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Greek modern populism in its European


context
MANOLIS MAVROZAHARAKIS, STELIOS TZAGKARAKIS, and APOSTOLOS KAMEKIS 4
November 2013
Subjects:

Subjects: International politics, Ideas, Equality, Democracy and government, Culture,


Conflict, Civil society,EU, Greece, Populism: what is it?

The new composition of the European Parliament after the elections in 2014 is
expected to be rather different. It is estimated that the number of anti-Europeans and
Eurosceptics will increase from around 100 to around 200 MEPs in a total of 751 seats,
reinforcing the presence of radical parties.
The financial crisis has acquainted Europe with a common pattern which consists in the rapid
rise of protest parties challenging the established political systems. The basic and novel
feature of their approach is the aggression shown the European Union and the vehement
rejection of the various proposals for rescuing the euro. Populism looks very like a new
specter haunting European democracies, and as such causes serious concern. Unfortunately,
the growing concern does not coincide with policies aimed at finding viable solutions, as the

center-right parties and governments believe that the only solution to the crisis is to adopt
austerity measures and Social Democrats have not yet found effective alternatives.
We want to focus on the modern manifestations of this phenomenon, and take as our
definition Frank Deckers concept that populism is a strong stand against the status quo,
appealing to lower social groups and a phenomenon of the social crises of modernization,
using simplified shapes and models of analysis. In other words, a key feature of populism is
the Manichean method of addressing problems and a black and white way of thinking about
history. According to this type of analysis, diversity, complexity, relativism, uncertainty, doubt,
pluralism, rational arguments and rationality should not exist. The rhetoric is addressed
bluntly to a collective we. In particular, stereotypes and views of traditional roles are
deployed to maximum effect on a significant part of the population who feel insecure.
According to Decker, populism and modernization are nearly the same thing.
A different approach, introduced by Ernesto Laclau, identifies the dichotomy of the social
field between privileged and underprivileged as a key feature of populism either from the left
or the right of the political spectrum. Populists claim the support of the disadvantaged in
order to subvert the existing political system. In the concept of people, according to this
logic, only the non-privileged section of the society seen as bearing the ultimate virtue is
recognised. The enemy - friend figure, once introduced by Carl Schmitt, revives a strange
bipolarity. On the one hand is the nation, the people, the underprivileged, our own, and on the
other, the enemies of the nation, emigres, foreigners, the privileged, the moneylenders. This
is accompanied by a strong willingness to see institutions as obsolescent which ultimately
legitimizes lawless behaviour.
According to Laclau, populism tends to prevail historically, when a large number of social and
economic demands accumulate, which cannot be satisfied within the existing institutional
system. Because populism is always addressed to the disadvantaged, any political
programme aimed at empowering marginalized social groups contains populism to a certain
extent. Furthermore,Laclau believes that in every political system, two standard political
processes exist. In the first, which is defined as populist, there is a widespread mobilization of
masses based on the equivalence logic. In the second, which is defined as institutional,
individual demands of specific social groups are dominant, which are implemented selectively
by policy practitioners, based on a logic of difference. In every political system, these two
processes coexist, but in different proportions. According to Laclau, Greece during the
widespread redistribution period of Andreas Papandreou (during the 1980s) was an example
of the first, while the second is exemplified by the modernization period of Costas Simitis
(1996-2004). The first is populist, and the second an institutional, but one may dominate
without necessarily eliminating the other.
We could also refer to the work of Cas Mudde and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser who
distinguish three interdependent features of populism. These are primitivism (a weakened
form of nationalism), autarchy and popular sovereignty. Right wing populists often invoke the
overthrow of popular sovereignty in order to accentuate the catalytic effect of migration while
at the same concept, leftist populists emphasize the dissolution of the nation state as a result
of the memorandum imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank
and the European Commission.

In fact, both cultivate a myth, Michael Ignattieff claims. According to him sovereignty is a
political concept which simply means to be the master of your house. The tragedy of modern
state sovereignty is that currently, there is not any country in the world that is absolutely
sovereign in this sense. All societies, all sovereign states, face the ultimate rise of
globalization and the political importance of the global economic crisis is to realize how
vulnerable all states are, as market forces can destroy the legitimacy of national political
systems without exception.
Populism appears in democratic regimes, flourishing through the strong denunciation of its
policies. In the majority of cases, solutions proposed by parties that trade in this rhetoric are
inapplicable, but presented as the only alternative, particularly in the impasse posed by the
economic crisis. As Margaret Canovan suggests, populism in modern democratic societies
can be described as an invocation to the people versus the existing power structure and the
prevailing attitudes and values of society.It is obvious that the factors that favour the
emergence of populists in Greece have found fertile ground during the last four years due to
the economic downturn. Economic disparities that continually expand a decadent political
system and frustration with the traditional political forces quite unable to implement effective
policies that will offer real solutions to the problems plaguing the middle and lower social
groups, have caused the rise of populism and political extremism.The increase in both
poverty and inequality has inspired populist political discourse, leading to the rise of in support
for both left and right populist parties such as Golden Dawn and SYRIZA (Radical Left
Party). Their political discourse aims at convincing people that they offer the only solution to
the economic crisis and in addition, Golden Dawn tries to attract votes by citing the expulsion
of immigrants as a solution to several problems.
For modern populists, a key supranational theme for political mobilization is European
integration as a perpetrator of abstract globalization. On this key aspect, there is a remarkable
coincidence of views between the left and right tendencies. In Greece, both call for the return
to drachma despite the fact that its current value is only 0.00293 euros. Anti-European left
parties such as Theodoros Katsanevas Drachma and Alekos AlavanosPlan B have already
been launched and together with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, all record rising pecentages in
recent polls. A new, inclusive right wing platform, Independent Greeks, is attempting to
collect votes from all poles of the political spectrum purely by using the attractions of such
populist policies, while Golden Dawn has also realised that Nazi views are not so popular,
deploying Hellenophilia as a more effective form of propaganda.
There are also some constituent parts of the Syriza alliance, such as the Internationalist
Labor Left, which call for the Greek government to default on both local and international
loans, for the banks to be nationalized under public-democratic-labor control and for heavy
taxation to be introduced on businesses and higher income groups. Furthermore, it proposes
insubordination on European Guidelines, decisive escalation of social unrest, systematic
cultivation of relations with the left and resistance movements throughout Europe, seeking the
overthrow of capitalism on a national and European scale. Slightly more muted in tone is the
Communist Organization of Greece which supports the countrys exit from the Eurozone.
Syriza overall manifests some unevenness and uncertainty around the whole approach to
European Union. The ostensible commitment of its leadership to the European vision is
accompanied by statements such as, the euro is not a fetish, while on the other hand, the
internal opposition of the left constituencies calls for the creation of a left government together

with the Greek Communist Party (K.K.E.) for the purposes of an anti-capitalist left cooperation
which rejects any creation of an institutionally unified Europe under capitalist conditions. Here
again in Syriza we can clearly observe the contradictory pulls of the populist and institutional
policy templates as pointed out by Laclau when they appeared in PASOK (the Panhellenic
Socialist Movement) during the mid 70s and 80s.
Indeed, anti-Europeanism is gradually spreading throughout Europe as the US research
institute, the Pew Research Center reports. The percentage of Europeans who have a
positive view of the European Union is now at a record low of 45%. The research, conducted
in eight countries including Greece, also shows that economic crisis is now systemic and has
struck a serious blow against the credibility of the European Union. As stated in the report,
The European Union is the new sick man of Europe. In particular, the effort during the last
half century to create a more unified Europe is now the main victim of the euro crisis.
Beyond the democratic deficit and the lack of political representation that has tarnished the
image of the European Union, an even stronger negative opinion increases as a result of
Europes unending economic crisis. Despite the fact that a large part of the European
population is opposed to the budget cuts applied in order to balance the deficits and to tighten
monetary policy in fear of hyperinflation, they have no power to alter that course.
Unfortunately, the necessary democratic and civic tools for such a change of direction are
totally lacking.
A developmental shift in countercyclical policy to counter the general conditions of recession
and rising unemployment will take far longer to implement. This fact is well understood by
many Europeans who see that none of the options in the European elections is going to
change the Eurozones macroeconomic policies and the existing technocratic management of
the crisis, since the European Parliament, the only EU institution that has direct popular
legitimacy, has not the slightest power to modify or challenge the implementation of austerity
measures. The direct effect of the current policies, which ignore a clear social majority both in
the south and the north of the EU, is the rise of euroscepticism even in countries that
traditionally were considered too pro-EU, such as Greece.
Due to the pervasive dissatisfaction arising from austerity measures, the new composition of
the European Parliament after the elections in 2014 is expected to be rather different. It is
estimated that the number of anti-Europeans and Eurosceptics will increase from around 100
to around 200 MEPs in a total of 751 seats. This changing composition of the European
Parliament will reinforce the presence of radical parties, and reduce the number of European
social democrats and People's Party MEPs below 400 seats regarded as apsychological
threshold.
Anti-EU parties in Greece and other European countries are already recording very fast
growth. The anti-European UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) in the United
Kingdom poses a big problem for British Prime Minister David Cameron. In Finland the party
of Finns and Stronach in Austria record a significant increase in support. The latter warns
darkly that the decline of Europe can only be solved by the introduction of national euros for
each country, with German euros as the guiding euro currency.

On the other side, there is the example of the left social democrat Oskar Lafontaine, who
proposes, as an exit from the European crisis, the return to the European Monetary System
(EMS), ie the return to national currencies and their coupling. His proposals have caused
much debate in left populist circles. Other left movements, such as the Five Star party of
Italys Beppe Grillo, which had significant electoral success in previous Italian elections favour
radically consolidating the existing political system.
Meanwhile, other rightwing populist parties are emerging such as AfD (Alternative for
Germany) which requests an orderly breakup of the euro, arguing that Germany needs the
euro, while other countries - especially in Europes south will be directly harmed by their
continued membership. This party requires the return to national currencies or the creation of
smaller and more stable monetary unions, considering that the reintroduction of the mark
should no longer be held to be taboo as an idea. This view, however, is not that of
mainstream right-wing populism in Europe. For example, the Austrian Freedom Party (FP),
which since 1986 has relentlessly criticized the Austrian Republic, is not seeking a return to
Austrian currency. Instead, it calls for the removal of heavily indebted southern countries from
the euro, whatever the negative fallout from this. According to the FP, rising unemployment
in southern Europe is the direct result of the refusal of the Eurocrats to expel unsuitable
countries from the euro.
Despite the wide gulf between such populist right-wing arguments and the critique of
Lafontaine, there is a common reference point in the explicit and outright opposition to the
direction taken by national governments and the European Union. Lafontaine explicitly
positions himself against the interests of the German associations of businessmen and
industrialists and cooperates with the neoliberal bloc party consisting of CDU / CSU, SPD,
FDP and Greens. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) believes that the old parties are
eroded and fossilized because they refuse to admit their mistakes and errors of omission.
For the Austrian Freedom Party, the eurocrats of Brussels are directly responsible for the
crisis, alongside incompetent Austrian politicians. Confrontational statements and heightened
rhetoric make an appeal to the people to stop supporting current government schemes and
seek an alternative to the managerial solutions proposed by the incumbents. They call for a
significant shift, either to left or populist right, an effective political ploy in irrigating votes from
large disaffected sections of the populations across Europe.
Populists, however, must pay a price for this kind of mobilization. Populists argue that they
are able to better represent the collectivity than existing governments. They claim that the
peoples will and the political will of the populists are identical. Many use the phrase: we
are here for you. The price is that they must necessarily invoke a more or less unified
national collectivity as their target. Lafontaine for example repeatedly uses phrases that focus
on the Germans as a national entity with specific national interests, while the AfD forthrightly
argues that the Euro is not necessary for Germany. The FP requests Austria to be your
first choice.
Therefore, populism as an ideology can only operate according to a romantic notion of the
homogeneous people. This homogeneous people is all that stands against the capital of
foreign imperialist interests of foreign agents of Merkelists, and also against the emigre,
the foreigner and the unknown. This is essentially a stand against equality and subsequently,
against progress. In its modern trend, populism is characterized by a national logic embedded

in a western European identity. This is the reason why European right-wing parties that are
members of the European Parliament are in such close collaboration. It is quite obvious that
there is no single collective will of the people in modern democracies, as modern
democracies are characterized by a plurality and diversity which may attempt to organize
itself, especially, for example, on the side of the left, but which cannot be collectivized.
There are some additional features of these populist movements: often the presence of a
charismatic leader, the use of a particular range of propaganda techniques (conspiracy
theories, enemy images, a preference for radical solutions, iconoclastic challenges to any
taboos). Left populism may have a role to play as a necessary species of demagoguery, in
mobilising and provoking the masses at a time when the media plays such an important role
in public discourse. But what cannot just be ignored is the vigorous exclusionary line of
thinking in much populist discourse. This acts through a systematic appeal to the category of
we. We the Greeks, we the Austrians we the French, and our putative common
interests, opinions and culture. Populist narratives produce and form imagined communities
that are usually pitched against a foreign encroacher, which must raise the question for left
populists of whether it is ever worth paying the price of sacrificing foreigners, the new and
finally, the whole world outside in all its difference, for the sake of such leftwing populist
mobilisation.
However, populism also has some positive effects - such as the increased pressures on the
established parties to find solutions to key problems that can channel the emotions and
diffuse peoples discontent into safer political territory. The potential danger of populist
movements is that they infect mainstream political discourse, trivializing issues and
legitimizing anti-pluralist trends. The best way to deal with them is to solve the problems they
thrive on, which requires tolerance and not the one-dimensional perspective of austerity as
imposed by the Troika in Greece. If someone expects positive results from the current Greek
political elite, including the current Greek opposition, then we can only wish them patience.
About the authors
Apostolos Kamekis is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Medicine at the University of
Crete who studied political science and has an MA in political analysis and political theory
(2009). He is also a researcher at the Centre for Human Rights of the Department of Political
Science of the University of Crete.

Stylianos Ioannis Tzagkarakis is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science in


the University of Crete, who holds an MA in political analysis and political theory (2010). He is
a researcher at the Centre for Human Rights and of the Centre for Political Research and
Documentation of the Department of Political Science of the University of Crete researching
into social vulnerability and social policy (most notably: NEETs-identification of the social
vulnerable group of young people, 15-24 years old, not in education, employment or training
in Greece).

Manolis Mavozaharakis, born in Heraklion, Crete, studied political science, sociology and
economics at the Phillips University in Marburg (West Germany). In parallel he studied
ethnology and economic history and from 1989 onwards, worked in the field of social tourism.
He obtained his MA in political science in 2005 and is currently a doctoral student at the
Department of Political Science in the University of Crete and a freelance writer.