Greece and TINA: Syriza Igniting Debates

Margaret Thatcher coined the radical neo-liberal slogan/mantra, “There Is No Alternative”—what most of us know as, “TINA.” Naomi Klein brilliantly developed the history and use of TINA in both theory and practice in her bestseller, The Shock Doctrine. TINA has been the driving force of the Troika, the EU and the US (to varying degrees) in dictating, justifying and implementing austerity, privatization drives, and most importantly—the deconstruction of anything “democratic.”   In the US, we have witnessed the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision and, in Greece and the other debt-plagued EU nations (the “PIIGS”), anti-people memoranda and teams of Troika “administrators” have stripped autonomy from citizens.

Over the past five years, since the New Democracy (ND)-PASOK coalition ruled as the Troika’s go-between in Greece, that government and the media elite in Greece constantly claimed that the main reason their austerity programs hadn’t worked was that parties and groups—like newly-elected Syriza—disagreed and “wouldn’t go along.”   The “nay-sayers” were the problem, and the country needed to maneuver “with one voice”—their voice.

This same theme reared its ugly head yesterday in the Hellenic Parliament as Syriza wound up its three-day presentation of its political program, as the ND and PASOK opposition warned that, “Greece must go to into negotiations with one voice.” The problem is that this is symptomatic of the larger problems that Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is pointing out (among other things): in democracies, people disagree.   And to even passive observers, that was on display when Varoufakis met with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble, when they parted, and Varoufakis stressed that they, “…didn’t even agree to disagree.”

Syriza, and Greece, disagree. They disagree with the continuation of the inhuman pain and suffering being inflicted on the Greek people who didn’t make the decision to enter into those deals, and who didn’t pay Goldman Sachs to cook the books to allow Greece’s fraudulent entry into the Eurozone.

As my good friend, and long-time Syriza international relations point man, Panos Trigazis, pointed out in his 2010 book, TINA Is Dead, there are alternatives, and they are being placed squarely and plainly on the Troika’s and the world’s table.   Whether or not they will succeed is another matter completely. The spark has been struck—in Greece, in Spain, across Europe—and the world has taken notice.

As part of their negotiating strategy and their domestic political strategy, Syriza is clearly not putting all of their cards on the table. Who would?

Critics are crying that Syriza’s stance on ending austerity is threatening the annihilation of the EU. Good! We have been witnessing a regime that nakedly puts banks and creditors ahead of people—and they want to call it, “democracy!” That won’t wash anymore, because TINA is Dead!

In Germany some are mocking and warning that the “Greek Dream” could turn into an EU nightmare. Good! Let the technocrats tremble or up the ante. This is not a card game, however. This is a fight for self-determination, self-respect and dignity for the Greek people.

Mike-Frank Epitropoulos teaches Sociology and is the Director of the Pitt in Greece and Pitt in Cyprus programs at the University of Pittsburgh. He spent three years teaching in both private and public-sector higher education in Greece before returning to the United States in 2007.

 

 

Links on Yanis Varoufakis

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One of the exciting things about the new SYRIZA government in Greece is that the new finance minister is Yanis Varoufakis, a left economist. I am familiar with him because he has been interviewed many times on Behind the News, the radio show of Left Business Observer editor Doug Henwood.

The latest episode of Behind the News compiles clips from five of those interviews, starting with one from 2008 in which he comments on the street demonstrations by students and unions, running through several interviews about the eurozone crisis, and ending (culminating?) in an interview from November in which Varoufakis talks about how SYRIZA should deal with its creditors if it takes power. Two questions and answers from the end of the interview are especially telling and interesting:

Doug Henwood: “Why has it taken so long for some kind of political response to what is now getting to be a fairly old crisis?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “When things go bad and families lose income, their members lose their jobs, it is a natural, I believe, reaction, of people to privatize their concerns and lick their wounds and try to do whatever they can in order to put food on the table. The result is that any radicalism just disappears and what you have is a wave of pessimism that numbs people and causes them to abandon the political–the public–sphere. But that doesn’t last forever, and at some point–especially if there is some hope of stabilization, even at very low levels of economic and social activity–something gives, some spark ignites a fire, especially amongst younger people, who just don’t believe they deserve to live in a world that treats them as fodder. One hopes that young people will at some point say ‘Enough is enough.'”

Doug Henwood: “What would SYRIZA do if it got in power or close to it?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “One word sums it up: negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate. … But to negotiate, and be taken seriously, you have to have a credible threat. You have to be prepared to blow the whole thing up, simply by being intransigent if you are not taken seriously.”

That first stage, when people are “numb,” is when Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine kicks in, I take it (and explains why it took so long for Occupy to happen). I recommend listening to the whole episode (it’s about an hour), and to the interviews the excerpts come from.  But if you want more quotes of some of the best bits, check out the piece in HuffPo with the inflammatory title, Greece’s New Finance Minister: ‘You Have To Be Prepared To Blow The Whole Thing Up’, which seems to have taken the episode as its main source.

There’s been some discussion of Varoufakis on the email list of the Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG), whose members Ron Baiman and Bill Barclay have blogged here.  That discussion produced more interesting background about Varoufakis, including an interesting blog post by the Australian economist Steve Keen (Steve wrote a piece on debt deflation for our Economic Crisis Reader; Varoufakis taught at Sydney University in the 1980s): My Friend Yanis the Greek Minister of Finance.  And Peter Dorman has a post (Greek Negotiations Begin with a Blast) about SYRIZA’s strategy of not engaging with the Troika (the European Central Bank, the IMF, and the EU)–the “negotiate, negotiate, negotiate” of Doug’s interview, if you listen closely, is with other European governments, not the Troika. Dorman mentions Varoufakis’s background in game theory (though I gather he was mostly a critic of game theory); that is especially interesting given that Varoufakis recently had a consulting position with the video game company Valve Software (as discussed in this episode of Doug’s show).

Another good place to get information about Varoufakis is at his own blog, which is in English, and which he promises to keep posting to even as finance minister.