The manner in which George Papandreou was ousted has shocked Greeks. ‘It’s a foreign invasion, a takeover, only without tanks’, says Calchas, an angry young man whom I find marching around Syntagma Square in front of the Greek parliament, with 100 or so others, all clutching rolled-up red flags. Other marchers mutter about ‘neo-colonialism’. They have a point. The ultimatum issued to Papandreou by Brussels bigwigs was extraordinary. After he made the fatal error of suggesting that the EU austerity package ought to be put to a referendum, Papandreou was told that he should step aside and allow the emergence of a ‘unity’ government whose purpose would be to implement EU measures. Nothing terrifies the EU elite more than the thought of hoi polloi having a say on its policies, so the €8 billion aid tranche that Greece needs was made contingent on the formation of this government of nodding dogs. ‘Brussels’ bitches,’ Calchas says.
The coup d’état of 1967 led to a military dictatorship lasting until 1974, known as The Seven Years or The Regime of the Colonels. The coup d’EU has given rise to The 100 Days (the amount of time the unelected government of national unity will last) or what we might call The Regime of the Technocrats. Everyone has heard of the new PM, Lucas Papademos, but no one here really knows who he is. This isn’t all that surprising, considering he has never once stood for election. Instead he has spent his life as a high-flying banker, including eight years as vice-president of the European Central Bank (ECB). Imagine if tomorrow morning you woke up to discover that David Cameron had been chucked out of Downing Street and replaced by Mervyn King, or perhaps Fred Goodwin, issuing lofty decrees about how we must all tighten our belts. Now you know how Greeks feel.
‘Prime ministers should be chosen by us, not Angela Merkel,’ says the taxi driver taking me to the Acropolis. Taxi drivers here love talking politics, and they love hating Merkel. She’s treated as the arch villain of this tragedy. Magazine covers show a massive Merkel playing with Greek politicians as if they were dolls. Graffiti invites her to do things that are probably anatomically impossible. My advice to her is to avoid visiting Greece for the duration of The 100 Days. Probably longer.
The taxi driver also tells me he can’t relate to Papademos. ‘He’s not a man of the people’. But it’s precisely Papademos’s lack of experience in dealing with the grubby, demanding demos that endears him to the EU elite, which fought tooth-and-catapult to have him installed as PM. As one European economist put it: for Brussels the great thing about Papademos is that he ‘speaks the language and shares the philosophy of [the] EU and ECB’ and that he ‘comes in without officially representing a party’. That is, he’s apolitical, unchosen, boring and bureaucratic — just the kind of politician the EU likes. It’s already a cliché, but that doesn’t stop it being true: Athens is now both the birthplace and graveyard of European democracy.
One Ancient Greek tradition that survives is graffiti; they spray-paint their fury everywhere. I didn’t walk down a single street without coming face-to-face with colourful, obscene graffiti, some of it in English for the benefit of tourists like me. ‘F**k the euro.’ ‘F**k the IMF.’ ‘F**k Merkel.’ Why doesn’t it get scrubbed off? Is it because Greece can’t afford proper street-cleaning public services, or because the street-cleaners agree with the sentiments expressed?
Yet the graffiti expresses exasperation as well as anger — a deep disappointment with Greek workers. Commonly scrawled phrases are ‘Wake up!’ and ‘Stop being slaves!’ You get the impression that the Greek left, which is rowdier and noisier than its western European counterpart, is as annoyed with the masses as it is with Merkel. In Syntagma Square, nothing much remains of the radical protest camp that so excited outside observers earlier this year and which provided the template for the global ‘Occupy’ movement. There is just a memorial tree, with political paraphernalia attached to it in remembrance of the camp. It’s like one of those shrines that pops up on roadsides where someone has been killed by a speeding car, only it is adorned, not with wreaths, but with balaclavas, goggles and batteries (which were thrown at the police). It has the unwitting whiff of being a gravestone not only for the Greek left, but for Greek politics itself.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of Spiked Online.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated November 19, 2011