announced, a stop to pending privatisations of national assets, and a refusal to deal any longer with the troika as if it were a legal entity.
The Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis has been extremely busy meeting Ministers of foreign governments and dealing with the Press who are all dying to know how Greece will get itself out of its financial mess.
It is not clear, even to Greeks, how the Minister will pull off this magic trick, but possibly the former Economics Professor taught Escapology at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. What is certain is that the game has changed.
What was a game of “Let’s see how much money we (the troika) can screw from Greece” is now a game of “Let’s see how much money we (Greece) are willing to give.”
In an interview with the BBC, Varoufakis described the Greece situation as an insolvency problem and not a liquidity problem, in his words, “If you had a friend in trouble with their mortgage repayments, would you advise them to take out a credit card to pay for them?”
A reframing of the question, or a renaming of the game, could be the magic spell that the Minister uses. If a lender gives money knowing that repayment is impossible, then the lender must surely share the risk. If it is clear that the German austerity measures were incorrectly applied to the case, then they will have to take some of the blame and shoulder some of the losses. It’s a risky strategy though because after Greece there are half a dozen other countries who would be claiming the same faulty logic was applied to their situation.
It remains to be seen exactly where this strategy is leading. What is clear is that the Minister is highly eloquent and is able to deal with rude BBC interviews as can been seen on his latest blog entry.
But the culture change doesn’t stop with the Finance Ministry. A broom has been applied to the Interior Ministry also, and on Saturday, for the first time in a generation, a public mobilisation was allowed to take place without police interference.
Giannis Panousis, Public Order and Citizens Protection Minister, has said that “the police must not be an enemy of democracy.” And keeping to his word, today’s March against Fascism was the first march since the 1980s where the police were kept away from the demonstrators. No incident of public disorder was reported. No Agents Provocateurs threw stones or broke any windows anywhere. The metro system was able to continue fully functioning. The protest was in response to a demonstration by Fascists who planned to give a speech in Athens city centre in memory of an incident 18 years ago when three Greek Army officers died on the disputed territory of Imia/Kardak.
A week is a long week in politics and anything can happen. Those interested in social justice and in living in a world where human beings are valued more highly than money keenly await the next chapter of this fascinating Greek drama.