Greeks, postmodernism, and the rethinking of deomocracy
December 27, 2004 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Greeks, postmodernity, and the rethinking of democracy Found this fascinating interview on openDemocracy by way of meat-eating leftist. Greek opposition minister George Papandreou, son of former socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, says some interesting things about the changing nature of representative democracy and the new fluidity of citizens' political and social identities. Given our diminishing democracy in this country, it is refreshing to hear a politician say that individuals in society need to be empowered and that political leaders must listen to and trust individuals.
posted by mountainmambo (14 comments total)
The traditional party leader appeals by saying to his followers: “You can trust me”. I think the future for progressive politics lies in leaders like myself trusting the people as citizens.

As an American, my brain almost exploded when I read this... =P
posted by idontlikewords at 8:53 PM on December 27, 2004

I have this convoluted theory that various types of government are best suited to strides in various disciplines. Democracy promotes philosophy. Religious monarchy promotes liberal arts.

I know this isn't quite related, but the articles caused me to reflect on it.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:50 PM on December 27, 2004

"Given our diminishing democracy..."

I understand the feeling that on MeFi that this type of statement will give a post instant street cred, but can you please not throw around such assertions without backing them up?

Decreasing democracy in that we have less democracy than pre McCain-Feingold? Than in the days of poll taxes? In that we have less democracy than in the days when women couldn't vote? When blacks couldn't vote? When only white property-owning males could vote?

What about when Lincoln suspended habeus corpus and the free press?

I'm not saying that there aren't things wrong today (first person to link to the Patriot Act gets a cookie), but it seems like things like the Internet and MeFi are in fact expanding democracy instead of reducing it. Instead of relying on 4 news channels in the pre-cable days you now have thousands of websites with straight-from-the-trenches blog coverage of every concievable angle of a story. And once you have the information the Internet empowers people to organize into similar thinking groups and start organizing for change...
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:55 PM on December 27, 2004

this interview is to think that it's a bunch of self-promotion, nothing more. i'm sorry, but papandreu is full of it. so you lost by 5% instead of 10% -- big deal. not worth the pat on the back you give yourself. three months wasn't enough time to start the revolution, huh? boo hoo.

what about this transparent populist pandering is novel or interesting? it was boring when william jennings bryan did it a century ago and it's just as boring now.

i mean, seriously: "To return to your own method of leadership. You took decisions over Turkey that didn’t go along with the approach and attitudes you inherited. You reversed your country’s policy." please, let up with the hard-hitting journalism! i can't handle these tough questions! this interview is a joke.

look, the reality of the situation is that populism doesn't work -- the people ask for more services and less taxes, every single time. really, if you think that popular control of the government is a good idea, california would like to have a word with you. like it or not, there is a very, very good reason why we have professional representatives. we need people to sort through policies and make intelligent decisions about what services we do and don't need and how they should be paid for. history proves that the mob is not up to this task.

AND, regardless of whether or not you believe in things like ballot referendums and transparent popular control over government, this interview doesn't have any substance to it whatsoever. whenever i hear people talk about "synthesising" the strengths of our society to create "win-win situations" i think about dilbert, not about reinventing democracy. if you want to reinvent democracy, i suggest you start by throwing out all the opportunistic chumps, from bush to papandreu, conservatives and liberals alike -- hell, toss the whole lot of them out, lock out the lobbyists, and start rebuilding the professional institutions of government we used to have, where politicians could make decisions without PACs breathing down their necks, and then you might see the wonderful intarwebs doing some interesting stuff. until then, it's all so much mental wanking, no matter how much of a happy face you manage to put on it.

posted by spiderwire at 1:38 AM on December 28, 2004

*"this interview is a bunch of shameless self-promotion, nothing more..."

(...changed the opening sentence and missed the rest of the clause on preview. it's late. time for bed.)
posted by spiderwire at 1:40 AM on December 28, 2004

"Given our diminishing democracy..."

Let me qualify that statement. If by democracy we mean a form of government where we, the people, control the pillars of government through our votes and voices; where elected reps actually represent us; where half the country is not left behind in perceived mandates and in the expenditure of political capital... then yes, we live in times where actual democracy is diminishing.

Organizing, exchange of ideas online, forums, etc are all wonderful and helpful, but the fact remains that we have an administration that locks dissenting voices out. Yes, the Patriot Act, the new National Forest initiatives, votes not being counted, over 50 million dissenting voices being overlooked in favor of more pseudo-conservative policies... these all point right to the lessening of democracy.

You can go back to poll tax, to Zenger, to Alien and Sedition Acts... all we have today are different, more modern, more subvertive versions of these.

And as far as street cred goes, while you will be busy typing away, the only street cred I will be concerned about will be on Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20th. I'll send you the pics, thedevildancedlightly .
posted by mountainmambo at 4:31 AM on December 28, 2004

What spiderwire said.

George Papandreou: Very much so. A number of big issues no longer fall within a traditional left–right framework, such as migration, narcotics, the environment. One has to start re–interpreting them in a way that combines more traditional left views with liberal ones, in the United States sense. For example, migration has to do with employment and development, but also with human rights, multiculturalism, and the ability to live in a society which is tolerant. These issues are not always identified with the traditional left.

Whenever you hear somebody talk about superseding the "traditional left-right framework" a little alarm bell should go off. Tony Blair, Clinton, and other famous neoliberals and neoconservatives talk similarly, and they usually mean tearing down the 80 years of labor, civil and civic rights that the "traditional left", especially the labor and civil rights movement here in the US, won for us in the streets.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:59 AM on December 28, 2004

First of all a correction: It's Greek opposition leader, son and grandson of prime Ministers...

Then a disclaimer: I'm no fan of G. Papandreou, his father or his grandfather, in fact I admit to harbouring a ferocious disdain for all relatives of older politicians who are getting involved in politics by taking their relatives political "clientelle" - and that includes the current prime-minister Kostas Karamanlis, nephe and namesake of a former prime-minister himself.

That being said, the interview is a piece of post-modern fluff - if you have no familiarity with the Greek political scene. If you do, it's utterly infuriating.

Some background and commentary:

...this guy would have zero chance of becoming leader of PASOK, if he wasn't a Papandreou (a George Papandreou at that - the namesake of his grandfather one of the greatest con-artist politicians of all times in a country that is choke full of them). So the idea behind giving him the leadership was to motivate the more unthinking part of the socialist's base into voting for Andrea's son, and the crucial centrist's into voting for George's grandson. This because Simitis, a prime minister who presided over possibly the greatest upwards redistribution of income in recent memory, and tolerated near-Nigerian levels of corruption, was utterly unelectable. In an attempt to maintain the PASOK based kleptocrats in power, large sections of the corrupt business class, including the vast najority of Media owners, forced a leadership change and promoted the "new leader" ad nauseam, ignoring any and all electoral standards of equal time and level playing field, turning the TV News and the political shows into one large George Papandreou rally. That's why he managed to diminish the 10% gap to 5% - and that's why he is still the favourite of the local media magnates.

Part of his PR strategy (and it can be argued that his policies were one large PR strategy and nothing more), was to sell this participatory democracy bullshit he is repeating in the interview. To demonstrate his sincerety:
"I proposed, and it was accepted, that we change our party constitution before I was elected so that the leader would be elected directly by the public; both the membership of the party and non–members. We opened up the polling stations to everybody who wanted to vote, somewhat like a primary."
All this with one candidate: himself - something more related to Ba'ath than ancient Athens! In the following days and months he would demostrate that all this is merely for show, as neither the PASOK central committee was elected in the same fashion, nor anybody (not even the Central Committee of the party) got to vote on major political issues (his position on Cyprus was opposed by a majority of PASOK voters - and certainly by a majority of PASOK CC members).

As for the rest, this suffices:
...People have their own personal interpretations about what change means. I think there are a wide variety of demands wrapped up in this response. One important element is certainly participation. Another is the simple renewal of faces. A third is the renewal of ideas. There are new questions in society, new problems...
...There is a great pressure on the individual to be able to change. This is good as it demands that we all become more creative. But it also means we are living in a much more insecure world, in a changing world of new knowledge, ideas, and possibilities. It is creative, but also we all experience much greater risks which generate new gaps and divides between the “creative” and those unable to change or be creative in society...
The first paragraph captures the unreality of the whole interview: None of the reasons for change offered were in any way key to PASOK's defeat, while other less profound issues were: increasing poverty and marginalisation, the regress towards medieval levels of labour exploitation in the private sector, ubiquitus corruption, the arrogance of power, false promises, the plunder of people's savings in a huge stock-exchange scam for which no one was punished etc. About these sort of things he doesn't say anything...

In the second paragraph, he repeats the mantra of the creative gap - highly contestable as far as the industrialized world is concerned, but near comical when talking about Greece: It's not the most creative that have prospered, but rather the most corrupt; very creative people are forced to live abroad or survive on the EU's (15) lowest salaries in terms of purchasing power. The "creative" overachievers in Greece's case are corrupt businessmen and public servants with low salaries but a mysteriously luxurious lifestyle... This was instituted and is maintained by his party a fact that he does not acknowledge and does nothing to change.

I could go on but really.. it's all empty rhetoric and pose. There's nothing there. The only thing worth adding is that the following statement of his, is not accurate:

"It is no secret that I opposed the US government’s policy on Iraq..."

...he allowed US forces the use of Suda base in the attack against Iraq and he was among the most conciliatory of the EU foreign ministers. I don't know what he thought in private but in public he was less than vociferous against the invasion.

By the Grace of God: exactly!
posted by talos at 6:46 AM on December 28, 2004

Argh.. excuse the typos and errors! I pressed post instead of spell check apparently!
posted by talos at 6:48 AM on December 28, 2004

Thanks, talos. I know enough about Greek politics that I was rolling my eyes as I read the interview, but I'm very glad to have your informed (and angry) take on it, with details!
posted by languagehat at 8:18 AM on December 28, 2004

Whew! Who would have thought that this post would have gotten all the Marxists up in arms!

Talos, thanks for the Greek political scene description, really.

I am a third generation Greek-American, son of a staunch Andreas Papandreou supporter during the 1980s. I get mixed reviews from my old man about George Papandreou so I tried to locate some info on him online.

I found his take on politics interesting. That's all. And honestly, whether its sincere or not, its at least refreshing to see a politican talk about some change in democracy needed. Whether he is the guy to do it, I guess I don't know, but I just couldn't imagine his ideas coming from an American politician's mouth...
posted by mountainmambo at 8:37 AM on December 28, 2004

"... its at least refreshing to see a politican talk about some change in democracy needed ... I just couldn't imagine his ideas coming from an American politician's mouth..."

There's this guy called Howard Dean who you might want to check out.

... Also, I'm not a Marxist. Although I am a third generation Greek-American.
posted by spiderwire at 9:28 AM on December 28, 2004

I'm one. :)

Ask yourself, mountain, why you find his take on politics interesting. No matter what he says about what has happened with PASOK, it must be judged in terms of his proposed actions. I don't think the rules of democracy need to be changed. They need to be followed more stringently, and democracy needs to be protected from concentrated corporate and state powers that use legal and extralegal methods to meddle with democracy.

This has happened in Iraq, Palestine, the Ukraine, the United States and elsewhere this year.
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:39 AM on December 28, 2004

Very witty, spiderwire.

Let's talk about an American politician in some office with some weight who talks about redefining Democracy.

Dean is great, but he is a sideline man at best.
posted by mountainmambo at 9:41 AM on December 28, 2004

« Older Bell Curve for Doctors   |   How Walmart Is Destroying America And The World:... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments