Do not underestimate the importance of democracy. Picture from here.
Barely a few days ago, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou was riding high on a wave of popular acclaim when he announced that a referendum would be held on the country's EU-IMF-ECB-imposed austerity. The resignation rumours which have dogged him since day one of the crisis were at their lowest ebb in months, and, having swept the carpet of public outrage from under the opposition and sacking all of his chiefs of the defence staff and twelve other senior officers to reign in the 'state within a state,' his position looked as assured as it ever was.
But on Wednesday, he attended an emergency summit. On Thursday, that referendum was cancelled. The day after, the resignation rumours raced to the surface. Ministers who had not been consulted asked why, the media was filled with open comparisons of the government to Nazi-era collaborators, and, having stoked the flames of public anger, he now finds them raised higher than ever. He is set finally to resign, and his most likely replacement is a man who opposed the referendum ever since he first heard about it: his Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizilos.
If there's one service that Mr. Papandreou over his short and somewhat inhereted career has inadvertently done for us, it's laying bare crisis the extent to which the Greeks have lost control of their own government, and how much far European democracy has retreated or been pushed back. The meeting that the Prime Minister attended consisted of seven key individuals other than himself. Two of them - Sarkozy and Merkel - were elected politicians. Two of them were representatives of financial institutions. Three of them were appointed European Union officials. Yet they have more control over the Greek government's fiscal policy than the Greek government itself. They represent two things: a) how fragile popular democracy really is, and b) how quickly notions of sovereignty can be erased if they cause problems for how the elite want things to be run.
It is easy for people not to care about sovereignty if they don't see how it affects them. As long as they've got food on the table, a roof over their heads, and something good on telly they won't see a problem. As for democracy, well - if they can still cast their vote, why does it matter if it works in practice? It's always going to be there. It's easy - too easy - not to care about that, either - until you realised the horrific consequences of losing it. The Greeks are now well aware of these consequences. Britain is not. To best illustrate them consequences, conservatives - cast your minds back to Gordon Brown. Labourites, reflect on the premiership of Lady Thatcher. How often did you say or think of just how good it would feel when they were finally voted out and you'd finally get the economic government the country was crying out for?
Well, what if that election never occured? What if you never got to vote them out? What if you didn't get a say? What if Maggie and the Bottler were there to stay, whatever anyone thought about it? Welcome to Greece 2011: only the spending was ten times higher and the cuts ten times deeper. They are realising just what happens when the unaccountable and the unelected take over the reigns of government. They realised it too late.