Greece’s deficit and financial problems, emerging almost out of the blue in 2009, were handled from the beginning in a confrontational way by both citizens and politicians, inside and outside the country.
At an international level, in economic terms Keynesians were strongly contradicted by Monetarists, followed by a political battle, primarily fought between Social Democrats and Neoliberals. Bizarrely, Marxist politicians and economists had little influence in the public debate that arose, at least in this first period. It is worth summarizing the main arguments of the two dominant parties in part 1 of this article published exclusively in Pressenza.
Keynesian economists and Social Democrat politicians stressed that the “Greek problem” was the tip of the iceberg of a broader crisis that underlays the European Union (and the world, by trying to push a problem of the world financial system onto banks and then to countries and citizens) and sooner or later it would sweep through other states and societies, mainly in the South, while supporting major structural reforms and changes in the country’s public administration, social security and tax systems.
On the other hand, Monetarists and Neoliberals emphatically refused to discuss the possibility of a broader systemic crisis within the Eurozone (and globally) and focused on the internal dimension of the problems. For them, the Greek people created the problem and they demanded of the political system; an immediate reduction of salaries and pensions, extensive redundancies in the public sector and the privatization of almost everything. (It is worth noting here that no one seriously talked about the reallocation of priorities in the expenses of the state, i.e. the fact that a small country in crisis, a member of a powerful union, previously spent and continues to spend vast amounts on military equipment and defence).
Greek citizens experienced both heart-warming support from political forces and solidarity movements from global civil society as well as a very hostile attitude from various sectors of the population, especially high-paid executives, technocrats and opinion leaders.
In the conflicting context of that period the movement, dismissively called the “indignados movement”, developed however it was sunk by police violence and the activity of extremists in July 2011. The elected prime minister with 48% support, Mr. George Papandreou announced a referendum on the 21st of October 2011 so that the Greek people could choose a course for the conclusion of the 2nd Memorandum. Following a stormy meeting in Cannes on the 4th of November the same year, he was overturned that very night by European leaders and his party’s internal opposition and his government collapsed. An appointed banker undertook governance of the country while titanic financial assistance from both European partners and the IMF was delivered in the form of loan contracts recorded, however, in the collective memory as memoranda of unsustainable and shameful measures.
Some further information from that period which is very important and remains unquestionable:
- This conflict, both at a high level in terms of politics and economics, as well as at a low level of mass psychology, led to the creation of two powerful blocks in Greek society with a supposed dilemma, the pro-memorandum and anti-memorandum.
- These two blocks amplified, simultaneously and completely paradoxically, parts of all political parties, ideological teams and social classes. The major political parties changed opinion from “no memorandum” to “yes memorandum” with the frequency we change our clothes (i.e. New Democracy), by avoiding to harm the privileged classes (i.e. PASOK) or by focusing on minor reforms (i.e. DIMAR). Eventually the winner of this mess was the neo-Nazi, neo-fascist party of Golden Gawn which started to dangerously increase its membership.
- Despite the severity of the collision between pro-memorandum and anti-memorandum supporting groups, Greeks in their overwhelming majority, three years after the outbreak of the crisis, remained deeply committed Europeans and during the double national elections of 2012 voted for a European orientation of the country even reinforcing old parties and personalities.
- It proved beyond any doubt that the “Greek problem” was indeed the tip of the iceberg and that eventually the crisis would be systemic within the Eurozone as other countries also had to negotiate memoranda of understanding, with the South, as a whole, facing serious problems compared to the North. In the domestic public debate the pro-memorandum block lost irrevocably any advantage but the anti-memorandum block didn’t win anything in particular.
It is necessary, in closing this first part, to remember that this conflict transcended the usual political divides while unacceptable characterizations and qualities were attributed among the warring sides which prevented Greek society from calmly and rationally approaching even simple but necessary policies and reforms.