People of Greece Shake Europe
politics is in turmoil," say headlines of newspapers across Europe. And
why? Because the Greek people in the recent election rejected, more or
less, the parties that had signed on to the bailout and austerity
measures. No party is big enough to actually take power, so it's not
clear what happens next.
Now joining us to talk about the
significance of the Greek elections is Costas Lapavitsas. He's a
professor in economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at
the University of London. He's a member of Research on Money and
Finance. He's a regular columnist for The Guardian And he has a new book coming out, called Eurozone in Crisis.Costas Lapavitsas: The growing strength of the left shows the Greek people are getting ready to leave the Eurozone.
Costas Lapavitsas is a
professor in economics at the University of London School of Oriental
and African Studies. He teaches the political economy of finance, and
he's a regular columnist for The Guardian.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Washington.
Thanks for joining us, Costas.COSTAS LAPAVITSAS, PROF. ECONOMICS, UNIV. OF LONDON: Thank you for the invitation. It's a pleasure to be with you.
JAY: So, quickly, what happened in the elections? And then tell us where are we now.
Two things happened in the elections, both of which are very, very
important. First, the Greek people, who were asked for their opinion
about what's been happening to them for the last two years, they've
expressed their democratic right to decide what's going to happen to
their country. That's the first thing that happened.The
second thing is, when they expressed their views, they rejected all
political parties that either supported or tolerated the bailout
agreements and the austerity imposed on the country as a result of that.
They rejected this without question, without doubt. This is the true
significance of the election. Any party that was prepared to criticize
and to oppose what has been happening to the country in the last two
years and to say that the deal imposed on the country as a result of
Europeans and IMF pressure was bad, any candidate who did that
benefited, gained substantially.
JAY: Right. Now, the
surprise, apparently, according to the press, anyway, was the left
coalition, which did much better, I think, got 16, 17 percent of the
LAPAVITSAS: Yeah, that's right. Basically what
happened in Greece was that the middle fell out of the political
spectrum. Greek people moved away from parties that positioned
themselves in the middle of the political spectrum because these parties
were seen as supporting the bailout agreement, and they moved to the
left and to the right. As they moved to the left and to the right, they
gave more of their support to the left. The elections are good for
progressive politics in this regard.
JAY: So what happens
next? The two main parties—what is it? New Democracy and PASOK. Neither
of them—both of them supported the European bailout conditions. Neither
of them have enough seats, even together, to form a government. If I
understand it correctly, the Left Party is saying they won't join a
coalition with the pro-bailout forces. So what happens?
What happens is most likely instability. Greece is unlikely to have a
government, even formally, for the reasons that you point out, and also
because the anti-bailout parties do not have enough votes to form a
government among themselves, not least because they contain a fascist
party, which has a substantial MP—parliamentary representation at the
moment. So it's most unlikely that Greece will be able to form,
formally, a government.Even if it did that, however, even
if a government was somehow concocted out of what exists at the moment,
this government would be very, very weak, and it would be impossible for
it to effect all the measures that the bailout agreement requires it
to. And above all, it would be impossible for it to bring in the cuts
that the government's supposed to take in June. This is what the bailout
predicted. And I just do not see how any Greek government can do that
right now.JAY: So they're threatening another election
soon. And some of the quotes I'm seeing in the newspapers are saying
people are saying, well, we sent a message to Europe, but we're scared,
we don't know what happens next. So what is it? They're going to call
another election and they're going to threaten disaster—although I
assume that's what happened in this election, they were threatening
disaster. And people still rejected this bailout.
I think that an election might well be called. In fact,
constitutionally it will have to be called if no formal agreement or
some other mechanism is put together to have a government in place in
the coming few weeks. New elections will have to be called for sometime
in July, probably. And in that context what is likely to happen is that
the SYRIZA Party, the party of the left that came second in the election
[behind] the clear winner of this election, is likely to do even
better, and it is likely to do even better because, I think, first,
because the Greek electorate is—yesterday took a major step. It actually
voted en masse for a party for which it had never voted before. If this
party of the left plays its cards right in the coming weeks, should
there be another election, my expectation is they will do even better
and Greece will move even further towards rejecting the bailout
JAY: So tell us more about this party. Who
makes it up? And what is their program, in terms of what they think is
the strategy for the crisis?LAPAVITSAS: This party's a
coalition of various organizations of the left. It has been about for 20
years. It contains some people who came out of the Communist Party
many, many years ago. It contains people from all sorts of other parties
of the left, of the Democratic left and so on. It has always tried to
find a different path for socialism and for social transformation in
Greece. It's a party that has in good measure supported the European
direction taken by Greece and by Greek society and economy. Many of them
are ardent Europeanists, pro-Europe people. This party has a program or
has developed a program during the last few months which basically says
that they will default on the debt, they will have an audit commission
on the debt, and they will aggressively seek debt write-offs. That—in
this way they will provide debt relief to Greece. On top of it, they
will then go for income and wealth redistribution, and they will also go
for industrial policy to restructure the productive sector of the Greek
economy. All this they maintain that they can do while remaining within
the monetary union. In my judgment, this is not possible. If they begin
to apply their program, if they find themselves anywhere near
government and they begin to apply their program, they will very rapidly
realize that membership of the monetary union will be on the table. So
in effect Greece yesterday took a first and decisive step towards
getting out of monetary union in political terms.
JAY: And this is—do the Greek people understand this? 'Cause there seems to be so much confusion.
Indeed. The Greek people at the moment, the electorate at the moment,
presents a mixture of two things: enormous anger with the existing
political parties brought it to this—brought the country to this pass;
enormous anger at what has been imposed on the electorate in terms of
income cuts and so on. But at the same time, the electorate is confused.
It doesn't really know what might be a good solution, a decisive way
out of this. What you saw in the election results yesterday is a mixture
of these two things, anger and confusion. So people were prepared to
vote for this SYRIZA Party because it expressed its anger very
powerfully.Now, within that, SYRIZA was very careful not
to raise the issue of the euro, because it knows that exiting the
monetary union is something that scares people. It's something that
people do not wish to see. So they've kept quiet about it. In my view,
this will not wash, this cannot be maintained, and instinctively people
will—already realize and will realize even more that if the program of
SYRIZA is put in place and made reality, then membership of the monetary
union will also become an issue that goes straight on the table.
Now, in France, the new president, Hollande, made speeches that he's
going to take on finance, he's against austerity, it's time for a change
of direction for Europe. He was practically talking like he'd been
elected president of Europe—or non-Germany Europe, at any rate. And now
with the election in France, there's lots of discussion about is this
really going to be a change for Europe. What do you make of Hollande,
and is that really—is it really significant, his election?
Let me say first of all that what's happened in Greece is similar in
many respects to what happened in France, although, of course, Greece is
a more extreme case. In fact, it's similar to what's been happening in
country after country in Europe. Europe went on this austerity drive and
neoliberal drive two years ago. Many people argued that it was a great
deal of nonsense, but Europe nonetheless did it and went down this path.The
result of the austerity drive has been to put working people, wage
laborers, and also a lot of middle-class people, self-employed, and
small and medium business owners under enormous pressure in Europe. When
that happened, the center fell out of politics, basically. The European
electorates in many, many different countries moved away from the
center and strengthened the left and right. This you see across Europe.
The extreme right and the extreme left have benefited from this. Now,
Hollande in France expresses this move in the French context, shows that
the French people want some radical answers, some radical solutions.Now,
I don't trust him, personally. I don't trust and I don't believe that
he will do half [of what] he argues he will do. Nonetheless, his
election's very important, because it shows that the tide might be
turning in Europe. It shows that political changes might be put in place
that will lead to better results in the near future. Let's wait and
JAY: And just to finally—the right-wing, far-right
movement, neofascist movement in France, this is nothing new, although
it's gained in strength in the last—in this last election. In Greece,
many of the Greeks being interviewed seem somewhat surprised by the
strength of the far right in these Greek elections. How significant is
LAPAVITSAS: It is the same pattern that we've seen
across several other countries in Europe. Greece is not exceptional in
these respects. What is exceptional is the strength of the outright
fascist components of the extreme right. The authoritarian and
nationalistic right gained enormously in Greece. But on top of that, the
straightforward fascist right also made significant gains, very
significant gains. I think this—.
JAY: And these are people that are using a Hitlerite salute and actually something somewhat akin to a swastika as a symbol.
That's correct. I think they are straight fascists who made significant
gains because they took a virulent anti-immigrant position. They blamed
immigrants for a lot of the problems of the country, and they also
blamed immigrants for the breakdown in law and order that many people
appear to experience in the large urban centers. They also participated
actively in various mechanisms that offer people support in the
humanitarian crisis that the austerity has brought to the urban centers,
particularly in Athens, so they benefited from that. They have dressed
all this up in an anti-politician, anti-corruption, nationalistic
rhetoric. And people have gone for them. People have gone for them.
These are phenomena that we last saw in Europe on this scale in the
Weimar Republic. This is what the austerity policy appears to be
creating in Europe, a reemergence of the Weimar Republic.But
I don't wish to overstress the importance of the fascists, bad as this
is. The real winners of the election in Greece yesterday were the left.
Really, the Greek people said that they want a solution in the direction
of the left, not to the right, yesterday.
JAY: Well, in
the late 1920s, the left in Germany was very powerful, and the rise of
the fascists and Hitler had significant backing within the German
elites. To what extent are the Greek elites behind this fascist movement
LAPAVITSAS: Not at the moment. There is no
evidence that it is the elite that's supporting the fascists at the
moment, although the elite have certainly supported some of the
authoritarian and nationalistic far-right parties that
emerged—non-fascist ones, non-fascist ones. Secondly, the elite have
supported this type of right-wing resurgence, but not the fascists. No
evidence at the moment that the Greek ruling class, ruling elite wants a
fascist solution. No evidence for that.So the issue for
the left, it seems to me, is to put together a program that is coherent,
that it can persuade the Greek people that it can take them out of the
crisis and you can reset the economy. If they do that, I believe that
the influence of the fascist right will diminish.
Okay. We'll come back to you in a week or two, and we'll catch up and
see how things go, because right now Greek politics are not clear at
all. Thanks for joining us, Costas.
LAPAVITSAS: Thank you very much.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.