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February 24, 2012

The future of democracy in Greece

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Written by: DW

By David Wisner

Wolfgang Munchau is right, but for reasons he does not suspect.

In his column in this past Monday’s Financial Times, Munchau laments the implications of this most recent round of Eurozone negotiations with Greece. In short, he concludes, if Germany wins, Greek democracy loses.

The article generated considerable reaction. Munchau, who famously predicted in 2011 that 1) Greece would not default in 2011, but 2) that Greece would eventually default thereafter, is right. Democracy in Greece may well be the greatest casualty of the current crisis. But not for the reasons Munchau lists.

The problem is that the crisis in Greece is a political one, not an economic one. For the past two years, and indeed, for the better part of the past two decades, successive Greek governments have simply not taken decisions to make Greece a more efficient, accountable state. Now, with the threat of bankruptcy on the one hand and of ejection from the Eurozone on the other, the recalcitrance is even more stubborn. Rather than cracking down on tax evasion, putting unions in their place, and generating confidence in the Greek public administration both at home and abroad, the state has all but collapsed, and with it what remnants of public discipline needed for rule of law that still remain.

Thus we see sit-ins at public universities, unionists blockading public offices, and practitioners of closed professions striking to protest laws passed by Parliament, often in the name of democracy. But this is not the worst of it.

A greater threat to Greek democracy comes not at the hands of Germany, or Holland, or Finland, or any other EU member state involved in talks with Greece. A more sinister danger is a potential lack of commitment to democracy from within. Leave aside the Greek Communist Party, which would like nothing better than to go back to the heyday of the Cold War. Syriza, a leftist coalition, perennially blames violence among rioting hoods on the provocations of the two mainstream parties, as if lawlessness were justified by simple political and ideological disagreement. In fact, there is nothing in the behavior or public statements of any of the fringe parties in Greece, be they leftist or rightist, that suggest they will uphold the democratic institutions of the Hellenic Republic if given the choice.

This is still not the most frightening prospect, however. Can we be certain that leading lights in the two main parties are so committed to the ways and means of democratic governance that they would not be tempted to engage in extra-parliamentary rule once the current power-sharing arrangement comes to an end? The prospect has not escaped outside observers.

A cultural determinist might argue that Greece is just as much a home to the Balkan strongman as any other country in Southeast Europe, with a penchant for political violence punctuated by periodic recurrence to dictatorship. More cynically, one might even argue that the only way to clean up the Greek mess is for a Greek Cincinnatus to come and save the day, temporarily suspending the constitutionally mandated political system.

Sadly, the burgeoning “We are all Greeks” protest movement has served to disguise the political nature of Greece’s plight. The political and moral bankruptcy of the Greek system is a much greater threat to Greece than any plot Merkel or Sarkozy or the IMF could hatch. The perennial task will be for citizens to find ways to resist plebiscitic overtures by demagogues whose commitment to democracy is only half-hearted.






One Comment


  1. An excellent article by Dr. Dave. I hope the Greeks know how lucky they are to have him! I would personally argue for a German Cincinnatus, but then we Croats are somewhat biased toward that nation.

    I would love to read a comparable analysis of the situation in Bosnia.

    By the way, someone should really remove the spam originating from the City of Brotherly Love.

    Greetings from sunny Split!



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