Yes or No: The Last Sequel to the Greek Tragedy?

Parlamento Griego, por Del Mich, 19 julio 2009 - Creative Commons licencing -

When just about everybody joins the condemnation chorus, the sanest stance is to remain sceptical, even when running the risk of being automatically lumped together with the usual suspects. But, for the sake of conceptual clarity, the so-called Eurosceptics should not be called “sceptics” at all. They are true believers in a quite concrete fantasy of the lost better past. The true sceptics are never just reactionary.

Amateurism vs. dogmatism, incompetence vs. technocracy, democracy vs. efficiency

The announcement of the Greek referendum was soon followed by Jean-Claude Juncker’s emotional propaganda. The “sceptic” Farage tweeted that he hopes “the Greek people call Mr. Juncker’s bluff.”

I wouldn’t necessarily invoke Juncker’s own poker metaphor in describing the current political situation. But if it were a bluff, it could just as well be one made by the Greek government. However, as we learned during the European parliamentary elections of May 2014, not all bluffs are necessarily evil. What was the decision of the European Parliament to nominate candidates for the presidency of the European Commission, a decision that has no basis in the treaties, if not a clever bluff? A bluff that gave Mr. Juncker’s own position a more democratic foundation.

Not all bluffs are evil and not every good political decision is necessarily a rational one. The technocratic rationality has become the unchallenged ideology of the political establishment in Europe. This is the very “reason” that bluntly allowed Juncker to demand from the Greek voters “to vote ‘yes’, regardless of the question that is ultimately put to them.” To me, such ideology seems to be far more dangerous than any “unreasonable” demand of the “impossible”. Anyhow, the true reason of a just political decision can, most of the time, be a post-factum.

The technocratic rationality has become the unchallenged ideology of the political establishment in Europe.

Saviour complexes and pseudo-justice

Juncker also complained that his respectable colleagues “have worked and continue to work day and night” on a proposal that the “ungrateful” Greeks have nevertheless dared to turn down. This piteous and embarrassing attempt at emotional manipulation also has a tinge of the very same racism that has been painting the Greeks as lazy and selfish and which has also accompanied the media coverage of the crisis at least as early as its previous iteration in 2010. However, the recent crowdfunding campaign to bailout the Greeks, might have the very same prejudice at its essence.

We should stop “saving” Greece. We should put an end to our games of scolding and of homilies on catastrophe and responsibility, and stop taking secret pleasure in thinking ourselves strong, noble, and worthy of being saviours.

We should also finally realise that what is being saved is not Greece but an unsustainable politico-economic order, which makes this tragedy a European rather than a Greek one.

Greece is the first European country to default on an IMF loan. Many held this to be a fate reserved to distant third-world countries. Moreover, chances are that Greece’s default won’t be the last one in Europe should the IMF-produced “action movie,” with Ms. Lagarde playing the role of dominatrix, proceed undisturbed.

…chances are that Greece’s default won’t be the last one in Europe…

Europe’s failure to show solidarity with Greece is a desperate attempt to maintain a conceptual distance between “us” and “them”; an attempt that knows “we might be next” and denies this knowledge in a display of righteousness; a sign of subconscious desire for others to be at least as poor as I am, to suffer at least as much; a pseudo-justice.

A “no” that might be the best “yes” we have

What will be the consequences of the referendum?

If the majority of the Greeks follows the recommendation of their government and of several Nobel Prizing winning economists and votes “no”, this will not necessarily mean that Greece will leave the Euro. I hold onto this belief despite the loudly moralistic prophets of doom. The “generous” creditors and political leaders will need to find a solution simply because they have too much to lose – the former economically and the latter historically.

But even if Greece leaves the Eurozone, the fear of those in power of the chain reaction that this might cause might be our best chance to “save what is worth saving in European legacy: democracy, trust in people, egalitarian solidarity,” as Slavoj Žižek put it.

If a “yes” will be the Greeks’ decision, the current government will need to take it as a vote of no confidence, take responsibility for the failed negotiations and step down. However, Syriza still has significant electoral support and might therefore get re-elected. The chance of their leading the next government is also good due to the Greek electoral system, which automatically gives the largest party 50 additional parliamentary seats. Thus, the situation might not change significantly even with a “yes” outcome.

But even if the creditors get another, more collaborative government to negotiate with and reach a deal, the Greek drama will most likely spawn another sequel in a couple of years of austerity plus recession, in the very same way it has done now, after being “solved” in 2010 and 2012.

Nobody in their right mind should ever trust the claim that austerity can bring prosperity and economic growth, and that the money the Greeks will receive can be invested in structural reforms and not end up once again only saving German and French banks from profit losses. It’s just that the next time around we might have a Golden-Dawn-style Grexit.

Nobody in their right mind should ever trust the claim that austerity can bring prosperity…

It seems we live in times when nothing can surprise us any longer. Hollande knew that Greek austerity might end up in a Greek default during the crisis’ previous iteration. But the biggest surprise about the recent Wikileaks revelations on the decades-long systematic spying on French presidents was that it wasn’t a surprise. We know yet we fail to act according to that knowledge. This is the paradox we live.

And it takes one to fight one. The paradox inherent in the planned referendum is that a Greek “no” vote directed at the EU might be a “yes” for a better Europe. The same Europeans, whom the EU is now trying to force-feed a false “salvation”, might end up saving the true European Idea, even if it’s at the price of renouncing the current institutional attempts to implement it.

A Greek “yes” on Sunday would essentially be a reactionary response, a fear of the possible. The scepticism of a Greek “no”, on the other hand, is desperately hopeful.


Daniel Tkatch

Daniel Tkatch pursues a doctoral research in phenomenology and philosophy of psychiatry at KU Leuven and works as a psychoanalytical counsellor in Brussels. Winner of the German-Polish Journalism Award in 2014, he occasionally covers new developments in cinema.

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