Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The View from Athens

This Odysseus arrived to Greece at a rather auspicious juncture--when the Fates of Pelop's land are swirling about.

My arrival to Athens coincided with the fallout of the Greek elections, in which the Syriza Party swept the Greek elections, and with it changed the tone in direction of the country.

Since the Greek economic crisis hit, the country has been in a period of austerity imposed upon it by the Troika (IMF, ECB, European Commission) and it has devastated the economic and social fabric of the country.

To be sure, there has been some positive outcomes from the transparency that the post-crisis reforms have enacted, but on the whole Greece has been suffering.

Yet with the stirring election results, the Greek people voted against the continuing policies of austerity--delivering a clear mandate to Syriza; the Greek people rose their democratic voice to declare a clear message to the EU that the austerity policies will not be continued.

There is a feeling in Greece post-election that the country again has a say in its affairs.  That it won't be dictated to from afar, but that its people will have a say in the economic direction of the country.

And there is a realization that Greece now has leverage.  Greece has become a voice of change for Europe's Southern countries--those who have suffered through austerity for the last few years.
With elections coming in Spain and other parts of Europe that have similarly been under austerity, and the rise in the polls of parties similar to Syriza like Podemos in Spain, it is the European Union that is now afraid:

The election of a radical-left Syriza-led government in Greece on Jan. 25 has electrified European politics. After years of being told that there is no alternative to bowing to German demands for crushing austerity and wage cuts, the plucky Greeks have dared to stand up to Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin — and other Europeans have stood up and noticed. While the immediate focus is on the showdown between the new Greek government and eurozone authorities over demands for debt relief — and the (unlikely) possibility that Greece could end up ejected from the currency union — Athenian defiance is already having wider political repercussions.
Long accustomed to treating Greece as an unruly but ultimately submissive colony, horrified German policymakers and their eurozone minions can scarcely believe that it is in outright insurrection.
Syriza has been showing some deft gamesmanship in showing that it will not accept "business-as-usual" of economic diktats to Greece by the Troika, but rather will be a partner in the solution to this long-festering malaise.

Called "the rock star finance minister," Greece's new Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis comes to the negotiating table in a leather jacket in contrast to the staid suit-and-tie Eurocrats, bringing pro-growth economic proposals that stand as similarly in contrast as his attire.  More importantly, he has been visiting capitals across Europe to shore up support for Greece from like-minded partners.  Greece is playing the game again, not just sitting back and accepting terms of economic surrender.

The tables have turned, and Greece has leverage, because a "Grexit" spells more doom for the European integration project than it does for Athens.  If the EU cannot keep Greece in the fold, it shows that the process of European integration can indeed be reversed.  Already there are hints from the European Commission that the Troika group may be scrapped.

It has been a fascinating time to watch real democracy unfold from the place of its birth.

No comments: