Since the Greek catastrophe began four years ago*, its cause has changed in the public discourse every few months. Each of these supposed causes has seemed credible, at least for a time, as each has become known to us in the pages of distinguished media or from the mouths of political leaders. Yet the fundamental reason for the wrecking of Greece remains largely unspoken.
First, you might remember, it was a genetic “profligacy” — unfettered public spending — that did the Greeks in. To many ordinary Greeks, the real enemy at that time was Germany, which was intent on reoccupying the country, if not physically, then at least economically, some 65 years after the Nazis left. Then it was the Greek government — first George Papandreou’s PASOK party, then the caretaker government of Loukas Papademos, and then the current coalition government — that became the enemy, as it acted as the agent of austerity for its European masters. Protesters amassed outside the Greek parliament and seemed determined to torch it, were it not for the riot police that held the crowds back. The enemy of Greece conveniently changed first to the Greek left — the supporters of the ascending center-left SYRIZA party — who threatened to take power from the two parties on the right, PASOK and New Democracy, which had traded power since 1974. SYRIZA supporters, too, found a worthy enemy, not only in Germany, austerity, and the bail-out agreement, but also in the neo-fascist supporters of Golden Dawn. (Ironically, both SYRIZA and Golden Dawn opposed austerity, but preferred to wage a civil war of sorts in the streets of Athens.) These anything-but-Golden Dawn geniuses, by the way, have set up foreign immigrants — the country’s weakest class — as the true enemy, committing an untold number of criminal attacks against them. More recently, anarchists, whose political alignment is at times in dispute, too, have claimed some of the limelight reserved for the true enemy. And they, in turn, take aim at the police, with whom they do hand-to-hand battle in the streets. (The police, by the way, are easy to dislike, being the most visibly corrupt public organization in the country.)
Vanquishing any and all of these enemies promised, at one time or another, some fantastic return to a pre-catastrophe idyll — to the summer sun, bouzoukia, nepotism, materialism, class and racial inequality, and environmental destruction.
All of which would be just fine for those who receive little attention as ordinary people do battle with themselves and with their impotent government. These are the oligarchs — a mix of old but mostly new money — whose fortunes ballooned as compliant politicians helped them transfer public wealth into offshore accounts. These are the same people who control the country’s news media, soccer clubs, oil refining, construction, real estate, and of course banking. For them, any enemy will do.
*In reality, the catastrophe began much earlier, as I suggested in a book I published back in 2004.