“For Greece and Germany a Democratic Trial Looms” Mark Mazower
Things have been tense. Very. For some time now. But in the interim weeks between May 6 and today’s June 17 vote people are visibly coming apart. I give a euro to the Pakistani who stands at the street lights in Agia Paraskevi ready with his sponge to wipe the windshields of cars stopped at the light for some change, when a guy on a motorcycle says, “A euro! I say, “He needs to eat too.” And he answers, “If he’s making a euro from every car every time the light is red he’s eating well.” I shout back, since the light is now green, “Well you know that’s not happening.” Then on the bus, D and I are not sure how to react to the man in the mismatched shirt and pants who is suddenly saying, “Ask your Syriza, ASK Alexis for the answer… or maybe you want to try Andreas, yes, THAT ANDREAS, thank YOU Andreas for your UNIONS. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DID FOR GREECE…” D looks distressed. We both look out the bus window and hope the man doesn’t catch our eye. It’s the bus driver who finally tells him to keep it down, to stop shouting. And the man says, “So what are you going to do to me, tell me?” He’s been talking to himself, and the woman next to him quietly gets up when he doesn’t stop. The bus driver has to tell him a second time to either stop yelling or get off the bus. He finally gets off the bus. But it’s the very same day, later, when I’m on the metro on my way home and two accordion players, probably gypsies and maybe brothers are on the metro, as a man standing near them hisses, “Go back to your country. This is Greece, not Romania.” The older of the two, who is maybe 16 pauses, and moves next to a man near the door who says something to him. The younger brother seems confused. They stand there for several stops without getting off, but they don’t play their music, and the man who has told them to get off the train keeps glaring at them.
Tomorrow (now today) is going to decide a lot. It’s “momentous”, “historic”, “defining” – which are just some of the adjectives being used to describe the vote; the either/or binary is how most of the media is portraying it – either “in” the Eurozone (i.e. vote for the right-wing Nea Democratia people) or “out” of the Eurozone (go w/ the crazy dude Tsipras who really thinks he’s going to get the likes of Merkel to rethink her mercilessness). Of course it’s never so simple and the problem with all the hype in the news is that it’s foregrounding the propagandizing of fear: the unknown is the wildcard that’s been waving madly on all sides of the political spectrum; the right is saying, “You’ll end up light years in the past, with the useless drachma,” as the left is saying “We don’t need anybody, least of all those who brought on the mess.” And yet some of those responsible for this mess, lapsed PASOK members for example, are now with Syriza, with no intention of shrinking the public sector. This course has been lethal. And while “the north” might care less, the Greeks living the nightmare are not willing to see it in the reductive, either/or terms which the mainstream media and various other hegemonies want to insist is the “road to eventual solvency” — that road has so far proven brutal without any indication of moving the country into a promised growth period, let alone solvency.
In light of these oversimplifications, the constructed dilemmas “between” the austerity terms set by the troika, and what has been presented as the chaos of Otherness in the variously shrill warnings against the Coalition of the Radical Left’s generally unclear, often demagogic diatribes against the troika, Eleni Mouatsou, who now lives in Birmingham, UK, thought to engage students from Hellenic American University in Theoharis Tziovaras’ Sustainable Community Development class, with “the KALPI” project, part of the larger Ανταλλαγή project going on at STOA BROADWAY. Students were asked to address the question: “Can we have justice and equality (democracy) in the system we are living in today?” The point was to demonstrate and invite further questions around the issue of democracy itself; anything but an either/or dilemma, and one that, as in antiquity, required dialogue regarding how one understood, and engaged with, the concept. Some of the questions included: “Do we have a democracy when the govt isn’t allowed to intervene in issues of the economy?” “Can we have direct democracy in Greece without national sovereignty?” “Does equality assume homogeneity?”… Questions and statements were pinned to the voting sheet, or KALPI, and in front were the painted (“Yes”) and unpainted (“No”) walnuts (stones were used in antiquity) for people to cast their votes. Each person who came by started a discussion, and some pinned their ideas to the KALPI, proving how inadequate the Yes/No system is, and in Eleni’s words, “Show us that there are so many more issues involved than those in power want to engage in.”
Who knows how this day will end. There were crazy winds last night; the howling sound went on for most of the night, and the occasional crashing of something unhinged, broken, or swept up in the current interspersed the night. I thought it apt weather for the moment, and what might be coming. Several people have called this morning, and while most feel this is not going to be a “vote of the heart” but one taken in somber realization of our very real dangers, we are stricken. As N said this morning: “I can’t believe I’m going to vote for the right wing government. I think Samaras is a monster, a monster! But I’m being put in this position because there’s nothing left standing anymore. I’m owed over 7 thousand euros and the state doesn’t have the money to give it to me. There are no drugs in the hospitals. My mother had to pay 200 euros out of pocket for medicine she gets for free because the state didn’t get the full loan package… if Syriza comes out as the first party, do you realize what Europe is going to put us through, all they need to do is stop payments. Or delay them as they already have. They’ll suck us dry… already nothing’s moving. All there is now is corruption. We need Europe, we need its institutions to survive…” Later in the day K called to see what I was going to do with my vote. I said I still haven’t decided. “Vote with your head,” he said, “We’re in trouble.” There are Greeks flying in from everywhere to vote, from Brussels, from the UK, even from the States. K continued, “Greece committed suicide at another point in history, in 1920. I hope we don’t repeat the mistake. They were warned not to vote for the King, but they were tired of Venizelos’ Megali Idea, and the war… Venizelos didn’t even get a seat in Parliament, and Konstantinos came in. They lost Smyrna. They were massacred. The Europeans left them unprotected, but they had been warned… Don’t you think more of us are educated to think logically now?” Yes, there’s a middle class now teetering on the brink, an entire generation of young, educated and gifted people who are looking toward futures the leaders of our recent past have squandered, if not devastated — why trust any of them? As Giorgio Agamben asks in Homo Sacer, Sovereign Power and Bare Life, in order to construct new models of power, one needs to consider “the entry of zoe [life] into the sphere of the polis — the politicization of bare life as such — [that] constitutes the decisive event of modernity and signals a radical transformation of the political-philosophical categories of classical thought.” In other words, the ancients’ distinction of zoe, the organic fact of living in animals, humans and gods, and bios, the structure or ways of organizing that living within a group or state, are joined in modernity, a world requiring new ways of democratizing resources — our lives depend on this.