For the last two years Greece has been a big laboratory. A laboratory for economic policy (meaning how a program of abrupt internal devaluation would work in face of a severe economic crisis in an advanced capitalist economy), for the margins of social reaction and for the form and magnitude of political evolution.
Is this claim stating the obvious? Not that much so. Whether what is happening in this small country of the European periphery is to be considered as a contemporary story of “crime and (benevolent) punishment” or as a preview of a pattern preparing to be applied all around Europe has been – and still remains – at stake.
Greece has gone through one of the most aggressive programs of economic adjustment applied in the developed world, with an absolutely failing result. The cumulative reduction of Greek GDP between 2009 and 2011 was about 12% while, during the first trimester of 2012 recession amounts to -7.5%. Wages and pensions have been cut in some cases up to 50%, the official unemployment rate reaches 22% and social expenditures are increasingly reduced with the goal of reaching 30% of GDP. This was supposed to increase competitiveness, restore the interest for investments and lead the Greek economy back to the markets supposedly by 2013 (according to the initial predictions). What happened instead was a pile of increasing debt – still unsustainable after a restructuring of 53% a few months ago –, an uncontrollable recession and a society on the verge of breakdown.
What did the story of “benevolent punishment” make of this? The reply lies clear in the punch line of today’s (26/5/2012) Guardian: “Lagarde to Greeks – It’s payback time, don’t expect sympathy”. In other words: “It is not the austerity’s fault, it is your fault. This is a Greek problem with which we have helped enough. Now it is time for you to pay”. It would probably need two or three more articles the length of this one to define what everyone means with the words “help” and “payback”, but for the scope of this narrative it should be enough to take a second look at the previous paragraph in order to realize how helpful “help” was.
What is the Greek story then? Are we denying ourselves in insisting that Greece is not an exceptional case, which needs to be cut off the European fabric in order for the latter to save itself? Quite the opposite. We turn around to note some interesting facts: That the first European country to be hit by the crisis was Iceland, one of the countries with the smallest level of corruption worldwide. That the “Irish miracle” fell into shambles when it had to bailout the huge liabilities of its banking sector. That countries with historically low public debts, such as Spain, are now in the brink of the cliff. That economies with productive private sectors such as Italy and France face the threat of a possible breakdown.
What the Greek Left is struggling to argue is the urgency for everyone to realise that this is a serious European problem that can only be resolved in a collective European way. That the bailout-austerity nexus is an irrational, ineffective, socially destructive and dangerous way to deal with the European crisis. That what we are experiencing in our country is a loud expression of the rejection of austerity policies which is not only crucial for Greece, but for the rest of Europe.
After the result of the elections of 6 May in Greece, the reinforcement of the Left in France, the fall of the government in the Netherlands and all other efforts of resistance that we have seen and we will continue to see around Europe, those of us who believe that another Europe is possible must be more confident than ever that the choice we made about not abandoning the European field of struggle was right.
This is why we should not retreat to isolated national debates when in fact the reasons why we have been arguing all this time for a European Left that communicates, that shares experiences, that tries to coordinate struggles, that influences its bits and parts, proves to be correct.
Maybe, starting from Greece, this is our chance to take advantage of the interrelation between our economies, the communication between our societies, the mutual inspiration we acquire from our movements, the appeal of our electoral campaigns on the peoples of Europe. Maybe this time the pieces of our own puzzle are starting to be put together.