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Τετάρτη, 29 Ιουνίου 2011

Force, fraud, and the jeering indignant in Greece, by Konstantinos Poulis

There are two kinds of means for staying in power: force and fraud. Fraud doesn’t get us very far, though, because the gullibility of the masses is not infinite: sooner or later the game is up. It has been quite some time now that as soon as any of the two main political parties assumes power, their top priority is to disengage from their election promises, on the grounds that they have been misled as to the true state of our finances. Our governments’ elections are based on lies, for which the responsibility is consistently then transferred to their predecessors.

The problem is that when politicians systematically accuse each other of lying, eventually all are perceived as liars. Why politicians would do that, is amply explained by an aphorism about smoking: pleasure is certain, danger is only possible. When one builds one’s entire career on lies, the long term consequences on political credibility are of secondary importance, if not irrelevant. In a situation like this, we now have the recently added “markets,” which are somewhat touchy, we are told, so we have to be very cautious not to upset them. The result is that our Prime Minister insolently admits he has been considering a number of scenarios to deal with the Greek debt crisis, but he could not do that in public, since that would be disastrous for our country. But Democracy presupposes transparency, some reasonable continuity between private bargaining and the public discourse, so that the poor mob may know what they are voting for and why. When the Prime Minister confesses that he cannot publicly discuss his intentions, the people, not so naïve after all, understand that it makes no difference what our Prime Minister says to them, since decisions are being taken, to quote D. Straus Kahn, “de façon souterrain” (“secretly”). As C. Castoriadis once said of the Soviet Union, if “Pravda” wrote that one plus one equals two, the Russians would immediately proceed to doubt it. It is not just that election promises have lost all credibility, elections themselves may become inconsequential.Under these circumstances, with politics discredited, there lurks the one and only solid certainty: violence. Violence on the part of the state, which will no longer be in a position to persuade the citizenry and maintain social consensus, and violence on the part of the people, since in a world of lies, some will eventually seek the warm embrace of a solid conviction, the kind that blood so uniquely offers. Thus, we have a new generation of terrorists and a growing number of fascists in Greece. This is the worst case scenario, worse than poverty, but it is frighteningly beginning to materialise.We therefore hear that we must be very careful when criticizing parliamentary democracy, because when politicians are booed, in the form of the age old Greek gesture of the open-handed “moutza” pointed towards the parliament building, the status of democracy as such is called into question and, the argument goes, we risk a departure from constitutional legality. But this line of thought ignores three decisive elements of contemporary politics: first, MPs are individuals, not ideal symbols of democracy, however much some like to pretend otherwise; second, that a substantial number of our best constitutional theorists are terrified by the way the “Memorandum of Understanding” skipped the normal procedure of parliamentary approval, and believe that a serious constitutional departure has already taken place; and third, that the absence of violence, once the pride and joy of our corrupt and unjust democracy, seems to be coming to an end. Increasingly the government has to resort to violence. But instead of surrendering to the now fashionable argument that we must treat our MPs with pious awe, lest we pave the way for a new junta, our duty is to deal frankly with the fact that corruption would not have been possible without a substantial number of people tolerating it and voting time and again for those responsible, while insisting that such complicity does not exonerate politicians. The government has every reason to claim that criticizing democracy risks violence. I believe, however, that it is exactly the long exposure to the political lies of this type of democracy that leads to violence, so what matters now is to fill the public sphere with substantially political questions on the causes of this crisis and what it will take to get out of it. To return, that is, to the original meaning of democracy as a passionate struggle to make the public sphere truly public, with the active participation of informed citizens. This is our only hope of escaping both horns of the dilemma, i.e. having politics imposed on us either by force or fraud.

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