Thursday, December 11, 2008

"After four decades of rapid modernization, the social fabric has worn paper-thin"

/ a government of clowns /

The Nation has an excellent piece by Maria Margaronis, on the Greek riots. It's right on the money, excerpt:

The rioters' first targets were banks and corporate headquarters. One in five Greeks already live below the poverty line; as the recession hits, the simmering resentment has taken on an edge of panic. Young people in low-wage, dead-end jobs--the "700 euros generation"--fear losing even those. Thirtysomethings live with their parents; parents work in shifts to earn enough to support their families. After four decades of rapid modernization, the social fabric has worn paper-thin. Discontent is policed with zero tolerance. Methods honed on the refugees who crowd Greek shores and have to be kept from seeking asylum in Europe's wealthier north can also be applied to permanent residents.

Also from "Le Monde Diplomatique":

The riots that have ravaged Greece's big cities - especially Athens - the last three days testify to the disequilibria of a society that over several years only went from being part of the Balkans to part of Europe. The December 6 death of a fifteen-year-old, Andreas Grigoropoulos, from police fire was the spark thrown into a powder keg primed to explode. Faced with thousands of young people who are conducting a veritable urban guerilla action - burning shops and cars, stoning the forces of order - the government seems incapable of restoring the peace.

It is impotent because it is in decay, undermined for a long time by pork, corruption and cronyism. It had already demonstrated its incompetence during the wave of fires that enflamed the Peloponnesus and Attica during the summer of 2007. And that was a natural phenomenon to a certain extent. Costas Caramanlis's Conservative government, which was then getting ready for general elections, quickly announced the release of millions of Euros for the benefit of those who had incurred losses from the fires. Once the balloting was over, the victims never saw a cent.

It's not a question of political party. The (Socialist) PASOK, which controlled the government from 1980-1990, suffers from the same evils as the right. It was unable - or unwilling - to build a modern state of law. The big families - the Caramanlis, Mitsotakis, Papandreou - that have followed one another in power for decades, have, along with their loyalists, profited from a system of which the scraps and crumbs have nourished a large part of the population.

Things are settling down today. At least for now. Mostly students protesting in various forms and intensity, from sit-ins to rock throwing. Reports of wide participation of undercover policemen in the riots and the destruction. Unless the people going in and out of an Athens precinct, as reported (in Greek) here.

Teacher Dude is covering the developing events from Thessaloniki.


Renegade Eye said...

See this.

According to that article a political expression wasn't given to the teens, related to the timidity of the left parties and the unions.


Anonymous said...

Two questions.

One, where are immigrants in all of this? When times get hard, immigrants are a natural, easy target. Is there any of that yet?

Two, what are the odds of all of this coming to nothing, or anyhow to very little? Like, the government survives without sweeping reforms or changes? or at most is replaced by a PASOK-dominated coalition that doesn't make any really major changes either? My impression from a distance is "better than even", but I will freely admit that's a guess based on very little real knowledge.


Doug M.

talos said...

Took me some time:
1. The immigrant students were on the streets along with their Greek schoolmates. Race was not a factor in this (ok looters were more likely to be immigrant than not, but that correlates with poverty).

2. The government will not survive very long I think, but little will come out of this unless the Left steps in and offers something concrete. This however is near-impossible (barring some quite spectacular developements) without some sort of serious EU realignment towards the Left.

Renegade Eye said...

Holiday Greetings

Stay out of jail!

Anonymous said...

I read a report that 60% of the people arrested were immigrant. This is a significant number, though it is probably distorted by police discrimination.

Also, check out this article:

Renegade Eye said...

See this.

Anonymous said...

What is it with Marxists and long-windedness? Did that article really need to be 12,000 words long?

In any event, let's check out the predictions in the final section:

"There is a big possibility that the present government can fall in the coming weeks and months." -- two months on, government looks as strong than ever. Like a lizard ditching its tail to escape a bird, Karamanlis' sacking of a handful of career politicians back in January seems to have stabilized his approval ratings. They're still low, sure, but the government shows no sign of falling.

"Meanwhile the bosses are preparing to ditch Karamanlis in an attempt to clean up the image of ND." -- nope.

"It seems more and more likely that early elections could be called in the spring and what is very clear is that the PASOK will gain" -- not yet. (N.B., in 12,000 words they don't manage to explain why a government would call elections it's certain to lose. Yes, this can happen, but it's very rare.)

"there is a massive swing to the left taking place in Greek society." -- well, to be fair, two or three months is too soon to judge. On the other hand, I could make this argument with a straight face WRT American society, and adduce at least a bit of evidence in support. Greek society... not seeing it so much.

Watching with interest, anyway.

Doug M.

talos said...

Well Doug to be fair:

Both the predictions that Margaronis makes (and wow, do you really think that The Nation is a publication in which Marxists predominate?) were seriously discussed by the majority of the (bourgeois and reactionary of course) press. It did seem at the time that ditching Karamanlis might be an option out, because PASOK's lead at the polls seemed (and still does seem) unbeatable. This did not transpire because in reality there is no one that has a better chance than Karamanlis.

At the time also there was a widespread feeling that the government's razor-thin majority of one would evaporate somehow somewhere. It hasn't happened. Yet. We'll see.

The reason that Karamanlis was supposed to call for early elections was so that the first elections would fail to end with either party earning a parliamentary majority. The second elections would then coincide with the European elections and thus people would have (so the argument goes) a chance to vent their anger at the European polls while voting for a "realistic" choice in the national elections, given the impasse of the first elections. This I never bought because the PASOK vote would work the same way, but this too isn't Margaronis' idea. It was seriously circulating in the Greek press.

The other reason for early elections is that (given that the crisis has not really been felt in Greece yet, but it's due any month now) New Democracy can lose these elections, let PASOK make a mess of an impossible situation anyway, and force new elections next year when PASOK would be discredited. Otherwise if a (totally inept even by local standards) New Democracy government suffers the blows that the crisis is about to land on the economy they would risk losing by a *much greater* margin next year.

There is a massive swing to the left in Greece. Opinion polls show the left + the greens at a arecord ~20% for the national elections and PASOK has obviously shifted to the left at least rhetorically in order to contain its losses to the left. I don't think there is a question about this, she's right (and the crisis and the social violence has actually weakened the left since the article was written).

I note that a very scary war is going on in Greece right now, infusing with violence a very volatile situation. Various extreme groups are attacking all sorts of targets in a rather suspicious manner. It reminds me of nothing so much as the Italian strategy of tension in the 70s.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Fred Weston wasn't the author of that article. Fair enough.

As to the rest, "everyone else got it wrong the same way" is not really a defense.

Shift to the left: well, maybe. But polls are volatile, and the shift has yet to express itself either in electoral terms or in government policy.

This doesn't mean it isn't real, of course. American public opinion moved sharply in late 2005 -- after Katrina, basically -- and by early 2006 had shifted well to the left of the then-administration. However, the administration had no interest in changing its ways, and there were no electoral consequences until the midterm elections in November '06. And Parliamentary systems can be even worse; the British public was quite thoroughly sick of the Tories by the end of 1993, but had to wait another three and a half years to get rid of them. (Although the near-universal disillusionment and irritation did give rise to Britpop! So there was that.)

Let's give it a year and see what happens.

Doug M.