To hell with it – or why I will vote no in the #Greferendum

These last few days must be the worst I have had the misfortune to live through since I came into this world forty-one years ago, and that’s not because Greece is heading towards total economic collapse. It’s because the small modicum of democracy we had in this country since six months after I was born has collapsed, with no hope of revival in the immediate future.

There’s a tragic irony to the fact that the nail in the coffin of democracy came from what should have been the ultimate democratic act: a call for a referendum. Of course, a referendum announced at nine days’ notice about an offer that doesn’t stand is a farce in and of itself, and when the deputy prime minister states on public television that the announcement was merely a negotiating tool, it only adds insult to injury. But in the wider context, this is only one aspect of the political tragedy Greece is living through. Every pretence at respecting the role of institutions in this country has flown out of the window since Friday night, both on the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ side of the argument. The best example of this is obviously Greece’s oligarch-owned media, that have unleashed an unprecedented campaign of fear and hammer their audience with images of angry citizens forming lines at ATMs while ‘yes’ politicians are given a tribune to repeat ad nauseam how the government is seeking to take us out of the Euro and back to the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, in a feeble attempt at countering what can only be described as shameless propaganda from Greece’s socio-economic elites, the government have set up a website to inform the people about the referendum, and that website conveniently ignores any argument in favour of voting ‘yes’. What makes it particularly bitter for me is that I voted for SYRIZA in the belief that they would seek to restore a functioning democracy. Clearly, I was wrong.

And as if this weren’t bad enough, it seems that everyone, inside Greece and abroad, cares solely about who is to blame for all this, and not one little bit about what will actually happen to Greece and its people. And I am not talking about what will happen when the economy collapses – for all practical purposes, it had already collapsed way before the capital controls were put in place. I’m talking about what will happen now that the question put to the Greeks has become, very simply, do you want a quick and violent death, or a slow and painful one. These are the choices the referendum has to offer, these are the choices democracy in Greece in 2015 has to offer. How does a country, a people, a society recover from that? How do you recover, not from the answer, but from the question itself?

To those who are seeking to apportion blame, I have one thing to say: you’re either too early or too late.

You’re too early because, let’s be frank, no one can claim to know with certainty what the real consequences of a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote will be. Whatever the result, the least that can be said is that the relationship between Greece and the European Union has been reshaped in ways that will take years to understand. Maybe ‘no’ means a Greek exit from the Eurozone, or maybe it doesn’t; maybe a return to the drachma is a bad thing, or maybe it’s not. At the same time, maybe ‘yes’ means more austerity of the kind we were subjected to for the past five years already, or maybe it means a new brand of austerity; maybe this new brand will be harsher, or maybe it will be more lenient – one can always hope. But if you claim to have straight answers to these questions, one thing is certain: you’re lying. This is uncharted territory, so please show a little humility. You don’t know, and neither do I.

Alternatively, if you’re apportioning blame with regard to the process that led us too this mess, you’re late, far too late. You’re late because this process has been going on for years, and a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that it’s a process gone wrong. A ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the Greek economy and the political system propping it up were rotten, a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the bailout programmes were a failure, a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the current, SYRIZA-led government was not speaking the same language as its negotiation counterparts, and, most importantly, a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the shit would hit the fan at some point. Since 2010 we’ve been witnessing a slow-motion train wreck. You’re terribly, terribly late if you start apportioning blame the moment the locomotive gathers full speed.

So where does this leave us? What should we vote? Are there good reasons to vote ‘yes’? Are there good reasons to vote ‘no’? Are there even good reasons to vote at all? Here’s the thing: there are no good or bad reasons when you can only choose between bad options. What there is are real reasons, and here’s mine.

There’s a Greek expression I’ve used a lot these past few months: “είναι κακοί, στραβοί, ανάποδοι, αλλά…” which means “they’re evil, crooked, irksome, but…” This is what I have to say about the current Greek government. They may be evil, crooked and irksome, they may have failed spectacularly on the financial/economic as well as the political front, they may be the worst government we ever had, for all it matters – but they’re our government, and in the end they will be accountable to us.

For the past several years, far too many decisions that have affected our lives in dramatic ways were taken by people who are sitting in Brussels, in Frankfurt, in Berlin and in Washington – far too many, because this robs us of our sense of agency as people and as citizens. These people will never be accountable to us because they are so far out of our reach. Well, let someone else deal with them. We can deal with those who are here.

So I want out. I want out of the Eurozone and I want out of the European Union. I’ll be voting ‘no’ because anything that can possibly, maybe, hopefully take us one step closer to Euro-exit is good enough for me under the current circumstances. I’ve had enough of these unnamed high-ranking European officials who tell the Financial Times how they’re taking decisions for me and how they want ‘regime change’ in Greece. At least, if all I have to deal with is my own government, I can take decisions for them too.

If you ever met me, or if you even only read other bits and pieces I’ve posted on this blog or on Twitter, you’ll know that by my standards, this is an intellectual short-circuit. It is. It’s not a good reason to vote no, but I don’t care. To hell with it. That’s my reason. What’s yours?

Strange bedfellows

The final results of the Greek elections came in early this morning. SYRIZA garnered 149 seats in parliament, two short of a majority, and is entering a coalition with Independent Greeks to form a government. SYRIZA is a more-or-less radical left-wing party, while Independent Greeks is a nationalist-populist right-wing party whose leader, Panos Kammenos, espouses racist, homophobic, antisemitic and occasionally outright lunatic views (such as plane exhaust trails in the sky being unspecified chemical spraying.) This is as if Podemos were forming a coalition with UKIP. How can that happen and what can we expect to happen next? Here’s my two drachmas.  Continue reading

Proposing second-rate citizenship: it’s not only Golden Dawn

On 25 February 2013, the Hellenic Armed Forces General Chief of Staff Michalis Kostarakos caused considerable reaction on all sides of the political spectrum when he tweeted:

“The time has come to regulate by law the issue of genos for those enrolling in Military Academies. They should be Greek by genos.”  

The expression “Greek by genos” is a commonly used but rather vague criterion of “Greekness”. The word “genos” (γένος) in its wider sense can be translated as parentage, race, breed, lineage, species and more. Defining someone as “Greek by genos” may mean “Greek by birth”, “Greek by blood”, “born to Greek parents”, “of Greek lineage”, “ethnic Greek” or any variation of the above, depending on the political intention of the speaker. For the extreme-right, it can go as far as meaning “someone who has Greek DNA.”

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Who’s who in Greek politics: the radicalization of the right

In the past few days, there have been so many changes, transfers, counter-transfers and mergers on the Greek political scene that it has all become a little confusing, even for experienced observers of Greek politics. While this phenomenon can be interpreted as simple, cheap politicking by individuals seeking to secure their re-election in June, careful examination of the backgrounds of some politicians also reveals a worrying tendency to mainstream and trivialize the opinions and positions of personalities who, by all reasonable standards, belong to the extreme-right.

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The meeting between the President of the Republic and political leaders on 15/05/2012

Prepared by the #rbnews international team

Below is an English-language summary of the transcript of the meeting held on 15/05/2012 between the President of the Republic, Karolos Papoulias, and the leaders of Nea Demokratia (Antonis Samaras), SYRIZA (Alexis Tsipras), PASOK (Evangelos Venizelos), Independent Greeks (Panos Kammenos) and Democratic Left (Fotis Kouvelis) in a last-ditch attempt to form a coalition government after the failure of consultations held on 13/05/2012 and 14/05/2012. The leader of the Communist Party (Aleka Papariga) declined to attend, while the leader of neo-nazi Golden Dawn (Nikolaos Michaloliakos) was not invited. 
The original transcript of the meeting as published by the presidency can be found here.

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The meetings between the President of the Republic and political party leaders on 13/05/2012

Prepared by the #rbnews international teamBelow is an English-language summary of the transcripts of the meetings held on 13/05/2012 between the President of the Republic, Karolos Papoulias, and the leaders of all the political parties that were elected to parliament following the 06/05/2012 elections, in an attempt to form a coalition government. Papoulias first met with the leaders of the three largest parties (Nea Demokratia, SYRIZA and PASOK) and then proceeded to individual meetings with the leaders of the Independent Greeks, the Communist Party, Golden Dawn and Democratic Left.
The original minutes published by the presidency can be found here.

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The Greek electoral system in brief

Updated post here.

In Greek elections, voters select the ballot paper of the political party of their choice, then tick the names of those candidates they support (between 1 and 4, depending on the size of the constituency).
Blank and spoiled ballot papers are not counted.
Parties must earn at least 3% of valid votes to enter parliament. For those who pass the 3% threshold, 250 of the 300 seats are allocated on a strictly proportional basis. The remaining 50 seats are allocated as a “bonus” to the party that obtains the highest number of votes nationwide.
A party or coalition needs 151 seats to secure a majority in parliament and be able to form a government.
To determine the percentage of nationwide votes needed to secure a majority, you should deduct from 100% the percentage of valid votes obtained by parties who did not reach the 3% threshold and multiply the percentage left by 0.404.

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