And when times got tough, there was just about enough
But we saw it through without complaining
For deep inside was a burning pride
In the town I loved so well
The current economic crisis in Europe is not the first. Mankind has experienced good and bad economic times for as long as organized economic activity has been around. If we had the proper documentation we could probably study business cycles as far back in time as ten thousand years. While we cannot say for certain how people far back in history handled economic recessions and depressions, we do know from recent history (the past few hundred years) that we as a civilized, intelligent species are able to go through tough times without resorting to revolutionary measures.
Yet today, when Western Civilization is supposed to be at the very height of its sophistication, the gut reaction from people living under serious economic conditions seems to be to embrace political extremism. The emerging results from the local elections in Greece is a case in point. From the EU Observer:
The radical-left Syriza party is ahead in the first round of voting in Greek local elections on Sunday (18 May), while exit polls suggest a boost for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in some areas. Syriza is set to take Athens and the surrounding Attica region away from the ruling coalition of the conservative New Democracy and its socialist partner, Pasok.
Syriza is ideologically affiliated with the Venezuelan socialist party. Their ideal economic system is Chavista socialism, with widespread government ownership, radical redistribution measures, and both fiscal and monetary policy that completely ignore the laws of economics. Their ambitions do not stop at simply restoring the (failed) European welfare state – they want to make Greece the first European country to limp along in the left footsteps of Hugo Chavez.
The fact that they make progress in the Greek elections is troubling, but hardly surprising. They have made steady advancements in Greek elections for the past couple of years. Together with other radical leftist parties in Europe they are likely going to gain significantly in the European Parliament elections later this month.
Equally troubling is the fact that Greek voters also allowed the openly Nazi Golden Dawn to advance. They are the first Nazis to set foot in a European parliament since the 1930s, they have made a name for themselves as openly racist and nationalist, and they want to socialize large sectors of the Greek economy. On top of that, they are part of a growing radically nationalist movement across Europe, one that has not yet gained the same momentum as the Communist surge that Syriza is part of. However, it is only a matter of time before the two are equally powerful – and equally threatening to Europe’s future political stability.
Again, the gasoline that is fueling that rise of totalitarianism in Europe is – yes – the ongoing economic crisis. Back to the EU Observer article:
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ conservative-led coalition came to power two years ago to steer Greece out of its debt-ridden crisis. But austerity measures imposed by the troika of international creditors on Greece, and then implemented by Samaras, led to rocketing unemployment and a 40 percent drop in purchasing power since the start of the crisis four years ago. Jobless rates published earlier last month show more Greeks are out of work compared to last year.
As I noted back in April, the Greek economic crisis is stabilizing, not going away. This, again, explains why extremism is on the march in Greece – instead of “seeing it through” and relying on “a burning pride” to carry the day, Greek voters rush to those who promise revolutionary solutions. The EU Observer again:
The Wall Street Journal reports it will be the first time in almost 40 years that a [center-right] New Democracy candidate will not be in the second [election] round in Athens. … In a further blow to Prime Minister Samaras, the Guardian newspaper reports neo-Nazi Golden Dawn candidate for Athens’ mayor could come in third with 15.5 percent of the votes. Their candidate for prefect in Attica obtained around 10 percent of the votes. Despite being under investigation for its criminal activities, Golden Dawn attracts voters because it is seen as reaching out to those most affected by the crisis. “Everyone I know is voting for Golden Dawn because they are starving and jobless,” a Greek voter told the Guardian.
Greece is the most extreme example in Europe, but it is far from the only case of dangerous political radicalization. Again, keep a watchful eye on the European Parliamentary elections, which take place in the window of May 22 – May 25. As current opinion polls show, there is a clear risk that totalitarian nationalists (not to be confused with libertarian-leaning patriots like UKIP in Britain) and equally totalitarian communists (not to be confused with traditional European social democrats) will be the biggest winners. That would be thoroughly bad for Europe, and the repercussions should echo all the way into the State Department in Washington, DC.