A couple of months ago, with the indignation about the latest World Bank report in which poverty was seen as a ‘cognitive tax’, I promised to write something on hope. Because there are several reasons why hope is back on the agenda.
A radical left party won the elections in Greece, end of January. The negotiations with the European Union on debt rescheduling and austerity policies are very very difficult, but they are going on. Greece does not want to leave the Euro, nor the European Union, but does want other mechanisms for respecting the common rules that are inherent to a currency zone.
It is impossible to predict how these negotiations will end. Everything might still go wrong, and Greece might be forced out of the Euro. Apart from the disastrous consequences this would have for life in Greece itself and for the rest of the European Union, the future looks in fact rather rosy. Why?
What the prime minister of the new government, Alexis Tsipras, and his minister of finance, Yannis Varoufakis, are fighting for, is not only the technical dimension of austerity policies. For sure, they do not want to continue the privatization process and they do want to solve the humanitarian crisis in Greece.
But the most delicate point in these negotiations is elsewhere: it is about politics and it is about democracy. The new Greek government does not allow the ‘troika’ – civil servants from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF – anymore to come to Athens to dictate their rules to elected politicians. The Greek government does accept the negotiations on all technical details, but they also demand a political negotiation. Civil servants can look at the technical dossiers, but politicians have to take the decisions, in the Eurogroup – the ministers of finance of the eurozone - or in the European Council.
And this is precisely what these ministers are not familiar with and do not want to do. Varoufakis was astonished to note that the ministers of finance in the Eurogroup did not discuss macro-economics but only specific austerity measures. They did not discuss politics. Of course not!
Politics and more particularly economic policies has been subtracted from democratic procedures a long time ago, with the introduction of neoliberalism. Economics does not have to be discussed anymore, there are no choices to be made, there is but one policy possible, the rules of which have been defined in the ‘Washington Consensus’.
What the new Greek government is doing is re-introducing politics, re-introducing elementary democracy in decisions that touch the lives of millions of people. That is why the resistance in Brussels is so huge.
And that is why it is so important that this is happening. This raises hope, hope that a Podemos government in Spain might do the same, and even hope that some other government might demand political and democratic decisions. Of course, political decisions are taken all the time, even by the so-called ‘independent’ ECB, but there is no democratic debate, politics happen behind closed doors. The poverty, the inequality, the humanitarian crisis in Greece and elsewhere are consequences of political decisions they were never democratically discussed. They are ‘sold’ as purely technical and inevitable measures. This is neoliberalism and this is what the new Greek government is trying to overcome.
This very courageous attitude of Syriza deserves our full support. This is not only important for the European Union but for all countries suffering from neoliberal ideology. And for all social movements, all over the world, to learn one can say no to authoritarian attitudes. There are choices to be made; alternatives to the current policy exist.
If Syriza now looses this battle, a serious backlash will occur, the European integration process will be threatened and those who then rejoice might soon find out that the left makes room for the extreme right and even for fascism.
The European Union is currently at a juncture, a lot is at stake, not only in Greece, but also in Ukraine. Important and dangerous changes can happen.
But at this moment, we still have good reasons to hope, for Greece, for Spain, for other countries where progressive movements are finally starting to understand what is at stake. Let us cherish and strengthen that hope and let us act to make our hopes come true.