All Quiet in Greece? An Irish visitor gives her answer

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“Things have gone very quiet in Greece, haven’t they?” So many people said that to me in the past six months or so. I responded that there was a lot going on, even if international media weren’t covering it. There were civil mobilisations of teachers and transport workers, as well as rising unemployment, emigration and impoverishment, being met with continuing protest, strikes, occupations. Even so, I sensed a lull in the rhythm of resistance, since the big demonstrations opposing the passage of the third memorandum last autumn. Obviously people couldn’t keep going at that pitch all the time, but how many were succumbing to exhaustion, despair, defeat? How many were quietly going about their work in solidarity networks, policy development, political education?

The story circulating in May, promoted by its government, was that Greece had stabilised and protest had subsided. Grexit had given way to Grecovery. Antonis Samaras, who was most actively articulating this, touring the world with the good news, even heralded a Greek ‘renaissance’. The feeblest of economic indicators were offered as evidence, although international commentators, even ones who wanted to believe this story, found it hard to get past the fact that most indicators still pointed in the opposite direction. In other statements, Samaras conceded that they hadn’t really changed the numbers yet, but insisted that they had eliminated the ‘negative psychology’.

Many Greeks were scathing, pointing out that tiny shifts from rating agencies and bond yields paled into insignificance aside the continuing freefall of the economy and the still deteriorating conditions of life for non-oligarchic Greeks. Among indicators being trumpeted were lower wages, which might be good news for investors, but hardly for workers. Yanis Varoufakis labelled the Greek success story as the ‘latest Orwellian turn of the Greek crisis’ and laid the economic facts on the line’.

At this point Ireland came into the story. Enda Kenny arrived in Athens on 23 May 2013. On the basis of a few hours in Athens and conversations with Samaras, he endorsed the Greek ‘success story’ and praised Samaras for changing international sentiment toward Greece. Samaras declared that Greece was following Ireland’s example to exit the crisis and to return to the markets next year. This ‘return to the markets’ is presented as the great utopian aspiration of our time. In Ireland we are told that we are set to enter that promised land soon. So all that evolutionary striving was for this.

At the press conference of the two prime ministers, Samaras said ‘Ireland has shown us the way back to growth and to the markets’. For the Greek elite, Ireland was a model during the boom and it remains so in the bust. Kenny soaked up the flattery and smugly advised Samaras that the secret of our ‘success’ was to establish ‘trust’ with the troika. RTE news opened the item with images of the Acropolis and the ceremonial changing of the guards at the Greek parliament. It was all reported without a hint of scepticism, regarding both Irish and  Greek ‘success’ as somehow self-evident. They did not see fit to mention statements by Syriza or KKE calling attention to Ireland’s debt, emigration, cuts, all on the road of advancing oligarchic interests at great social cost to the rest of the population. It was not considered newsworthy to note that the Greek left did not see Ireland as a model for Greece. Even beyond the left, there would be many voices in both Ireland and Greece who would query whether either Ireland or Greece is a success story. Tony Connelly, RTE correspondent in Athens during the Kenny-Samaras visit, nevertheless parroted the preferred narrative of the plutocracy.

Return to Athens

A counter-narrative was in order. I had been following events, but had some questions to answer to clarify my sense of where the story was now. Could it be that the time of possibility for the left had passed? Despite the reality that all problems persisted, even intensified, were the powers-that-be prevailing after all? Could this be one more chapter in the tragic history of the Greek left, who have been so strong, who have fought so fiercely, but always been bitterly defeated?

Read Helena Sheehan’s answer here