Death of Pericles

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 


Special note: we have had to interrupt our coverage of the Basel international art fair to report on the result of the momentous parliamentary election held yesterday 17 June 2012 in Greece. We shall resume coverage of the fair immediately after our election report.

18 June 2012


Sparta wins again. Two thousand four hundred years after the glory that was fifth-century Athens succumbed to the rude phalanxes of Lacedaemon in the Peloponnesian War, the people’s will to resist finally crumbled and the heirs of Pericles and Ephialtes handed the wreath of victory to right-wing New Democracy party boss Antonis Samaras, an epigone Lysander for these degenerate times.

Yesterday 17 June 1212 the Greeks went to the urns to elect their parliamentary leaders as they have done ever since 462 BC when the people’s tribune Ephialtes wrenched political power from the Areopagus – the  conservative-leaning judicial and administrative council of elder statesmen and old freddies – and transferred it to the new-fangled institutions of democracy (popular courts, elected councillors, and an assembly of all citizens that met on the Pnyx plateau overlooking the city of Athens).

Last week as we stood before the rostrum of the orators in the fan-shaped Pnyx little did we realize that in less than a week the denizens of this cradle of democracy would – in effect – be handing back power from the Pnyx to the Areopagus.

The turkeys have voted for Christmas. The result was a triumph for national masochism.

For 18 months the Greek people had cried out in agony at the suffering imposed on them by the Germans, the Eurocrats of Brussels, and the Americans.

Now was their chance to say “No.  Enough is enough”.

They fluffed it.

They voted to put back into power the incestuous political elite which has licked the jack-boots of its troika of dominatrix creditors as they whip the Greek economy to within an inch of its life in exchange for a few paltry obols from the piggy-banks of Frankfurt, Brussels and Washington.

“We have suffered so much,” the people of Greece told their masters. “Now make us suffer more. Thrust the iron yet deeper into our soul.”

How hollow now sound the boasts that the Greeks made when New Democracy and its fellow party quisling, the nominally socialist Pasok (Panhellenic Socialist Movement), took the troika’s thirty pieces of silver in exchange for the betrayal and impoverishment of the people of Greece.

At that time, the Portuguese had meekly opted to accept their punishment from the nation’s creditors. With hardly a murmur, the Irish too had caved in. Faced with the same threat of austerity, however, the Greeks took to the streets shouting: “We are not like the Irish. We shall resist”.

It is true, they did resist for a time. There were daily demonstrations, organized marches, battles with the police and violent clashes in front of the Parliament building in Syntagma (Constitution) Square.  Cars were burned, shop fronts smashed, buildings torn down.

Yes, the little dogs barked – but, crushing all opposition, the caravan of capitalism moved on regardless.

Just over a week ago, in the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Syntagma Square, we discussed the Greek predicament with Dr Caius Traian Dragomir, former Rumanian Ambassador to France and Greece. Dr Dragomir made a shrewd point. “Do you remember the riots that took place a year ago when the austerity measures were announced?  They lasted for a time, it is true, but look around now. Where are the demonstrations today?” In fact, we had witnessed only one tiny demonstration since our arrival in Athens six days earlier.

Dr Dragomir’s remark prefigured yesterday’s election result. The Greeks have lost the stomach for a fight.

With almost all the votes counted in the 17 June 2012 ballot for the country’s 300-seat parliament, the result is as follows: New Democracy (129 seats, composed of the 79 seats it actually won plus a free bonus of 50 extra seats) 29.66 % of votes cast; the radical socialist party Syriza (71 seats) 26.89 %; the nominally socialist party Pasok (33 seats) 12. 28 %; the right-leaning Anel (Independent Greeks) party (20 seats) 7.51%;  the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party(18 seats) 6.92 %; the Dimar (Democratic Left) party (17 seats) 6.25 %; and the KKE (Communist) party (12 seats) 4.50 %. Other parties fell well short of the three per cent threshold needed to enter parliament.

The percentage of the electorate that turned out to vote was 62.47 (a slight drop compared with previous parliamentary election on 6 May 2012).

According to Greek election rules, an extra 50 seats are granted to the party winning the largest percentage of the vote. What can possibly justify this negation of democracy that makes a mockery of the ballot?

The system of voting used in Greek is, on the surface, proportional representation, that is to say, parliamentary seats are allocated on the basis of the percentage of votes cast.

So why give an extra 50 seats to the party with the highest percentage of the vote? According to Le Monde, the idea is to “stabilise the result of the proportional ballot”.

In fact, the idea is to shut out from government the smaller parties. The aim is to give the largest party – for free – enough votes to form a parliamentary majority by itself or in coalition with the next largest party. In plain language, the object is to ensure that the two big traditional parties, New Democracy and Pasok, continue to exercise a stranglehold over the government 0f Greece.

The result, moreover, is to make the ballot non-proportional.

 The vote yesterday was a re-run of the parliamentary election held on 6 May 2012 in which, like yesterday, no party won an overall majority. Nor were any of the parties able to cobble together a coalition. Hence, the need to repeat the ballot yesterday.

With a turnout of 65.09 % of the electorate, the results of the 6 May 2012 ballot were: New Democracy (108 seats, composed of the 58 seats it actually won plus the free bonus of 50 extra seats) 18.85 %; Syriza (52 seats) 16.78%; Pasok (41 seats) 13.18 %; Independent Greeks (33 seats) 10.6 %; the Communist KKE party (26 seats) 8.48 %; Golden Dawn (21 seats) 6.97 %; and the Democratic Left (19 seats) 6.1 %.

A comparison of the results for 6 May 2012 and 17 June 2012  show that both New Democracy and Syriza  substantially increased their share of the vote yesterday. The big losers were the Independent Greeks and the hardline “dodo” Communist Party, which refused to ally itself with any of the other left parties.

However, the great disappointment for the left was the failure of Syriza to dislodge New Democracy as the party with the largest share of the vote. Had it done so and – again a Herculean challenge – had it managed to form a working alliance with the Democratic Left party (possible) and the intransigent Communist Party (extremely difficult), it would have been in with a shout to form the most leftwing government in western Europe in living memory.

In particular, Syriza pledged to reject the troika’s austerity package hook, line and sinker.

This is what Syriza thought, quite reasonably, that the people of Greece wanted.

Not enough of them, as it turned out.

Our investigations in Athens earlier this month led us to believe that Syriza was by no means as leftwing as its enemies painted it (see our post “Felipe González”  published on 10 June 2012). All the same, it would have given the fat cats a run for their money.

But then had Cleopatra’s nose been longer…..

We can speculate on the reasons for the failure of the left to do better. One explanation suggested during our recent trip to Greece was that Syriza is essentially an urban-based middle-class party with young well-educated supporters, including writers, artists and the intelligentsia. Its appeal outside Athens and Thessaloniki and particularly among older people in the conservative countryside is said to be limited.   Another reason may be that the electorate had had enough of the current political impasse and was reverting to tribal voting patterns, particularly in the case of New Democracy. Moreover, while Syriza ran what seemed to be an extremely well-organised campaign, its election posters in Athens in particular far outnumbering those of rival parties, it may be that the turnout for the radical left had reached its maximum possible extent.

As it is, the elites in Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington are chortling with glee. Their candidates (the tweedledum and tweededee parties of New Democracy and Pasok) have won. Greece is no longer in danger of making a “disorderly” exit from the euro, thereby setting an ominous precedent for other larger eurozone nations such as Spain.  The pliant government about to be formed will be more than willing to inflict on the Greek people the savage austerity programme demanded by the troika of overseers from Brussels (the European Commission), Frankfurt (the European Central Bank) and Washington (the International Monetary Fund) that now police the Greek budget.

The austerity measures involve slashing the living standards of the Greek people by cutting pay and pensions, social security benefits and so on.  The meager funds left in the public coffers will not be used to alleviate the plight of the long-suffering Greek citizen. Rather, they will be exported to pay back loans and bailouts from international public creditors, such as the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as from international commercial banks.

Between them, New Democracy (129 seats) and Pasok (33 seats), whose policies are virtually identical, now command a majority of 162 seats in the new parliament. They are likely to form a coalition, with or without the participation of other parties.

While both parties are committed to implementing the externally-imposed austerity package to which they signed up under a previous coalition government, they will be hoping, for presentational purposes, that the Troika cut them some slack by alleviating the harshness of some of the measures contained in the package.

However, as we said in our post “Arsonists putting out fires” on 8 May 2012:

“Asking New Democracy or Pasok to rescue Greece from its current economic travails is like recruiting arsonists to put out fires.

The exclusive dominance of New Democracy and Pasok has resulted in a political duopoly that has exercised a stranglehold over Greek political life since the military dictatorship collapsed in 1974. When the electorate has tired of the one party, the other has automatically replaced it in government. The alternation in power of these two parties, however, has not resulted any significant change in government policy, as they both come from the same capitalist stable.

The current implosion of the Greek economy took place, accordingly, during a time when one or other of these parties was in power. It took place on their watch and under their eyes. Hence, they are the last people one might think of calling on to extract the country from the morass in which it is currently mired.

Moreover, both of these parties, happy to suck up to Greece’s international creditors, have endorsed the savage austerity packages exacted by the country’s international creditors. Better the Greek people suffer than have long faces in Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington.”


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

 1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich (6 Feb 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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