[Marxism] Stathis Kouvelakis: "Europe has declared war on Greece"

Dayne Goodwin daynegoodwin at gmail.com
Wed Jul 1 14:59:20 MDT 2015

Stathis Kouvelakis: "Europe has declared war on Greece"
by Miri Davidson for Verso blog, July 1, 2015

Stathis Kouvelakis, Syriza central committee member and Professor of
political philosophy at King’s College London, argues that the Greek
crisis marks the end of the illusion of a democratic Europe. "There
have been no negotiations", he says. "That term isn’t adequate for
describing what has happened."

Why has the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras finally called a referendum?

Even as Tsipras signed the latest set of Greek proposals, the European
institutions remained determined to subject him to a genuine
humiliation exercise, demanding that he go still further, beyond what
he could handle politically: it had become clear that his own party,
his parliamentary majority and even a growing part of society were not
ready to accept any more concessions.

How have we reached this point, after five months of negotiations?

There have been no negotiations. That term isn’t adequate for
describing what has happened. The European institutions have
maintained the same line since the beginning: namely, that of imposing
an austerity plan on the new Greek government, forcing it to remain
within a framework identical to that of its predecessors and thus
showing that electoral contests in Europe can have no effect on what
policies are followed, a fortiori when it is an anti-austerity party
of the radical Left that wins them. What we call the negotiations were
merely a deadly trap – one that has closed in on Tsipras. His error
was not to have understood this in time. He thought that if he pushed
the discussions as far as possible, the Europeans would ultimately
decide on compromise rather than take the risk of a rupture. But they
have not conceded anything, while he has given up a lot over the last
five months: he has made enormous concessions, public opinion has got
used to the idea that an agreement was possible, and the public
coffers are empty.

Did Tsipras not also make a mistake in thinking that he could achieve
less austerity even while remaining in the Eurozone?

I am part of the tendency within Syriza that has believed from the
outset that wanting to reconcile a rejection of austerity with staying
in the euro is a contradiction. And with the ECB deciding to cut off
the Greek banks’ main means of financing in February, we saw that it
was not indeed possible. The currency weapon has served as a means of
pressure on the Greek government in order to force it to renounce its
anti-austerity policy. The most recent episode in this blackmail was
the Eurogroup compelling Tsipras to close the banks for the whole
week, by refusing to extend the current programme. The goal is a
clearly political one: by taking the Greeks hostage and creating a
situation of panic, particularly among the middle classes and the
wealthy, they are attempting either to force the government not to go
as far as staging the referendum, or else to dictate the conditions in
which it takes place and help the "Yes" camp. Europe has declared war
on Greece.

Greek society seems very divided…

Yes, two tendencies are now clashing. The "no" camp is based on a
whole part of the population that is already very heavily affected by
austerity, and which perceives the Troika’s new demands as an attempt
to humiliate Greece. But the "yes: camp, strengthened by the fear
provoked by the banks closing, is also putting together its forces.
There can be no doubt that this referendum is a very brave political
act. That’s something that we have forgotten, as politics has been run
down all over Europe: that important political decisions are always
risky ones.

What are the possible scenarios for after the referendum?

A victory for "yes" would be a major defeat for Tsipras, and it would
doubtless force him to organise fresh elections. Conversely, a victory
for "no" would strengthen his determination faced with the European
institutions, giving him a mandate different from that of the 25
January general election: it would now be a matter of breaking with
austerity whatever the consequences – including if that meant leaving
the European framework. When he announced that the referendum was
going to be held, it was the first time that the word "euro" didn’t
appear at all in his speech. That’s no chance thing.

Is this Europe’s death certificate?

The whole way that the Greek crisis has played out marks the end of a
certain idea, or rather, a certain illusion of Europe. Everyone can
see its anti-democratic character, which respects only the law of the
strongest, as well as its neoliberalism, with its disdain for any form
of democratic control. Everyone has been able to see that even though
Syriza sought only a partial, moderate, pragmatic rupture with
austerity policies, without challenging the fundamentals of the
European framework, the clash has been an ultra-violent one. Simply
because this government was not ready to capitulate to the neoliberal
diktats. Even if the European Union manages to defeat the Greeks’
resistance, it will, I believe, pay a very heavy price for its
attitude. Greece is just the most advanced point of the European
crisis: the EU’s project has less and less support among public
opinion across the continent.

Interview by Sarah Halifa-Legrand for Le Nouvel Observateur;
translated by David Broder.

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