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To the Crucible II: A Further Irish Engagement with the Greek Crisis and the Greek Left


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"Times New Roman";color:black”>“Things have gone very quiet in Greece, haven’t they?” So many people said that to me in the past six months or so. I responded that there was a lot going on, even if international media weren’t covering it. There were civil mobilisations of teachers and transport workers, as well as rising unemployment, emigration and impoverishment, being met with continuing protest, strikes, occupations. Even so, I sensed a lull in the rhythm of resistance, since the big demonstrations opposing the passage of the third memorandum last autumn. Obviously people couldn’t keep going at that pitch all the time, but how many were succumbing to exhaustion, despair, defeat? How many were quietly going about their work in solidarity networks, policy development, political education?
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>The story circulating in May, promoted by its government, was that Greece had stabilised and protest had subsided. Grexit had given way to Grecovery. Antonis Samaras, who was most actively articulating this, touring the world with the good news, even heralded a Greek ‘renaissance’. The feeblest of economic indicators were offered as evidence, although international commentators, even ones who wanted to believe this story, found it hard to get past the fact that most indicators still pointed in the opposite direction. In other statements, Samaras conceded that they hadn’t really changed the numbers yet, but insisted that they had eliminated the ‘negative psychology’.
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Many Greeks were scathing, pointing out that tiny shifts from rating agencies and bond yields paled into insignificance aside the continuing freefall of the economy and the still deteriorating conditions of life for non-oligarchic Greeks. Among indicators being trumpeted were lower wages, which might be good news for investors, but hardly for workers. Yanis Varoufakis labelled the Greek success story as the ‘latest Orwellian turn of the Greek crisis’ and laid the economic facts on the line’
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>At this point Ireland came into the story. Enda Kenny arrived in Athens on 23 May 2013. On the basis of a few hours in Athens and conversations with Samaras, he endorsed the Greek ‘success story’ and praised Samaras for changing international sentiment toward Greece. Samaras declared that Greece was following Ireland’s example to exit the crisis and to return to the markets next year. This ‘return to the markets’ is presented as the great utopian aspiration of our time. In Ireland we are told that we are set to enter that promised land soon. So all that evolutionary striving was for this.

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Return to Athens

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>I was with my son Cathal this time, who was discovering Athens for the first time.  We walked the streets, ancient and modern. In the ancient ruins with wifi hotspots, I tweeted my fascination with the ways classical culture resonates in the present conjuncture. Not that you can say much in a tweet, but my brain was buzzing with the philosophical discourses that had captured my imagination so long ago. Cathal was better on the historical detail, but I was again reflecting on the relationship of the big philosophical ideas to the socio-historical forces of the times.

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Walking from Metaxourgio to Monastiraki on the first day, we stopped near Omonia to look at a poster for the Alter Summit, which we would be attending. A man stopped to look at us looking and drew us into conversation.  He said that politics is hopeless, that it is all about power and money, that it would never change. He was active in left politics when he was young, he disclosed, but he was now 63 and no longer a student and could see no point in it. I told him that I was older than 63 and still active in left politics. He looked at me quizzically. Afterwards, I thought that I should have pointed to Manolis Glezos, Syriza MP, who is still full of fire and hope at 91.
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>We proceeded down Athinas and took in all the sights and smells of meat and fish, both raw and cooked, and noted all the goods on display hanging in the fronts of shops. Many were the sort of clothes and accessories you might find anywhere, but what was distinctive here was all the different sorts of gas masks on display. Should we buy them? The last time I was in Athens, people asked me if I had a gas mask when I showed up for protests and lent me one when needed. On balance, though, I didn’t expect to need one this time. I didn’t think that the European left march into Syntagama would be gassed.
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>We walked many streets, particularly around Metaxourgio, Psiri, Omonia and Exarchia.  Cathal went for shortcuts and back streets, often at night, which didn’t always look as dangerous as they actually were. These was normal life continuing somehow in shops, apartments and offices, but also degrees of desperation apparent in the begging, scavenging, shooting up, wandering homelessly, even crying and crawling. Some things were puzzling, for example, coming across a pile of abandoned clothes that looked like a person had undressed there and walked away. So many sights on the streets made me wonder what story was behind what I was seeing.
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Even those who looked prosperous had their problems and were not so prosperous as they seemed. I spoke to a number of people in employment, in several cases people with PhDs working as lecturers or journalists, who had not been paid in many months. How did they live? From the pay of others in their families who were being paid. In most cases, those being paid had their pay drastically reduced. I met one woman, a well groomed middle aged woman, who broke into floods of tears, because no one in her family was working now and they had nothing. Another young woman, articulate and attractive, told me that her life was over and she was only fighting now for a better society for her son. She had been a physiotherapist and then a waitress and was now unemployed. So many people serving in hotels and restaurants were once physiotherapists or journalists or teachers or graphic designers. I met one young man, who did a master’s thesis on the EU, who told me that he wished that he could have it back and write the exact opposite now.

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Alter Summit
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>We met again over the next days at the Alter Summit. It took place at the Olympic village on 7-8 June. Most sessions were in or around the velodrome. Outside were stalls where various parties, projects and groups displayed their wares – books, bags, pamphlets, posters, pens, t-shirts . For meals, there were pop-up kitchens offering various ethnic cuisines on paper plates. The system for paying for food and drink reminded me of the USSR. Queuing for chits and queuing again for products was not one of the most attractive aspects of these experiments in socialism (a controversial conceptualisation, I know).  There was an attractive atmosphere for milling around and chatting in the sun, until the second day, when it rained.

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"Times New Roman";color:black”>“Europe stands on the edge of a precipice, looking into the abyss. Austerity policies drive the people of Europe into poverty, undercut democracy and dismantle social policies. Rising inequalities endanger social cohesion. Ecological destruction is worsening while acute humanitarian crises devastate the most affected countries. Women and young people are hardest hit.”

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