He was meant not to come and he didn’t. Barack Obama decided to make Burma, Cambodia and Thailand his first foreign destinations after his re-election, revealing U.S. foreign policy priorities in the next four years. The American president plainly doesn’t have time for Europe now. It’s not a surprise, but it does require serious European deliberation and critical self reflections.
Of special significance is above all Obama’s trip to Myanmar – a country under military rule since 1960’s, which until recently invariably occupied the very far end of every possible civil liberties ranking. Myanmar’s position began to change rapidly in 2010 when the new president, Thein Sein, for reasons not entirely clear, initiated democratic reforms and freed thousands of political prisoners, including the most famous regime victim, Aung San Suu Kyi, put under house arrest in 1989 and kept in custody virtually ever since. Suu Kyi was not only allowed to go on a triumphant international tour – in Oslo she finally received the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in… 1991 – but also to run in parliamentary by-elections. In April 2012 her National Democratic League won 43 of 45 seats under contention, thus becoming the largest opposition party. Only a few months after the reforms started, non-governmental organizations and independent media began to operate in a country not so long ago deemed as an “outpost of tyranny”.
And though democratic transformation in Myanmar proceeds quickly, there are still significant problems. Millions of its citizens live in extreme poverty. Hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail. The northern part of the country is being devastated by a civil war against one of many separatist groups. A military coup is an ever-present possibility, and the authenticity of president’s commitment to democracy is still difficult to assess. For these and many other reasons democratic changes in this former British colony may collapse at any time.
That despite all these uncertainties Barack Obama decided to visit Myanmar – becoming . . .
Read more: President Obama Goes to Asia: The View of a Pole in Oxford
As I celebrate the glorious re-election of President Barack Hussein Obama, and as New York and my friends and family are still suffering from Hurricane Sandy, and a snowstorm follow-up, I have been in Europe, spending time with my daughter, and her family in Paris, giving a lecture and visiting Rome for the first time, and taking part in public talks in Warsaw and Gdansk on the occasion of the Polish translation of Reinventing Political Culture, offering my commentary on the American elections informed by the book. In Gdansk, I was honored to receive a medal from the European Solidarity Center for my work with Solidarność, and continuing work inspired by its principles.
I have been enjoying the joys of citizenship and patriotic hope, the love of family, and recognition for personal and public achievement. I have learned a lot in many very interesting discussions. I have been very busy, torn with mixed emotions, including a frustrated desire to put my thoughts down for Deliberately Considered. Some quick summary thoughts today; next, a close critical response to the election results and the President’s speech. In brief: Obama excelled once again as “story teller in chief.”
Election Day from afar: having cast my vote weeks ago. In Warsaw, I discussed the events of the day and the project of the reinvention of American political culture. As I have explained in previous posts and analyzed carefully in my book, I believe that Barack Obama is an agent of significant reinvention, changing the relationship between culture and power: the way he has used the politics of small things, his eloquence as an alternative to sound bite political rhetoric, retelling of the American story as one centered on diversity, as he embodies this, and his challenge to market fundamentalism, are the major contours of his transformational politics. On Election Day, I explained that as a social scientist I thought that the transformation that he has started . . .
Read more: At Home, Abroad: Election Day
“All truths – not only the various kinds of rational truth but also factual truth – are opposed to opinion in their mode of asserting validity. Truth carries within itself an element of coercion, and the frequently tyrannical truthtellers may be caused less by a failing of character than by the strain of habitually living under a kind of compulsion.” – Hannah Arendt (Between Past and Future. 1954, p. 243)
During the period immediately before someone leaves one city and moves to another, they seem to liberate themselves and experiment with abandon during that window of freedom, or fearfully adhere to the tired routines of a forgone order. Having witnessed the Eurocrisis unfold over the past two years from a window in Berlin, I recently thought I would have to move elsewhere due to conflict with the archaic hierarchy of a German university. I naturally rebelled and charged heedlessly into the freedom inherent in a contingent situation – refusing to comply with the hierarchy and arbitrary exercise of power so prevalent in the German university. With the comfortable order of my German life on the brink, I attempted to understand my position in German academia, as well as the European position under German hegemony. In so doing, I came to discover that the latter is not a debate between Keynesianism vs. neoliberal austerity, but a particularly virulent condition of wider academic and German culture: the need for truth.
If a traditional German university is a window into German culture as a whole, then the problem of truth becomes immediately apparent. Imagine riding horseback through the patchwork of political entities in medieval Germany, each with an independent lord holding absolute power over a small slice of territory, beholden only to the good grace of a distant and disinterested central authority. While riding through this landscape, the casual observer cannot help but notice that when moving from one lordship to another, the organization of labor and adherence to a unifying conception of community is entirely dictated by the lord. Some territories have jovial lords who interact with their subjects, interested . . .
Read more: The Truth in Germany – from University to Euro
To skip this introduction and go directly to Minas Samatas’s In-Depth Analysis of the Greek Election, click here.
It is clear. The recent election in Greece was of critical importance. The fate of that country, of Europe and the global economy all seemed to be in the balance. The establishment reading of those in power in Berlin and other European capitals, and in Washington, as well, was that a victory by the leftist party SYRIZA would be a disaster. On the day of the election, we presented an alternative view by Despina Lalaki .
Today, Minas Samatas deliberately considers the results, suggesting that even though SYRIZA did not win the recent contest, it is winning in the long run and that this is a good thing for very sober reasons. He explores the unprecedented interference in the election by European media and officials. He highlights the way the old guard parties and their supportive media framed the election. He presents the results in some detail. He maintains that the present political configuration will not last. And he thus concludes on a hopeful note:
“The revival of the parliamentary left in France, Italy and Greece, plus the sorely needed, from the point of view of Greece and Europe, re-election of President Obama in the U.S., bring some hope for a developmental turn against the irrationality of austerity in the European crisis and democratic reforms in the European Union. The concept of a unified Europe has been shaken to the core. If the Greek election serves as a wake up call and has promoted a recognition of a necessary change of course, it will be a real democratic win for the people of Europe, and beyond.”
To read “The Greek Election, June 17th, 2012″ click here.
In the May 6th Greek elections, the established ruling parties, the conservative New Democracy and the socialist PASOK were punished, unable to form a government. The voters blamed them for Greece’s debt crisis, and for destroying the country in their attempts to address the crisis.
The subsequent general elections of June 17 led to a flood of attention in the international media and blatant foreign intervention due to their potential economic implications for the Euro currency zone and the global economy. Observers were concerned that a Greek exit from the Euro would have a catastrophic impact on other ailing European states, damaging the US and the entire global economy. There was an unprecedented campaign orchestrated by the Eurocrats, the German government and the German media, which amounted to the blackmailing of the Greek electorate to vote against the parties that want to end the draconian austerity and neoliberal policies.
E.U. officials disregarded the norm of neutrality concerning an independent national election and expressed their opinion about their preferred outcome of Greeks’ vote, threatening “Grexit,” i.e., forcing Greece out of Euro zone, if the radical left wins. The intervention crescendo came on the eve of the election with an open letter of Germany’s Bild newspaper to Greek voters. The tabloid warned:
“Tomorrow you have elections but you do not have any choices….If you don’t want our billions, you are free to elect any left- or right-wing clowns that you want…For more than two years, though, your ATMs are only issuing euros because we put them there. If the parties that want to end austerity and reforms win the elections, they will be breaching all agreements and we will stop paying.”
But it was not only threats by the media and the Euro-area governments. After the May election results, part of Greece’s next aid payment (1billion Euros) was postponed as a warning to Greek politicians and voters to stick to the austerity program.
Repeated Eurocratic interventions over the month before the election of June 17 implied a deep disapproval of potential choices by free citizens. This began in February, when German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble made the incredible suggestion that Greece should hold off the election and allow the interim government . . .
Read more: The Greek Election, June 17th, 2012
The economic crisis in Greece is heading towards yet another showdown today. The Greek electorate threatens to strike a serious blow against neoliberalism and its European offshoot. At the same time, these elections promise to unravel the Greek state’s monopoly on the structures of violence and fear.
Sociologist Charles Tilly drew a compelling analogy between the state as the place of organized means of violence, and racketeering. He defined the racketeer “as someone who creates a threat and then charges for its reduction,” in order to gain control and consolidate power. In this regard, a state and its government differ little from racketeering, to the extent that the threats against which they protect their citizens are imaginary or are consequences of their own activities.
Considering the pain, the humiliation, and the social degradation that the economic and political policies of the Greek government have inflicted upon the country the past four years, Tilly’s analogy may offer us a useful tool to both describe and evaluate the current crisis and the regime of fear that the state has unleashed on the Greek public.
The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which is now a democratic socialist party in name only, governed Greece for almost 30 years, moving steadily from Keynesian economic policies in the 1980s to rampant neoliberalism in the 1990s. New Democracy (ND), which had dominated the political scene until PASOK’s first electoral victory in 1981 and alternated in power with it ever since, professed its ideology to be “radical liberalism.” Today, after three decades of cronyism, unbridled corruption and economic scandals, the ideological convergence of the two parties is complete.
Despite its initial apprehension towards the European Union, membership in the organzation enabled PASOK to implement its policies and boost the Greek economy. With the help of substantial financial inflows from the European Economic Community, PASOK was able to redistribute wealth.
Despite the growing government deficits, the emphasis remained on sustaining employment and modernizing the welfare system. In the meantime, democratic socialism – enveloped in patronage and nepotism – evolved into a process for democratizing corruption. Deputy . . .
Read more: The Greek Crisis as Racketeering
In this post, Minas Samatas, Professor of Political Sociology, University of Crete, reports that while the Greeks said no to draconian austerity, no to the two ruling parties, and no to European threats of Greece’s exit from euro zone, “Grexit,” they suggested a new path for a democratically legitimate European Union. -Jeff
Μay 6th elections in Greece have sent a loud and clear message: the Greek people said no to the draconian austerity measures that have devastated the country in exchange for dead-end bailouts from the troika of European Union (EU), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Designed by IMF and Eurocrats, the bailout “memorandum” does not guarantee a safe path to move Greece away from disaster, even if implemented in full. The austerity policy gives absolute priority for paying creditors at the expense of citizens’ incomes, without any future prospect of development and growth. It promotes sharp reductions in public spending, shattering the healthcare and educational system, and the “Balkanization” of Greece with salaries under 200 Euros comparable to Bulgaria. The Greek electorate rejected this in no uncertain terms.
They also, and very importantly, said no to the two ruling parties, punishing the socialist PASOK and conservative New Democracy (ND). They are responsible for the dramatic economic crisis and signed the disastrous austerity program (memorandum) to protect the foreign creditors and the banks at the expense of the most vulnerable. The outcome of the ballot expressed anger against the corrupted political elite and its policies. It expressed dismay at the lack of punishment of those responsible for the crisis. It was a call for social justice for those who suffer from the crisis. The election results express the fear and despair of the Greek people affected by the memorandum’s inhumane policy, lurching deeper into poverty and despair by sharp salary and pensions cuts, unfair tax increases, 22% unemployment (with 922 people losing their job per day over the past year), leaving no future for the young people but immigration, leading to over 3,000 persons to suicide.
The conservative New Democracy (ND) came in first place . . .
Read more: Reflections on the Elections in Greece
Just before the Sofitel Affair brutally ended his political career, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the director of the IMF, was considered as the great favorite of the French presidential election, and François Hollande, who had started earlier his bid for the primary polls organized for the first time on the left by the Socialist Party, was not taken seriously, particularly in his own camp. Nicknamed Flanby, Little Gouda, or even “couilles molles” (soft testicles) by his socialist contender Martine Aubry, Hollande very well may be the unexpected winner of the competition, on May 6th, the final round of the French election. Although it has been a boring campaign, it also has been very interesting sociologically.
Strauss-Kahn embodied a center-left version of the “there is no alternative” line, smoothed by a reputation, acquired in happier times, of a rare economic competency that would alleviate the inescapable rigor ahead. Roughly, President Sarkozy and Strauss-Kahn shared the same views. The President had backed the very moderate socialist for the job at the IMF, and they navigated in very close social and economic circles.
But now, one can see almost every day a sea of red flags and an amazing number of raised fists during the Front de Gauche candidate’s electoral meetings, from the Place de la Bastille in Paris to the Prado beaches in Marseilles. Enthusiastic crowds appreciate the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon‘s tough rhetoric: his speeches are loaded with the most traditional items of the radical camp with a very strong French flavor (a daily celebration of the Bastille Day, but also of 1793 and Robespierre). Mélenchon’s fondness for Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro and the Chinese communist leaders does not seem to bother any of his increasingly young and socially mixed supporters. Mélenchon’s rise has totally reshuffled the campaign, that had started with Sarkozy taking up extreme right-wing issues (mainly immigration and security) and Hollande not saying much as he was so far ahead in the polls that he seemed to be afraid of taking any side that would . . .
Read more: The French Presidential Election: In Search of Time Past