Humanities in the News: Greece and the prospects for a European Spring – 26 February 2015


Johan Hartle (moderator)
Sara Murawski
Dimitris Pavlopoulos
Nicholas Vrousalis

“The economic elites of Europe have declared an economic war against the people of Greece,” argued sociologist Dr. Dimitris Pavlopoulos. Critique of EU austerity policies and the undemocratic relationship between Greece and the “troika” (European Commission, European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund) dominated much of the discussion.

While all three speakers expressed concern with SYRIZA’s ability to actualize their anti-austerity policies, Sara Murawski, who is Policy Advisor on Development and Finance for the Socialist Party, stressed that this should be seen as an opportunity to open debate about the core of what went wrong in Europe: the undemocratic way in which European institutions have taken over national governments.

Dr. Nicholas Vrousalis, Assistant Professor of Political Philosophy, described the EU as an “informal empire” under which Greece is governed by German and French capitalism. Murawski reiterated that SYRIZA’s win indicates that Greece and other countries can claim “the right to say no” to the current EU system. That which appears inevitable or natural is a construct and product of a certain logic that guides policy formation and implementation. Perhaps the path to democracy begins with knowing that one has the right to say no.

If Greece has “the right to say no” to austerity, to a neoliberal economic system that has been imposed upon it, then do other countries have that same right? For Pavlopoulos, a “Grexit” would come with dangers and opportunities—opportunities to develop new forms of economic governance at the grassroots level.

From this debate we can also ask to what degree Greece has a duty to comply with the austerity plan since it did agree to certain bailout terms with the troika. When one enters into contracts and agrees upon terms with governments and transnational entities, when is it okay to disobey?

For many, the austerity demands on Greece epitomize the lack of democratic transparency with which the troika rules Europe. On the other end, the fundamental question of whether we have a right to break with contracts when they are unjust and threaten our fundamental democratic principles arises. If Greece decides to disobey austerity policies that the EU demands of it in order to fight for a more transparent, democratic EU structure, would Greece be engaging in a form of civil disobedience?

As the protests in Frankfurt demonstrate, events in Greece have implications for how we conceive transnational civil disobedience. When “Blockupy” descended upon the European Central Bank on March 18th to protest “troika mandates and ruthless impoverishment policy”, it brought together activists from various countries who disapprove of the lack of democracy and transparency with which the EU troika is governing Europe.

Last month, the Greek Parliament approved of Prime Minister Tsipras’ “humanitarian crisis” law that offers various social measures counter to what the EU has recommended. While the EU warns Greece to not act “unilaterally”, Greece seems to be increasingly looking towards Russia.