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Michael Spourdalakis on Greek protests and economy

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Toronto. Now joining us from Athens is Michael Spourdalakis. He’s a professor of political sociology and director at the Laboratory of Political Communication and Media Information at the University of Athens. Thanks for joining us, Michael.


JAY: So the cuts, the lowering of wages, rising unemployment, what is the logic here of the European Union and the international banks, in the sense that this will be even less purchasing power, deeper recession? How is this supposed to help Greece pay back its debts?

SPOURDALAKIS: Well, that’s a new memorandum that we’re resisting in Greece for as long as we have to. It’s a precondition of lending us more money. So what the scheme is: we lent you money to pay us back in terms of interest and capital. As of last month, 8 percent of all public expenditure goes into paying interest to all these bankers. And I’m not an economist, but serious economists, even from the government side, say that in three years our public debt is going to be more than 164 percent. Last year they signed the first agreement. The prediction was that in 2015 the public debt was going to rise to 149. Now it’s 164, the prediction for the same year. So the whole thing is to borrow money and borrow more money to pay back the first loan or backloans and get the country deeper into the recession. At the same time, we haven’t cut down our defense budget, which is one of the highest in the world. We haven’t tax properly and effectively the huge property and estates of the Church. We haven’t done a number of rational things to stimulate growth or attempt even a redistribution, which will keep the people in the country and not force them to emigrate.

JAY: And the unions and the protesters, the people involved in the general strike, what are they demanding? Do they want Greece to default on the debt?

SPOURDALAKIS: There are voices who are talking about default. They’re both from the extreme right and from the left as well. Among the people who think that default is not a solution, I don’t think we have the social conditions and the power structure, the social structure in the country, can afford not to have gas and heat during the winter or don’t have enough gas for our cars. The social makeup of the country and the power structure cannot afford these extreme measures. As an answer to the problem could be severe negotiations. We have to restructure our debt.

JAY: Standard & Poor’s said a day or two ago that they would consider any further restructuring of the debt equivalent to a default.

SPOURDALAKIS: Well, I don’t know about this financial institution’s–.

JAY: Standard & Poor’s does not have the greatest reputation in the world since the subprime mortgage crisis.

SPOURDALAKIS: Restructuring means prolonging. It takes a number of forms. It’s very technical. But also there is no way we can pay back the money unless a great part of the debt is not forgiven. We really have to see how much we owe, to whom, and negotiate, and at the same time trying to stimulate growth. So we’ll generate wealth and start paying the rest of the debt back, but not in two years or three years. This can be for the next 10 or 15 years. Otherwise, the future for this country is very gloomy. I was–looked at the study the other day. They say by the year 2020, public expenditure in this country will be equivalent to the poorest country in Africa.

JAY: Why is Greece in such a predicament?

SPOURDALAKIS: Before the economic crisis, Greece was faced with a deep and long legitimation crisis at the political level, something which became evident since the last election. In October 2009, we had a five-party parliament. There are–eight-party parliament today, and there are quite a few independents. So the people do not trust the representatives at the political level, and also at the social level. And unions, the big unions, not the young, the new rank-and-file unions, have no legitimacy among the population at large. These movements of the people who are outraged, and they protest spontaneously in the last three weeks or so, make clear, although they becoming more and more political, make clear that they have nothing to do with established union structure or the established party structure.

JAY: And where is Greek public opinion in all of this? Does Papandreou command a majority support from the Greek people?

SPOURDALAKIS: No. Already we had the first polls that he is falling behind the leading opposition party, New Democracy, by four–.

JAY: But this is a conservative party, right?

SPOURDALAKIS: The conservative party, who actually deepened the problem, structural problems, expanded our debt for the last six or seven years before Papandreou. However, the two main parties, while they were commanding around 80 percent of the popular vote, in the latest poll they do not command more than 50 percent of the popular vote, and none of this party is predicting to ever in the visible future to command under normal circumstances–of course, they’re always terrorizing the electorate, etc., but under normal democratic circumstances, none of these parties is going to command a majority government.

JAY: Is there any political force that could contend for electoral victory that would actually take on the Greek elite and make them pay?

SPOURDALAKIS: No, not at this point. I don’t see anything in the horizon in this field. There is no politician whatsoever that can walk on the streets, with exception, of course, the people on the left, the MPs of the left, and not be at least verbally abused. There is not a reporter that can walk on the street who has supported the Stability Pact, the so-called Stability Pact, and not put himself in danger.

JAY: So where does this lead? I mean, is there enough support for the unions and further strikes?

SPOURDALAKIS: To be quite frank, I’m afraid that unless pretty fast, various small pockets of elites start to listen to the demands of the society, the state and whoever the leading elite or the power block is at the time, at the point, will find refuge into severe undermining of democracy. A former prime minister, Mr. Mitsotakis, said that I’m sure that the left, quote-unquote, does not want to go underground again.

JAY: This is a threat of returning to dictatorship.

SPOURDALAKIS: Of course. And then a reporter who is not very famous for his radical views said, okay, what is going to happen if the demonstrators attack the Parliament? And he said, democracy should defend itself by all means. And he was clear on that. He says, of course we have deaths. That’s okay. By the way, 40 people were injured during the demonstrations and during the strikes, 40 people, luckily none of them seriously. However, there was blood on the street, literally. Although this has been very peaceful, there were hundreds of agents provocateurs. There were videos that they came out of police cars and they start vandalizing. And that gave the excuse to the police to be extremely brutal against the demonstrations. Surprisingly enough, this time around, compared to the previous mobilizations, people came back. There are still a few thousand people, downtown Athens, having the nightly what they call people’s assembly and deciding what the moves are going to be from now on. Prime minister came. We all knew that they were trying to put together a two-party government.

JAY: With the conservatives.

SPOURDALAKIS: With the conservatives, with a technocrat as the prime minister. Papandreou finally back up from this. He said that he’s going to have an extensive reshuffling and go and present his new government on Sunday for a vote of confidence. This is not going to solve the problem. The parties of the left ask for elections. And just recently, the leader of the opposition, a conservative party, is asking now for elections. I think this government has no legitimation to continue. I’m afraid that the election is not going to give a solution. However, issues are going to be debate, and hopefully we are going to have a Parliament a bit different, with progressive forces a bit strengthened, and see what can happen from then on.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Michael.

SPOURDALAKIS: Nice talking to you. Bye-bye.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Michael Spourdalakis is a professor of political sociology and the Director at the Laboratory of Political Communication and Media Information at the University of Athens. He is currently co-director of the Canadian Studies Center at the University of Athens, and is the editor of The Socialist Register in Greece.