|By Spyros Derveniotis
Translation: “Dirty immigrants, dying
where the Greeks eat!
Greece recently had two very important political anniversaries. More specifically, May 6th, 2013, marked three years since the adoption of the Memorandum which caused the greatest political rearrangements in the country’s recent history, and one year since the 2012 general elections, when those dramatic changes were first expressed through the ballot box. Greek society is living in a period where political time is condensed to such a degree, that the changes occurring every month and every week can hardly be conceived by its collective consciousness. Since the May 2012 elections, which did not lead to the formation of a new government but to repeat elections a month later, the country’s image and its political landscape kept changing at a rapid pace until today. In light of a greater tribute to the one year anniversary since last June’s elections, when today’s three-party coalition government came to power, we take a look at the facts and data which changed in this past year, starting from last May’s elections.
The dramatic twists in the parties’ percentages was indicative of the collapse of the previous political establishment of the two traditional parties of power, and also of the confusion caused to the electorate by the economic crisis and especially the violent implementation of the Memorandum from a social-democratic government which ran for power on a highly progressive pre-electoral discourse in 2009. Suffice it to mention that for the first time since the dictatorship, a seven party parliament emerged and on top of that 19% of voters, who voted for smaller parties, were not represented in parliament at all, because of the nature of Greece’s electoral law.
|Distribution of Parliament seats on the May 2012 elections|
PASOK, the big loser of the June 2012 elections, lost three quarters of its electoral power, down 31 percentage points from 43.9% to 13.2%. This collapse could be foreseen, as both the party and more importantly its former chairman, George Papandreou, who was essentially ousted in the spring of 2012, were fully charged with the implementation of the most unpopular policies in the country’s recent history. New Democracy, although it overcame the second party SYRIZA by a small margin, also lost nearly half of its voters since 2009 (from 33.5% to 18.9%). That was yet another foreseeable decline, since its former leader Konstantinos Karamanlis was held largely responsible for causing the 2009 economic crisis, while his successor Antonis Samaras shrunk the party’s electoral base by abandoning its center-oriented policies for a more clearly right-wing profile. The biggest winner from the collapse of those two parties of power was SYRIZA, which leapt from its 2009 percentage from 4.5% to 17%, benefitting from a large chunk of the popular reaction to the austerity policies of the Memorandum, while also facing the prospect -for the first time- of a potential coalition government spearheaded by them.
Both SYRIZA and New Democracy took part in the first elections of 2012 having undergone an internal split. The Independent Greeks and Democratic Left, the two newly created parties that emerged from those divisions, came out quite reinforced with 10.6% and 6.1% of the vote respectively, attracting citizens who were opposed to the Memorandum from a center-right and a center-left perspective. The Communist party, KKE, increased its share of the vote (from 7.5% to 8.5%), however its rigid -some would say isolationist- line didn’t allow it to have greater gains from the large number of voters dissatisfied with the Memorandum. On the contrary, what undoubtedly caused a great negative surprise in May 2012 was the terrifying increase of the influence of the neo-Nazi construct, Golden Dawn, which, taking advantage of its anti-Memorandum rhetoric and the impoverishment of the middle class, skyrocketed from the unworthy 0.29% of 2009 to 7%, managing to be elected to parliament ahead of the Democratic Left.
We will refer to the changes of the economic indicators in more detail in a future article about the coalition government’s one year anniversary in power. We will then take a closer look at the electoral campaign commitments and programmatic agreements and to what extent they were upheld in the year since. However, suffice it to say for now that according to the Ministry of Finance, the national debt, which was about €300 billion last May, where it had climbed from €280 billion in January after taking a “haircut” under the terms of the PSI from €365 billion to €280 billion, will be around €330 billion or 180% of GDP by the end of 2013. Note that, last January, the Prime Minister secured another loan package of €50 billion for further recapitalization of the banks and paying off of the state’s debts to private entities. While the former of these goals is proceeding smoothly, the latter has not yet started.
2012 was the worst year of recession, a fact for which the coalition government claims that the two successive elections of May and June 2012 are largely responsible (note that the May elections were initiated by the current Prime Minister as a prerequisite on the agreement for the ‘special purpose’ Papademos government). 2012 ended with a 6.5% contraction of the economy, while the Ministry of Finance’s forecast for this year estimates it at 4.5%. Even though the 2013 budget is much more moderate than that of 2012, it’s worth noting that the then Papademos government had predicted that the recession would not exceed 3% at the end of 2012 – less than half of the actual recession figure. In any case, cumulatively it will exceed 25% since its beginning in 2009.
On top of the above, the official unemployment figure has risen to 27.2% from 22.5% since last May. That is, in one year, 240.000 people have been added to the official list of the unemployed, making Greece surpass Spain to reach the top position of the EU in early 2013. Especially for young people under the age of 25, things became even more haunting, as the 50% rate of unemployment in mid-2012, has now surpassed 60%.
Workers have also seen their position deteriorate further in the last year. Besides the obvious lack of job security, the so called “Memorandum 2” has been put in effect since last summer, as a result of the agreements on the debt reduction program, PSI. In the meantime there has been yet another Memorandum imposed due to the €50 billion loan taken by the government last January. While arbitration has fallen victim of the first Memorandum and the collective contract agreements have been essentially quashed after the second Memorandum, the government also imposed a new minimum wage to private companies, which not only is 22% less than that of the collective labour agreements but has also a dual-mode of implementation. For those above the age of 25 the minimum wage has been set at €586, and for those first employed who are under the age of 25 at €511. Compared with last year, after the expiration of the continuance of collective labour agreements and the elimination of a number of benefits, comes the reduction of the average salary which in some cases can be as much as 30%. Moreover, between May 2012 and today, all special salary scales and bonuses in the wider public sector have been abolished.
In the “condensed times” that we are living through, significant changes in society could be observed in the last year, especially on issues of racist violence. Without a doubt, one of the most important political parameters of last May’s elections was the first electoral record of the spectacular rise of Golden Dawn. This neo-Nazi construct, exploited the people’s discontent, the impoverishment of the middle and working classes, the disappointment from the problematic system of representation -or complete lack thereof-, and to some extent, the decline of social movements after the dissolution of the already weakened “movement of Syntagma square” in the fall of 2011. Building on the existing problem of immigration, which escalated as a result of the economic crisis, not only did Golden Dawn not meet any resistance from the government, but it was also met with an unprecedented accommodation of its racist agenda. By using the sense of security as the only potential way of reserving some electoral power for the declining PASOK, ministers such as Chrisochoidis, Loverdos and Papoutsis, brought forward a number of issues that were considered taboo for progressive governments. From the barb wires on the Evros border, the sweep operations in the center of Athens, the special forces of FRONTEX against illegal immigration (with tens of dead) in the islands, they also set up migrant detention centers and even unlawfully persecuted and shamed people with AIDS. All in the name of security. The agenda of New Democracy was similar and even harsher, with the current Prime Minister claiming that “immigrant children have flooded the Greek kindergartens (forcing out Greek children)”.
As a result of the above, the matters of security and immigration have been artificially turned into the predominant themes of discussion and social concern. The change of the agenda to racism and xenophobia has been further reinforced in the last year with special “cleansing” operations in the center of Athens, against immigrants, drug users and even homeless people, all of them with quite Orwellian codenames: “Hospitable Zeus” and “Thetis” respectively. However, instead of cutting down the “anti-memorandum” power of Golden Dawn, it eventually boosted the flow of impoverished middle-class strata of society towards it. Furthermore, both its discourse and -especially- its practices began to be tolerated and in some cases even considered as the only effective ones: a discourse of hate and acts of violence, which until recently were considered unacceptable by most of society.
|Images of racial violence, like this one, became common and tolerated in the past year|
Golden Dawn saw its near-zero percentage climb to 7% in May 2012. Its formal parliamentary legitimacy was accompanied in the last year by beatings and heckling of citizens and politicians by its members of parliament, while at the same time its members’ activity on the city streets has also skyrocketed. In the first months of 2013 there were over 500 cases of racist attacks resulting in injuries or even death. Even non-foreigners and especially homosexuals have not been spared from this Nazi organization’s violence. Their activity blocked a theatrical performance in Athens, where performers and staff were forced to cancel the play because of fear for their lives. Throughout this period, the police response has been mild to nonexistent. In some cases the authorities seem to have been involved in racist attacks, with the European Court of Human Rights issuing convicting sentences one after the other against our country for the violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The most worrying of all is that, not only is there no reaction to the actions of Golden Dawn, but -according to polls- its electoral power appears to be rising even further reaching a double-digit figure and gaining a third-party momentum in potential elections.
The exact opposite is observed in the area of popular mobilizations for the past year. The large “movements of the squares” were followed by some comparatively very small and sporadic demonstrations during strikes. On the other hand, instead of collective, nationwide action, some local solidarity initiatives and certain local movements have been strengthened. The movement against the mines in East Halkidiki clearly stands out, where the local community’s clash with the government has escalated to an all-out war where those standing against it are being treated as terrorists. The quantitative change to milder social reactions is evident, but the qualitative change on a local scale is more important and is multi-layered and very intense.