Tonight we honour the Greek electorate and their courageous government for having given us a very rare example of economic democracy. Yes, let the people themselves decide how much austerity they can bear: does this idea seem just too much for most of the financial markets to accept? With today’s vote in Greece, have we at last crossed the Rubicon to allow the demos, our fellow citizens, to design an economy and financial system that serves their needs, rather than leaving it up to the interests of capital?
This has been an historic day which shows that the Greek people are not going to be terrorised into making a decision against their best interests because the leaders of Germany, France and Italy threaten them to do so. I am not at all sure that the Irish electorate might have shown the same courage to stand up to naked economic threat.
Where do we go from here, is being asked throughout cyberspace tonight. The simple answer is that we at last begin to move beyond the dictatorship of markets to allow deliberative politics to determine outcomes that serve the interests of citizens who have borne far too much suffering to placate the interest of markets.
In his recent encyclical letter on global warming, Pope Francis spoke of the globalisation of the technocratic paradigm. It was a rare acknowledgement of the forces that have shaped all our societies, not for the good of citizens and our societies, but for the good of those who hold that ‘market forces’ somehow have a right to determine unaccountably whose interests dominate the ways our societies change and evolve. The so-called ‘experts’ are those to whom power has been ceded to determine what is acceptable and what is not.
Tonight the Greek people have changed all that. For the first time, they have been given a chance to voice their opinion and, despite powerful threats made against them, they have give a resounding ‘No’ to the politics of austerity. Of course, many will say that this was inevitable, that voters will always choose what is in their self-interest. But isn’t this exactly the point, that the policies being pushed on European electorates by the technocracy are not in the people’s interests but up to now they have never been allowed to offer their view.
This, then, is a moment that opens the possibility of a new way forward, a way that gives power back to citizens and that allows for a democratic deliberation that can creatively find a way to gives some breathing room to the Greek people and their elected government. Of course there are many alternatives possible if only we put the interests of people and societies to the fore, rather than the interests of capital.
And if these create difficulties for other governments which have followed the route of austerity, the current Irish government among them, then let that dynamic play itself out. We in Ireland didn’t have a civil society organised and strong enough over many decades to incubate a political movement that could stand up to the power of capital over our society.
If the Greek people are now opening the possibility that the European technocracy has finally to acknowledge some democratic principles, then let us in Ireland begin to fill the space offered to us. Greek society cannot be held ransom to the sensitivities of other European leaders that what might be offered to Greece could never be offered to their people.
The days and weeks ahead will be fascinating, full of spin and attempts to paint the Greek vote as an illegitimate threat to sound economics. There will be much sound and fury. But tonight a line in the sand was passed through the immense courage of the Greek government and people. European politics and markets will never be the same again.