The US Embassy in Athens: the scene of violent confrontations on Thursday. Picture by ChristosV.
The Italians and the Greeks were always bound to turn against their technocratic premiers as soon as the glitter of seeing Berlusconi and Papandreou booted from office wore off. What with the governments embarking on the same policies that had caused their predecessors to become unpopular in the first place, making the powerlessness of the electorate more apparent in the process, it was only a matter of time, and now that time is up.
Italians marched on Bocconi University - of which Mario Monti, the new Italian Prime Minister, is President, and where both he and senior cabinet minister Corrado Passera graduated - in their tens of thousands, throwing eggs at club-wielding riot police. Almost simultaneously, similar demonstrations were held in Athens, with protestors waving banners and ordering the EU and IMF to leave. Not only does this mark the end of the brief honeymoon that the parachuted-in premiers had with their disenfranchised electorates, it also marks the end of the bluff that has so far kept Greek and Italian anger aimed squarely at internal affairs. The imposition of unelected governments not only removes a layer of democracy that kept the people insulated from the harshest demands of the troika, but it also removes the mask behind which the troika operated.
As long as there was an elected politician in place to take the blame for the mess and take the fall for the decisions, the EU-IMF-ECB could limit its role to the occasional appearance on the sidelines. But now, with former European Commission men and bankers in government, it is forced to declare its hand more openly. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are publically issuing orders for the new Italian government to follow. News of the Bundestag scrutinising Ireland's budget before the Dail even knew it existed has already reached Italy. Mr. Monti himself denied that his policies were being implemented at the behest of outside powers, but with troika inspectors trawling through his policy announcements and him doing exactly as they instruct with scant regard for national feeling, his assurances ring hollow.
The riots are only going to get worse before they get better. The negative consequences of austerity measures are expected to hit home in 2012, yet any positive effects are only expected to materialise in 2013, at the earliest. In the meantime, the eurozone crisis continues to escalate, blowing over the Alps into France and lapping at the pillars of Spain, Belgium, Cyprus, and already-stricken Portugal. Further government collapses beckon as European economies slide back into recession. All this against a backdrop of unelected governments enforcing unpopular policies is always - a terrifically bad idea. Historically, in the absence of democratic recourse, the response is almost always violent.