Last night, Poppi could not sleep. In the evening she fed five German tourists and then, as she loves to do, she stopped to talk with them. Poppi is the owner and lone cook for one of the most traditional and beautiful taverns in the whole Mediterranean Sea, at the foot of the old village of Campos, in the heart of Ikaria, the Greek island where, according to the myth, Icarus’ dreams found their tragic end.
Last night she honored her German guests with meat and fish dishes cooked in her old kitchen, which clearly does not obey standard European hygienic norms. At the end of the dinner, she sat at their table, offered them some tsipouro with masticha (an aromatic resin that has been used since time immemorial to cure stomach ailments in the Aegean islands), and stopped to talk with them. Poppi’s German guests tried to convince her that there is only one thing the Greeks can do to emerge from the crisis: reduce the cost of their labor force and lower the prices of land and real estate. This will make them a fertile ground for investments by Northern Europe’s strong economies and other wealthy countries. “You have nothing else but your land and yourselves, you practically produce nothing: put yourself at the service of others, devaluing yourselves, so you too can enjoy the investments of those who produce and hold the riches.” Poppi listened to them, respected the rules of hospitality and did not offend them. But then she felt very ill and was unable to sleep. I think that only if we can understand fully why Poppi could not sleep, we can believe that we might understand what is happening right now in Greece and Europe.
The issue on the table is not the survival of Greece or the health of the Euro.
The true issue is the one synthesized, maybe unconsciously, by Poppi’s well-sated, German guests. The question we must ask is not whether Greece will be able to remain in the Euro or if it will receive a discount on its debt. The question is whether we want Europe to become or not the new global, political subject capable of setting limits to the unlimited power that today is in the hands of global financial capitalism.
If Europe and its governments limit themselves to applying technical solutions to guarantee monetary equilibria that do not disturb the markets, then the only outcome for the Greeks (and soon thereafter for the Italians and the Spaniards, and in general for all weak and marginal subjects, first and foremost migrant ones) is to align themselves with the rules of deterritorialized, globalized economy, which encourages one to move quickly and virtually where it finds fertile grounds and where it can maximize profits and hide its incomes. Europe could instead choose to become something else: the first and, for now, only political subject open to new paths in the relationship between economy and State in the era of globalization, imposing on a large swath of land a mechanism of containment of the concentration of wealth and starting a new policy of redistribution and resistance to inequality. This much is common knowledge: inequality in Europe and the world over continues to grow constantly and exponentially. The middle class is choked and squeezed toward the bottom, and the poor segment of the population continues to expand and become poorer, while the richest minority becomes richer and ever freer from state controls, thanks to the ability of the global economy to occupy new territories and move assets.
To come back to Greece and to understand in monetary terms what we are talking about, Greek debt hovers around 300 billion Euros, while the riches “hidden” in off-shore paradises, is estimated to be around 7-8,000 billion Euros. But obviously the two sets of data are not set next to each other and many would say that it makes no sense to do so. Technically I know well that the two sets of data have little to do with one another, but politically they narrate what the social and historical horizons might be that the Greek question poses for our age.
For this reason, after a long day spent with Poppi and many young Greeks in that and in other taverns, I have no doubt that at this time the stakes are exquisitely and deeply political. Syriza is a political subject who places at the center of his reflection and action the need to identify the instruments that might help to reestablish social equality policies that the defeat of social-democratic ideals and the growth of the global financial economy have crushed. He is doing it by taking as his point of departure a country where the suffering is greatest and where the anger toward the old state system is most explosive. He is doing it by focusing the enthusiasm of many younger people, who belong to a generation that is personally affected by the consequences of the alliance between global finance and national corruption. He is doing it by creating a long wave of other movements and parties that, crossing through Europe, could cause disturbances to the structures of power that certainly would not be welcome to the current establishment, which is firmly entrenched in the salons where the alliance between finance and politics plays itself out. He is doing it by saying clearly that politics must have as its priority the safeguard of the health, wellbeing, and dignity of all citizens (at the same time opening a discussion about who might qualify as “citizens” in today’s global society). He is doing it not for Greek debt, but taking as his point of departure Greek debt and saying clearly: we are not the ones who caused the debt, but we are ready to take responsibility for it, though we will not renounce our priority of safeguarding everyone’s dignity.
What is probably not clear to other Europeans is that 5 years ago, Europe asked the same people who caused the debt through their ignorance and dishonesty to pay it back by establishing policies based on social injustice which have undone the life of thousands of people. Maybe few Europeans understand that, in Greece, 5000 people have committed suicide in less than 5 years. Maybe few can understand what it means that, in the same family, one’s pension has been halved, the children are unemployed, and one’s household bills have increased 30-40%. Maybe few other Europeans can imagine what it means not to have medicines to cure a mother’s or a child’s cancer.
These are conditions that have become the norm for Greek citizens, thanks to the demands made by the Euro-group and by the IMF to the governments of Nea Democratia and Pasok in excahange for the aid necessary to pay back the debt; governments that were made up of the same ruling classes that had caused the debt by pretending to have non-existent riches and inuring its citizens to a lifestyle and system of consumption that was well above their means. Syriza has attacked and defeated not only those ruling classes, but also the social policies that those ruling classes applied following the guiding principles of European powers. For this reason today Syriza’s government asks that those principles be changed and that the question of the debt be a secondary consideration vis-à-vis the need to restore dignity and health to every citizen.
Those who now attack Syriza and Greece accusing them of not wanting to pay back the debt as is technically necessary, are those who don’t have and don’t want to have the courage to open a new horizon to social justice. Those who raise the alarm, claiming that Greece risks dragging Europe in the abyss, do so because they want to isolate and politically defeat Syriza, and those who, with Syriza, believe in the need for new European and global social policies. Those who today spread panic and fear do so because they hope that Greece might return to the same ruling class that caused the debt and ruined thousands of families, while giving its loyalty to the allegiance between finance and politics.
This is the reason why today what is in play is not Greece’s choice to remain in Europe, but Europe’s choice to understand Greece. These are the reason why Poppi did not sleep last night. And these are the reasons why we should have the courage to understand why it is so.