Wednesday, June 27, 2012

a note on the May 6, 2012 Greek elections appeared in Diplomaatia

Elections in Greece

by Spyros A.Sofos

Instead of the traditional left-right division, Greek political landscape is increasingly divided according to the parties’ attitudes towards austerity measures.

On May 6, just less than six months after the coalition government of technocrat Lucas Papademos succeeded that of beleaguered prime minister George Papandreou in order to initiate the reforms agreed at the Eurozone summit on October 26, 2011, Greek voters went to the polls to elect a new parliament and government against a rather gloomy backdrop.

The path to the polls
The sovereign debt crisis had exacerbated the contraction of the economy and the increase of unemployment (now affecting one in every three young people). The desperate attempts of the lastPanhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and the subsequent tripartite coalition government to raise revenues through hastily concocted tax, levy and contribution packages, which targeted groups whose incomes have traditionally been transparent and accessible to the revenue authorities, had renewed demands for a more equitable distribution of the tax burden. The failure to reign on a small but not negligible part of the population that has shielded its assets and income from tax collection through exploiting legal loopholes by failing to declare them or by moving them offshore was seen by many as a sign of chronic incompetence, corruption and unwillingness to reform.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kosovo – UNMIK's North Mitrovica presence

The region north of the river Ibar in the Mitrovica area of Kosovo has been resisting the imposition of Kosovar Albanian control. Its largely Serbian population is quite apprehensive of the extension of Pristina's jurisdiction. UNMIK has stepped in in 2002 to administer northern Mitrovica and provide a crucial liaison between Pristina and the region's Serbs. Gerard Gallucci is arguing in Transconflict that the dismantling of the UNMIK administration there would be disastrous as it would undermine Serbian confidence and create a source of tension and even violence in the region.                                                                                                                                                                                      

Some thoughts on the emergence of the far right in Greece

The May and June parliamentary elections have returned Greece's openly national socialist and erstwhile marginal party to the parliament. Today 18 members of parliament have been elected under the party banner. Many more seem to share some of the views that have made the party popular; the demonization of immigrants, the assumption that crime is imported, an intense anti-europeanism. There is a lot that needs to be done to analyse and counter such discourses. But the phenomenon of Χρυσή Αυγή (Golden Dawn) is still unexplored beyond the journalistic work that has surrounded it. 
Back in November 2011, I was invited to talk in a panel on the extreme right in Europe with Zeev Sternhell and Vassiliki Georgiadou. There I suggested that we need to see how the extreme right engages citizens at the micro level, providing local services that the state or civil society seem not to be able or willing to. At the time, another extreme right party, ΛΑΟΣ, had agreed to participate to a coalition government to prepare Greece to negotiate its second bailout deal with the IMF, EU and ECB troika. People were focused on this facet of the extreme right and did not understand or, perhaps did not want to understand, the ways in which Χρυσή Αυγή was establishing links, networks and relationships on the ground, in areas of urban decay but also beyond them by providing 'security' in some local areas. The photographs and video below represent yet another aspect of this engagement of the far right with local societies, this time providing food staples to those in need. These do not have to be systematic activities, they can be isolated, even staged, but highly symbolic. They deploy a narrative of state failure, the moral collapse of the elite and the establishment and legitimise the far right who stays present and vigilant at the grassroots level. And, what is more, rumour and myth quickly propagate such claims and constitute the basis of new truth claims and repertoires.

Below, I reproduce a short excerpt from my talk:

It is interesting to note the ways in which the far Right engages with society at large. Just like Islamic movements have done earlier on the Far Right attempts to "fill gaps" in state and civil society provision and presence, providing education, welfare and social solidarity services denoting in this way the inefficiency of the "system" .... Organizations such as Chrisi Avgi have created "patrol units" in declining areas of Athens in order to draw attention to the inadequacy of the state, to link urban decline and crime with immigration and to reinforce xenophobia and establish links with local societies. The far Right does not attempt to prove the validity of the totality of its worldview, or drawing on Gramsci's terminology, does not (always) engage in a war of positions but in a war of manoeuvres.

Spyros A. Sofos, notes from a talk at the Onassis Cultural Centre on the theme "Europe's extreme right wing reflexes", 16/11/2011

You can see the video of the talk (in Greek) here:

The text of the talk (in Greek) appeared in v 14 of the Greek cultural and political review Books' Journal (Dec 2011) together with the text of Professor Sternhell.