Opinion: Extreme Austerity Breeds Extreme Politics

By Gerodimos, Roman | St. Joseph News-Press, February 13, 2012 | Go to article overview

Opinion: Extreme Austerity Breeds Extreme Politics


Gerodimos, Roman, St. Joseph News-Press


(CNN) -- A seismic shift is taking place in the Greek political system. The series of bailouts and austerity measures implemented during the last two years has led to a fundamental political crisis affecting both the function of government and the standing of key politicians and political parties.

Sunday's debate in parliament regarding the latest austerity and bailout package was marked by unprecedented scenes of tension both inside and outside the building. The bill passed but left both historic buildings in central Athens, as well as both major parties of the interim coalition government, in tatters.

Yet, it would be a mistake to attribute Sunday's destruction to the austerity measures -- similar events took place in December 2008, well before any talk of a debt crisis had reached Greece. What these events symbolize is the mainstreaming of extremism in Greece and the rejection of the rule of law.

Extremism -- both from the far left and from the far right -- is visible throughout the public sphere: it has permeated the political rhetoric; it has polarized social groups against each other; it is present in the everyday discourse of ordinary citizens who single- handedly condemn not only individual politicians but the institutions of representative democracy altogether.

What the politics of extreme austerity does is to offer the ideal excuse -- the perfect cover -- for the further breeding of extremism.

It looks as if public opinion in Greece can tolerate the continuous and widespread destruction of central Athens, but would not accept any police or state action that would contain those few extremist groups that cause mayhem.

The reasons for this self-destructive pattern are historical and cultural. They stem from the long divide between left and right in Greece, which in fact goes back almost one century. Right-wing governments -- either elected or imposed -- dominated Greek politics for much of the 20th century.

The army and the police were instrumental in containing communism and suppressing the left, culminating in the 1967-1974 military junta which scarred the Greek psyche. In the minds of many Greeks, police action is associated with the suppression of fundamental civil liberties.

However, what many don't see is that Greece has now reached the other extreme, in which the lack of law and order hurts those who need it the most. …

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