Title is a reference to the “domino theory” of American foreign policy, which proposes that if one country succumbs to nasty, scary evil left-wing politics, the surrounding countries are susceptible to succumb too, not unlike how a falling domino sets off a chain reaction.
No other country suffered the effects of the Eurozone crisis like Greece did. Facing a complete financial collapse in the wake of the global recession, Greece’s main industries were especially sensitive to drastic changes in the global markets, making shareholders and investors too worried about the fate of their money to put it into Greece, thus creating a spiral of economic downturn. Along came the so-called Troika, a tripartite commission made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, which promised Greece a recovery through enormous bailout loans if it would slash public spending, increase taxes, and impose comprehensive austerity measures. All out of ideas, Greece’s Prime Minister George Papandreou agreed.
In the end, the so-called Troika saw a great opportunity for free market inhumanity when Greece collapsed, and waged an ideological war against the Greek people in order to restructure the economy to big business interests at the expense of the workers. This tripartite ideological war would not be complete without propaganda of the worst kind: Hope. Predicting wildly unrealistic economic growth in exchange for neoliberal reshuffling, the Troika subjected the Greek people to brutal austerity, public sector cuts, and a Thatcherite “dog-eat-dog” mentality enshrined in the economy, and Greeks were told that if they kept their mouths shut, they’d experience a safe recovery.
That safe recovery never arrived: Greece’s public debt in relation to GDP is now worse than it was at the time of the crisis (when Greece was supposedly at rock-bottom). While the Troika did predict a swelling unemployment rate in the early years of the bailout, the Greeks were promised that their restructuring plan, if implemented, would act as a proverbial anti-inflammatory and fully heal the Greek economy.
That never happened either. According to the Troika’s predictions, unemployment was supposed to peak at 15% in 2012 and then begin to come down, yet at the present time Greece’s unemployment rate stands at 28%, and for young people the situation is even worse, with 60% unable to find a job. Adding to the misery of the “recovery”, public sector jobs vanished into oblivion, wages stagnated, pensions were slashed, unemployment benefits were crushed, child poverty almost doubled, and healthcare services began to fail – leading to a shocking increase in drug use and homelessness. To top it off, over 111,000 Greek businesses have gone bankrupt over the “recovery” period, and Greece is now the first European country to enter an economic depression in living memory.
All this, thanks to the neoliberal meddling of the Troika, which forced Greece to suicidally carve open its own chest so that big business could rip out its precious organs.
Anybody who doubts that this was an ideological venture need only consider that Prime Minister Papandreou, when offered the bailout loans, planned to issue a referendum so that the Greek people could decide for themselves if they agreed with the planned recovery. EU superpowers France and Germany threatened the Greek economy with total destruction if voters dared to turn down the plan in a referendum, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel warning the Greek people to make up their minds whether they “want to remain part of the Eurozone or not”. EU partners also threatened to withhold an overdue €6 billion loan that could pull Greece back from the immediate brink, and so the democratic referendum was swiftly called off and the austerity plan was implemented without a popular mandate.
Neoliberal austerity programmes as a remedy for financial meltdowns were rigorously tried and tested in Greece, with the Troika using the country as a lab rat upon which to perform these economic experiments, knowing full well the effects they would have on the Greek people. The test has failed, and on Sunday the Greek people rejected outright any further lab rat experiments by voting for SYRIZA, an anti-austerity party with quasi-communist leanings that outright rejects neoliberal pontificating and refuses to let the Greek people be punished by oligarchs and Merkelites for mistakes they didn’t make.
(SYRIZA leader and new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras)
The pressure that SYRIZA’s leader Alexis Tsipras will face is overwhelming. Tsipras is taking on the powerful elite who believe they hold the keys to Greece’s recovery. He is, at least on the international stage, currently a lone voice against austerity in Europe, and his coalition government will face trials and hardships like no other: European Comission President Jean-Claude Juncker has already warned that reducing Greece’s owed debt is “not on the radar“, while Queen of Europe Angela Merkel’s spokesman maintained that SYRIZA must “hold to its prior commitments“. But SYRIZA, if it sticks to the principles which got it elected, truly will it be the anti-establishment party that Greece deserves and needs.
No wonder British Prime Minister David Cameron reacted so coolly to SYRIZA’s victory, given that his neoliberal austerity programme is having similar effects on the British people as the EU-imposed one has on the Greek people.
In the UK, poverty-level jobs, zero-hour contracts, and unpaid internships are an increasing sight, food banks are seeing an unprecedented use, people are languishing under benefit cuts, severely disabled people are being declared fit for work, government borrowing in 5 years has exceeded that of the previous 13 years under the Labour Party, and to top if off, the deficit continues to rise, apparently unhindered by Cameron’s “long-term economic plan”, despite the fact that the plan considers deficit reduction the top priority.
People have actually died as a result of Cameron’s austerity programme, and yet the Tories continue to keep their heads above water in the polls, as do the Labour Party (who also believe in austerity as a remedy for economic downturn). To make matters worse, UKIP has become the fourth-largest political party in the UK, a self-described libertarian party that is overwhelmingly made up of ex-Tories and backed by ultra-rich private donors, a party which believes in “keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive”, an unfettered free market and, of course, also staunchly believes in austerity measures. To make matters worse, it’s also full of raging lunatics.
In times of economic downturn, certain social groups like immigrants or Muslims are easy targets, and bad living conditions so often pave the way for far-right extremist parties like UKIP and the Austrian Freedom Party. The beauty of SYRIZA is that it was elected without scapegoating ethnic minorities or religious groups. According to Luke Brinker, SYRIZA’s rise to power is unique because:
Unlike Greece’s Golden Dawn Movement or France’s National Front, SYRIZA did not gain a constituency through the unsavoury tactics of xenophobia, jingoism, bigotry, and hooliganism. Instead, SYRIZA rose from fringe faction to governing party in response to a horrendous set of economic conditions, fostered by the domestic and international elites.
In that sense, Greece is exceptional. But given that Greece and the UK are both languishing under similar neoliberal conditions, why has the rise of the Green Party, which is also vehemently opposed to austerity, not made SYRIZA-esque gains here in the UK? Why does a pro-austerity party of ex-Tory lunatics creep up in the polls instead?
Perhaps conditions in the UK haven’t quite reached breaking-point yet, or perhaps we in the UK are more willing to believe the government’s propaganda and misinformation, but with the rise of left-wing Podemos in Spain (which has publicly supported SYRIZA), and SYRIZA’s victory itself, perhaps we are beginning to see the first signs of a neoliberal-free Europe. While we will probably never remove the shackles of austerity from our modern economies, the rise of SYRIZA, Podemos, and the Green Party may be signalling the dawn of a new, fairer, less oligarchal era in Europe.
While the dominoes may fall slower than expected, perhaps SYRIZA’s victory is the first domino that will set off a much-needed chain reaction across neoliberal Europe.