Tag Archives: Greece

The crisis of Western democracies continues: Post-Democracy in Italy. How the political-economic elite tries to transform a Parliamentarian system in a de facto Presidential one

Populism

All institutions, being a product of human societies, have a birth, an evolution and a end: unless they reform themselves, they die. This include the nation states, that are passing through a transition from mono-ethnic to pluri-ethnic identities (see the new approach of the CDU in Germany to the concept of motherland, Heimat) and the democratic systems, being them based on Presidential or Parliamentarian institutions, that are passing today through a transition from representative to participatory democracy, still inside a Republican framework. As the transformation of nation states is happening mostly in the two countries that built them, France and Germany, the “reformation of democracy” is happening in the country that contributed to create it millennia ago: Italy (as Greece failed last year in his attempt).

Liberal Western democracies are in crisis since some decades already, because of the economic power dominating the political one, the inefficiency of the public institutions and the distance between establishment politicians and the people. But the recent migrations to Europe from the Mediterranean Sea and the economic crisis caused by the banks and the neoliberalism of the free markets, made it even worst. The Western elites, both in the economic sphere with the financial powers, and in the political one with the ruling powers, are trying to transform in de-facto oligarchies what were developed as democracies in the West. This is what a “post-democracy”, as Crouch defines it, is: elites taking the decisions and co-opting the democratic institutions for their interests. Last time that this happened, almost one century ago, and again with economic crisis and migrations, we went (as Plato foreseen in his system of 5 regimes) from democracy to tyranny, with the catastrophic consequences that we all know. Now we should have learned the lessons, but we don’t know yet what will happen. “We gave you a Republic, if you can keep it” as Benjamin Franklin said.

Many movements in the South of Europe, tried to push their Republics (or Constitutional Monarchies, like in Spain) to go from a representative to a more participatory democracy. All these processes have been defined often as “populism”, while should have been called more “classicism”, as all the new political forces are calling for going back to what were the ancient models of a more direct democracy (actually Renaissance of Arts and Politics in Florence happened because we went back to Classics, and so the same could happen for a Renaissance of Democracy today). The rebirth of democracy must come therefore from the reformation of its institutions, first the Parliament, an institution created in different moments in Europe, from the Senate of the Roman Republic two millennia and half ago to the Magna Charta in England 8 centuries ago, that should pass today from a mere representative to a more participatory one, using new tools like the internet and its e-democracy. But even if the people will try to control and counsel more their representatives, creating in this way a more “participatory democracy”, the oligarchies and elites will obviously not allow it easily.

The case of Italy is emblematic. What have been defined as “populist” forces, the political parties of 5SM and League, that in reality came from modern grassroots movements (based on Meetups or civil society meetings) came to power on the frustration of the people (who are also more informed and knowledgeable than in the last decades). They were able for the first time (differently from Greece, where they failed) to form a government that would have made interventions for the people against the elites, including re-discussing the European institutions that have been imposed on the people from top down. This not in order to destroy the united Europe, but to make it stronger, more felt by the European citizens as something in their hands, and not in the hand of the “Eurocrats” of Bruxelles. But the President of the Italian Republic, made it impossible, at least for now, not accepting the proposition for the Ministry of the Economy, who was on this position. This happened with the excuse of the fear of destroying the Euro, and so put Europe in crisis, with the new populist forces. In reality to ‘constitutionalize’ and ‘parlamentarize’ the so called “populists” would have been a way to moderate them, first of all obliging them to show if they were able to do something good and sustainable, as their campaign promises, or not. But to forbid them from creating a government can make people now even more angry and vote in stronger majority the populist parties next Fall. So, it is like a vicious circle: you try to avoid populism and, in this way, you make is stronger and more extreme. It is the error of the institutions and elites that cannot look outside their circle.

While Italy will go back to elections in Fall, “we’ll see what happens”, as someone on this side of the Atlantic constantly says, clearly showing the current inability of the leaderships in the Western democratic world to impact, or even to predict future trends and events (so differently from the Chinese, and other dictatorships’ visionary policies for the next decades). But one thing is certain, there is no going back: the representative democracy based on what became a corrupted party system in the West, slave of the economic and financial power, is dead. Now we need to create a new form of Res-Publica. And Italy is on the first line for this. But pay attention, as democracy can always degenerate in tyranny. That’s why in America someone in the past said, US is a Republic not a democracy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKI-PfCeCQ4

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How to kill welfare state, nation state and democracy in Europe in one blow?

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If Margaret Thatcher has been remembered as the Iron Lady, the Lady that destroyed the welfare state to open space to the complete free market in her country, Angela Merkel could be remembered as the “Steel Lady”. The Steel Lady that could destroy in one blow not only the welfare state in southern Europe (with Renzi in Italy and the impositions to Greece) but the sovereignty of the European nation states and, even more important, the integration of Europe from the grassroots level, from the voice of the people, in one word: the democracy in the European integration.

As Krugman correctly wrote today (1) Germany’s attitude after the Greek referendum “goes beyond harsh into vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. (…) Who will ever trust Germany’s good intentions after this?” Nobody, and this will be caused by the law of Karma (or call it the third Newton’s law of motion, as Germans love more scientism) that is if you mistreat the others sooner or later the others will do the same to you. It happened many times since the German unification at the end of last century, and keeps happening because history repeats itself and often we don’t learn from it. Did Germany forgot what does it produce to humiliate a country? Did the German government forgot how populism, fascism and racism started in Europe almost one hundred years ago? German people, and in general northern Europeans, in a way or another feel superiors to the southern Europeans (like in Italy, where the people from the north feel superior to the ones of the south). But many times they overcome their stereotypes and worked together, as populations, to come out from suffering and miseries. I hope that they will do this time too, without punishing the “slackers” of the Mediterranean, being them Italians, Greeks or Spaniards, as they don’t work enough and steel if they can (even if they have good food, the sun and the sea). If this is not a form of racism what is it? The problem is that racism applied to politics is not exactly the best adviser.

The negotiations for Greece tonight are going on “with a vengeance”, in all senses, and the ashtag “Thisisacoup” is a hit. Not only Frau Merkel, and the rest of the Eurogroup (that is the ministries of finance of the Euro countries) could humiliate Greece, punishing it with consequences for that state that we cannot foresee right now. But they could throw to the garbage also the voice of the Greek people, that voted in the majority to ask the EU to reconsider the absurd austerity measures that made their economy to collapse. This could be not only the destruction of the welfare state and the ‘statism’ in the south of Europe. Not only anymore a struggle between who believe that there is only one way for the economic development, the way of the banks that hold the states by their balls (pardon my French) and the others that tries to propose alternative. This could be the start of the end for the national sovereignty in the European continent. And that would not be a drama if it was coming from below instead than from above. Instead it could be the start of the end of the democratic voice of the European people, because the European Union, as it is structured right now, cannot give to the people the voice to decide for the continent as a whole, and so it still needs the national sovereignty to give people the possibility to count. The European Parliament has no this force, and the European Commission neither. So this could be a democratic collapse. And it could be very risky for the future of the continent.

Where is the dream of the European integration, the motto of “United in Diversity”, where is the trust among countries that fought for thousands of years and finally found peace and prosperity after the biggest madness of their history. Where is the mutual understanding, the consensus decision making, the struggle for agreements, dialogue, dignity and tolerance? Did it start to end when Tsipras was lectured and insulted in the European Parliament and outside, treated by his Northern European colleagues as Schauble, Junker or Verhofstadt, as a pampered child that doesn’t do the homework? Will start to end tonight, with Ms Merkel and Mr Schauble sitting on the altar of the Gods, and the Greeks under the Olimpo, with their smaller gods asking for dignity and being slammed in the face with humiliations? Is this the start of the end of the European dream? May be, or maybe could be the beginning of it, with finally the people of Europe, in particular southern Europe, retaking in their hands their destinies.

If Germany believes that will be able to compete with superpowers like China and the US, or even with future great powers like India, Brazil or Indonesia, without the European integration, is just naïf. But Germany should become the trusted and legitimate leader, not the hated ruler. And the point is that, even if there will be no Grexit, the other states could not trust Germany anymore if these negotiations fail or Greece will be humiliated in the conditions requested, and countries like Italy will not stay still, looking outside the window for when the German storm will pass. Unless Renzi greases Italian’s people palm with much more than 80 euros in the salary or the reimbursement for the pensions, the Five Stars Movement could be the next first party in Italy very soon. And at that point the Karma, and the laws of economy, will do their path, going back to Germany and making this country regret its arrogance of tonight.

PS An agreement has been reached in the morning, it is much tougher than the one rejected by the referendum, in disregard to the voice of the Greeks. We’ll see if it will be accepted by the Greek Parliament…Germany and the rest of Europe have been forward-looking to keep Greece inside Euro, but they have done so mostly for their interests. It is the end of national sovereignty in Europe: monetary politics and banks won, and Germany, followed by several other northern countries, decided the domestic policy of another country. If this is not the start of the end of the nation state from above what is that? Greek debt has not been restructured, as instead it was done for Germany after WWII or for many international banks recently (from Morgan Stanley to Citigroup and for many more billions of dollars respect to Greece). German hypocrisy remained, keep cutting public expenditure in Greece while maintaining it in its country to increase the advantages respect to the other members, and going on with a monetary union that benefit mostly Germany, being not fair a real monetary union among countries so different in the competitiveness. Reforms and the EU Commission intervention should help Greece economic growth but it is not sure yet how. Hopefully this experience will help the continent to be more united and democratic in the future…but i have my doubts.

(1) Killing the European Project, from: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/

Again the Mediterranean: Greek democracy and ISIS terrorism will change the 21st century of Europe and farther?

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“Events my dear boy, events”. This is what Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, had said when was asked by a journalist what is most likely to blow governments off course.
Events are what they are: events. But the context, the path that lead to them and the reactions that follow, make them fundamental shocks that impact the future of our lives, sometimes not only in the countries where they happen (like 9/11) or just random facts. Last ten days there have been two events that could have an impact much further than their short time and space range: the Greek referendum and the Tunisian attack. Let’s try to put them in perspective.
Many things have been said before the Greek referendum on the new proposal to “save” Greece, made by the ECB AND the IMF (even if many times we forget about it, the IMF is deciding on the future of European countries as much as the European Central Bank). There have been many attempts to jeopardize the referendum, trying to politically kill the Syriza party, after its “dangerous” victory in the last elections, as well as the democratic renaissance of a small country of few millions of people who invented democracy more than two millennia ago. Even not so much veiled threats and blackmails, like the one by Ms Merkel, the European substantial leader, who said “if the Euro falls Europe falls” (ironically she was not so wrong as the European Union until now has been a monetary union but the end of that could represent its renaissance).

Besides all that has been said the population of Greece demonstrated that even in mature democracies in crisis, like the European ones, we can give back power to the people, to empower the citizens, who has the right to decide on their future, instead of a bunch of technocrats and bankers, representing private interests of few European and world groups. Greece used the referendum as the tool to give back to people the sovereignty, a tool that, even on difficult things, should be used more as a democratic element in modern representative democracies in crisis of legitimacy. And it is not a case that Greece give us the example: we have to go always back to the original inventors if we want to retake that invention and give it vital lymph again. As Italians did for the Renaissance, going back to the Roman classics, also to remake the European integration and improve our poor modern democracies, we have to go back to the Greek classics. Greece demonstrated that the people can decide on their future, and not only on general things but also on technical decisions. Today everyone can get information through internet, and this give more power to the people who can express themselves on different things (like the referendum text, that gave the exact names of the documents so all who wanted could go to read them). And the referendum showed also another important element for the future of Europe and in general the international system: nation sovereignty is still the principal form of modern societies, and the integration of nation states needs to pass from the people, not from the technocrats, from the nations not from the banks, from the ideas not from the money. This is the Europe that we want today, not a fake supranational entity but a real confederation of states, made by all the national entity that compose it.

But in the Greek case there is even more than this, there is a fight between the old style welfare state, the third way between total capitalism and total communism that Europe had conquered with difficulties, and the modern capitalism. As Žižek masterly explained in its recent article (1) the real question today in Europe is the fact that global capitalism cannot afford a return to the old welfare state. And Syriza is a danger for this. A danger or a salvation, if we follow Varoufakis programmatic declaration: “If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it”. Future will say but for now we can celebrate as democracy and people’s voice are back to Europe, and they came back to remain.

Besides the Greek case there has been another event in the last few days in the Mediterranean that could represent another shift in the future of Europe and the Mediterranean (including the Middle East/ME): last attack at the Tunisia resort of Sousse ten days ago could represent the lethal hit to the Tunisian democracy. Unfortunately more terrorist attacks will follow probably, as there is a type of “state” now that finance these acts of “political-identitarian” mass killings, and this state is not Iran, the big devil, who the West accuses often to support terrorism (while in reality it supports self-determination and anti-discrimination Shia movements, that have been repressed for long time, in particular by the Sunni monarchies). There is a state now, the Islamic (or we should say Islamist) State that will not see its end soon, on the contrary it will probably expand more and sooner or later it will have to socialize with the other sovereign actors, nation states, of the region (unless some war will annihilate it, but this war is not on the horizon). Tunisia demonstrated again that even if the current international terrorism wants to destroy its experiment with democracy (that is quite dangerous for both the Islamists and the world powers, as it is not following the diktats of the international capitalism, including banks, international markets and finance, exactly like Greece) the right path is the path of the government “of the people, by the people and for the people”. That is why Tunisian democracy will not die, because it is coming from the people and it goes back to them, even if the ISIS, and probably many other regional or global powers, wants it to fail.

The probable escalation of future ISIS attacks will have strong consequences for Europe and the ME like 9-11 had, both internationally and internally, for the US. Specifically the ISIS violent escalation, could have three main consequences during the first half of this century, in Europe, the ME and also inside Islam.
Europe evidently will have to deal with it not only military, but culturally, socially and economically, engaging with the south coast of the Mediterranean that after the events of the Arab Spring and Western wars (direct of proxy) ended the post-Ottoman order of the region. Europe in particular will have to decide if it wants to remain a fortress with lack of visionary politics of integration (substituted by a superficial multilateralism that make society ghettoized and open to the problems of radicalization of conflicts) or to improve its process of integration, in particular for the thousands of refugees that are knocking at its doors. Will Europe close or open itself to the world? If it doesn’t want to end in the arms of a never ending Cold War with Russia, Europe has to embrace Africa, as Mahbubani says (2), rediscovering its Mediterranean identity and making of it a real “Sea between lands” (from the Latin Mediterraneus) passing from fortress to square, and becoming a real democratic space that lives up to its values of diversity and tolerance creating a new experiment of melting pot, with equal possibilities for all, on the US style.

The ME will have to solve its problems of poverty and backwardness respect to the rest of the world, and this unfortunately will not come without more conflicts and suffering. Not that the ME didn’t suffer until now, with colonialism, occupations and dictatorships sustained by the West, but this century could be even worst. Hopefully will be the last one of great suffering, as it has been the 20th century for Europe. There will not be another world war for the ME, as the world is too big, too interdependent and too dangerous today to be involved in a total war, but to avoid regional wars, we will need to create among the regional powers, in primis Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that order ended in the last few years. And the democratization will arrive to the ME too, facilitating hopefully the creation of a regional unity, a sort of confederation similar to the one that Europe started to build after the WWII (even if is still trying to complete it today). In particular if the West will leave the ME to work on itself without much interference. Finally Islam will have to reform, like Christianity did, following its own path but doing it in order to integrate itself in the modern world, where globalization doesn’t allow intolerances or lack of fundamental human rights for the future “planetary citizens”.
We will not see all of this but that’s why we have to help to build it.

(1) http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/07/Slavoj-Zizek-greece-chance-europe-awaken

(2) http://europesworld.org/2013/10/01/if-it-stays-on-that-course-europe-will-become-geopolitically-irrelevant/