28 Juni 2015

Democratic Russian Roulette

It is inevitable to speak about Greece today. There is a generalized feeling of astonishment about the Greek government’s decision to hold a referendum on the Eurogroup’s second-to-last offer laid down on Thursday. The astonishment has basically two strands: some say it is economic and political suicide for Greece; some say it is the most dignified way out for the Greek people (and its government).

I am personally not astonished. I am enraged.

To be honest, I thought Syriza’s government would bring along a fresh look at EU politics and a new and positive ideological counterweight in Council meetings, but I am afraid it has not: all it has done is prove to be just another shortsighted and mediocre political party (one more among many). And in all its mediocrity and shortsightedness, it has created, willingly or not, a new and lethal game: democratic russian roulette.

We are all rather familiar with Germany’s financial efforts and the Bundestag’s painful decisions on each Greek rescue programme. However, not much has been said about, for example, the Spanish contribution to the Greek rescue programmes. You probably are unaware that Spain, in the midst of its worse economic crisis in decades, with almost six million unemployed and in deep recession, went to the bond markets to look for no less than 26.000 million euros, as part of its contribution to the Greek resue programmes. Because Spain was at that time (2011, 2012, 2013…) in a dubious financial state, this means that Spaniards paid (and keep paying) for those contributions an interest rate that is considerably higher than the one paid by Germany, Finland or the Netherlands. In other words: Spaniards might contribute quantitatively less, but the effort has been considerably more expensive for them than for the nationals of countries that happened to be in much better financial shape at the time.

Nobody ever asked the Spanish people if they wished to contribute to such a programme. It was never put to a vote in Parliament. However, nobody really cared about voting. Spaniards were told we should help the Greek people, and everyone, I mean everyone, thought it was the right thing to do.

So now we have a Greek government claiming it is unwilling to commit to its obligations under the last rescue programme. And to prove itself right, it decides to hold a confusing referendum about something it actually is not: the Greeks will have to vote on a proposal made by the Eurogroup that improves the conditions of the last assistance programme, although everybody knows that the vote will not really concern the programme. In fact, the referendum is about whether Greece keeps paying its debts and whether it stays in our out of the Eurozone. This is not what you will read in the question being put to the Greek people next Sunday, but it doesn’t really matter, right? It is all about democracy and the dignity of the Greek people.

If Syriza’s gamble is really about democracy, then I have an objection to make: how about the 26.000 million euros the Spanish people invested in Greece’s future? Are we, Spaniards, entitled to have a say, or are we just selfish and criminal creditors, unconcerned about the people of Greece and deserving to rot in hell? And if this is really about democracy, shouldn’t I have a say in this too? Why is this about the dignity of the Greek people and not about the dignity of the other peoples of Europe? Although the discourse of the Syriza government puts its emphasis on solidarity and dignity… what about the solidarity and dignity of countries that committed themselves to help the Greek people in times of difficulty? Don’t they deserve dignity and solidarity too?

In fact, if we all start complaining about our individual national dignities and our individual degrees of solidarity, doesn’t this discourse take us simply nowhere? Can you see how lethal this can be?

In my opinion, we are facing cheap politics. Cheap politicians playing cheap politics, but holding in their hands the future of millions of Greeks. Syriza is not fighting for the dignity of the Greek people, it is fighting to save its own ass.

If Syriza’s government realized that its demands had run out of political fuel, either because its Eurozone partners at the negotiating table were not buying them, or because the Greek Parliament would never vote them, its duty was to call an election (democracy, right?). But its duty was definitely not to hold a confusing referendum that will only drive Greece down a painful road of loss and uncertainty.

Democracy is about self-government and responsibility, not about blame-games and easy scapegoats. By holding this ludicrous referendum, the Greek government has put a gun in the head of the Greek people and asked them to pull the trigger. To make things worse, it is campaigning so that they pull the trigger.

This is not democracy at its best. This is democratic russian roulette, just as deadly as the original, but way much more irresponsible.

This article has previously appeared on Despite our Differences and is reposted here with kind permission.


SUGGESTED CITATION  Sarmiento, Daniel: Democratic Russian Roulette, VerfBlog, 2015/6/28, https://verfassungsblog.de/democratic-russian-roulette/.

2 Comments

  1. Blinzler Mo 29 Jun 2015 at 16:07 - Reply

    Dear Mr Sarmiento,

    whil I am most sympathic about the spanish contributions to greece, them being, like you sad, much more expensive to the spanish people then all the money from german institution, I can’t follow you.

    If what Syriza says and believes is right (and I think it is!!), meaning that the offer from the EU means more reforms hurting the poor while having no realistic vision to finally have a growing economy again, Syriza just has no other choice. Of course they could say goodby and resign immediatly and by that flee from the job and the responsibility the people of greece elected them to have. Bit that would be murch worse.

    What they can’t do is agree to an offer which offers no hope to greece but hits an already hurting economy even more. Where do you think can the greek economy grow again when there is nobody able to pay?

    No, you’re right to be enraged. You just should think again against whom and what your rage should be directed at.

  2. Detlef Do 2 Jul 2015 at 17:03 - Reply

    I have to disagree here, Blinzler.

    In its election campaign, Syriza prioritized three topics (very simplified):
    – an end to austerity
    – a debt cut
    – staying in the Eurozone

    Since February there have been discussions and negotiations between the parties. And it should have been obvious to Syriza that they wouldn´t get everything.

    Likewise the June 30 deadline was well known. Not just for the IMF payment but also that the second bail-out agreement with the EFSF would end on that day.
    Any new agreement now would have to be made with the ESM.

    If they wanted a referendum they could have proposed one in May. The idea of one was floating around back then and even Schäuble agreed that it might be a good ides. Back then Tsipras declined and said that his government had a mandate to negotiate and decide.
    It would have been easy to pick – say – Sunday, June 14. Enough time from May to organize the referendum properly and make sure the voters are kept informed.
    If the voters say yes, okay. If the voters say no, Tsipras has 10-14 days left to try and get further concessions.

    But announcing a referendum on June 27….?
    Knowing full well the deadline of June 30? And knowing full well that several Eurozone parliaments (at least 5 I´ve heard) had to vote on any agreement before that deadline?
    I don´t understand it.
    It´s as if the Greek government was thinking that the closer to the deadline, the more desperate the Eurozone would become. And the better the deal for Greece. And panicking on June 27 when things didn´t go according to their scenario.

    And why send a new proposal on June 30? Knowing full well that there wouldn´t be enough time for a deal (5 parliaments remember?).
    if the referendum is so important then why undermine it?

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Europa, Griechenland


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Europa, Griechenland
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28 Juni 2015

Democratic Russian Roulette

It is inevitable to speak about Greece today. There is a generalized feeling of astonishment about the Greek government’s decision to hold a referendum on the Eurogroup’s second-to-last offer laid down on Thursday. The astonishment has basically two strands: some say it is economic and political suicide for Greece; some say it is the most dignified way out for the Greek people (and its government).

I am personally not astonished. I am enraged.

To be honest, I thought Syriza’s government would bring along a fresh look at EU politics and a new and positive ideological counterweight in Council meetings, but I am afraid it has not: all it has done is prove to be just another shortsighted and mediocre political party (one more among many). And in all its mediocrity and shortsightedness, it has created, willingly or not, a new and lethal game: democratic russian roulette.

We are all rather familiar with Germany’s financial efforts and the Bundestag’s painful decisions on each Greek rescue programme. However, not much has been said about, for example, the Spanish contribution to the Greek rescue programmes. You probably are unaware that Spain, in the midst of its worse economic crisis in decades, with almost six million unemployed and in deep recession, went to the bond markets to look for no less than 26.000 million euros, as part of its contribution to the Greek resue programmes. Because Spain was at that time (2011, 2012, 2013…) in a dubious financial state, this means that Spaniards paid (and keep paying) for those contributions an interest rate that is considerably higher than the one paid by Germany, Finland or the Netherlands. In other words: Spaniards might contribute quantitatively less, but the effort has been considerably more expensive for them than for the nationals of countries that happened to be in much better financial shape at the time.

Nobody ever asked the Spanish people if they wished to contribute to such a programme. It was never put to a vote in Parliament. However, nobody really cared about voting. Spaniards were told we should help the Greek people, and everyone, I mean everyone, thought it was the right thing to do.

So now we have a Greek government claiming it is unwilling to commit to its obligations under the last rescue programme. And to prove itself right, it decides to hold a confusing referendum about something it actually is not: the Greeks will have to vote on a proposal made by the Eurogroup that improves the conditions of the last assistance programme, although everybody knows that the vote will not really concern the programme. In fact, the referendum is about whether Greece keeps paying its debts and whether it stays in our out of the Eurozone. This is not what you will read in the question being put to the Greek people next Sunday, but it doesn’t really matter, right? It is all about democracy and the dignity of the Greek people.

If Syriza’s gamble is really about democracy, then I have an objection to make: how about the 26.000 million euros the Spanish people invested in Greece’s future? Are we, Spaniards, entitled to have a say, or are we just selfish and criminal creditors, unconcerned about the people of Greece and deserving to rot in hell? And if this is really about democracy, shouldn’t I have a say in this too? Why is this about the dignity of the Greek people and not about the dignity of the other peoples of Europe? Although the discourse of the Syriza government puts its emphasis on solidarity and dignity… what about the solidarity and dignity of countries that committed themselves to help the Greek people in times of difficulty? Don’t they deserve dignity and solidarity too?

In fact, if we all start complaining about our individual national dignities and our individual degrees of solidarity, doesn’t this discourse take us simply nowhere? Can you see how lethal this can be?

In my opinion, we are facing cheap politics. Cheap politicians playing cheap politics, but holding in their hands the future of millions of Greeks. Syriza is not fighting for the dignity of the Greek people, it is fighting to save its own ass.

If Syriza’s government realized that its demands had run out of political fuel, either because its Eurozone partners at the negotiating table were not buying them, or because the Greek Parliament would never vote them, its duty was to call an election (democracy, right?). But its duty was definitely not to hold a confusing referendum that will only drive Greece down a painful road of loss and uncertainty.

Democracy is about self-government and responsibility, not about blame-games and easy scapegoats. By holding this ludicrous referendum, the Greek government has put a gun in the head of the Greek people and asked them to pull the trigger. To make things worse, it is campaigning so that they pull the trigger.

This is not democracy at its best. This is democratic russian roulette, just as deadly as the original, but way much more irresponsible.

This article has previously appeared on Despite our Differences and is reposted here with kind permission.


SUGGESTED CITATION  Sarmiento, Daniel: Democratic Russian Roulette, VerfBlog, 2015/6/28, https://verfassungsblog.de/democratic-russian-roulette/, DOI: 10.17176/20170227-143332.

Leave A Comment

WRITE A COMMENT

1. We welcome your comments but you do so as our guest. Please note that we will exercise our property rights to make sure that Verfassungsblog remains a safe and attractive place for everyone. Your comment will not appear immediately but will be moderated by us. Just as with posts, we make a choice. That means not all submitted comments will be published.

2. We expect comments to be matter-of-fact, on-topic and free of sarcasm, innuendo and ad personam arguments.

3. Racist, sexist and otherwise discriminatory comments will not be published.

4. Comments under pseudonym are allowed but a valid email address is obligatory. The use of more than one pseudonym is not allowed.




Other posts about this region:
Deutschland


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Deutschland
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