Member of the Laboratory of Experimental Social Psychology, PANTIO UNIVERSITY
Senior Lecturer in Social and Political Psychology, City Unity College
“Time is the best medicine” they say, and in the Greek political and social reality, this is more than true. Only nine years have passed since the signing of the first Memorandum in Greece, seven years since the “Indignant” movement and Syntagma Square, four years after SYRIZA’s shift from the most popular anti-memorandum party to a pro-memorandum government. Today, the measures are considered to be given and expected, insecurity in a collective sense, remains, while at the social level the “Memorandum Period” seems collectively distant but still so painful. The policy of the Memoranda has now been internalized in the Greek thought, has been consolidated in collective thinking, and the Greeks seem rather tired rather than betrayed. How, however, has the Greek political scene dealt with Memoranda? More specifically, how was the concept of debt used as a connecting concept between the extortion of the country and its decision to remain in Europe? A Europe that has often been accused by the Greek political leaders as “conservative” but also a necessary condition.
At the same time, the Greek political parties in their attempt to deal with their political power, their party identity and their survival on the political scene, focusing on the Memorandum, Europe and Debt, have often shifted and had to rhetorically negotiate these shifts. In particular, while NeaDimokratia (right-wing party) voted against the first Memorandum, voted in favor of the second and third Memorandum, LAOS (populist right wing party) voted in favor of the first memorandum and voted against the second, while SYRIZA (left wing party) voted against the first and second memorandum but his pro-Merorandum shift as a government led to the vote of the third Memorandum. These political transformations are a fertile ground for studying the way in which the Greek political system negotiated the concepts of Europe, Debt and the position of Greece between those two.
Therefore, aim of this article is to highlight the way in which the Greek political parties handled the concepts of “Debt” and “Europe” in every parliamentary debate on the vote on each of the three Memoranda in Greece. It is a small part of a larger research initiative, which studies in depth the Greek political rhetoric regarding the Memoranda in Greece. The aim of this article, however, is not the research and bibliographic review of the interpretation of the political rhetoric constructions, but the presentation of the typical abstracts concerning each Government that introduced each Memorandum into the Greek Parliament, thus studying how each Greek government attempted to convinced of the necessity of the Memorandum policies.
Before we proceed with the analysis of the political discourse, some minimal methodological observations are needed: first, the following “typical segments” are created on the basis of cumulative statistical significance of the words, which appear in bold. Second, the statistical significance and co-occurrence of these words allows us to see which words are important and how they are related to other words and construct meaning. Third, the sum of the statistical significance is shown in brackets and, for the purposes of this article, we are interested in the final result, ie the final sum. Greater sum (value) leads to stronger statistical significance and co-occurrence of words. Fourthly, this article examines only the Government’s rhetoric in relation to Debt and Europe.
First Memorandum – Act of Consensus, Rule of Law and a Patriotic Way Out
Before the end of 2008, Kostas Karamanlis’ government was in a tight place, the majority in the Greek Parliament was marginal, by only one seat. Under these pressures, on September 2nd, 2009, Prime Minister Karamanlis announces early elections for October 4, 2009, where PASOK (socialist party) was the first party with a 43.92% share with the characteristic phrase of the leader of the party, Papandreou “There is money” in a time that Greece was financially struggling. At the same time, the European press appears aggressive towards Greece. It is also characteristic of the cover of the German magazine Focus on February 22nd, 2010, entitled “Cheaters in the Euro-Family” and Aphrodite of Milos “gesture” against Europe. The same magazine continues on the same motif with a cover on May 1st, 2010, which portrays Aphrodite of Milos as a beggar.On the same day the Economist circulates with a cover that refers to the film “Apocalypse now” with the modified title “Acropolis now”, depicting the Acropolis surrounded by war helicopters and Angela Merkel placed on the right side of the cover next to the subtitle “The horror, the horror”. In this context, the Greek Government is called upon to interpret the crisis, the Debt and Europe without losing its party influence. Of these, the typical segments of Debt and Europe follow from the rhetoric of members of the Government.
- It is the feeling of justice of the Greek people, it is the support of the political democratic system. The Greek people want to believe that the political world can serve the rule of law, can serve what’s just and not what’s personal or partisan interest (Papandreou, Prime Minister, President of PASOK, Score:189.69)
- It is a Program that binds us all morally and politically to succeed even if it is needed that we proceed on our own, without support from the rest of the political system, that denies taking responsibility of their actions but definitely with the support of the citizens.(Papakonstantinou, Minister of Finance, Score: 183.69)
- No one has noted, which is also a truth regarding the measures, the rage of the Greek people. The political system can respond to that rage with only one way, which is to transform this rage to an act of refutation of crimes and pathogenies (Efthimiou, Parliamentary Representative of PASOK, Score: 182.43)
- …has appealed to the mechanism created by the European Union and the IMF, to save the country that faced bankruptcy. We chose the survival of the nation, to save the economy as a patriotic way out, without considering the political costs (Floridis, Speaker PASOK, Score: 484.42)
- These are the choices that we have to make. We are asking today the contribution of all the citizens, we are asking from our partners in the European Union and the IMF the support, so that we can have more time (Papakonstantinou, Minister of Finance, Score: 462,96)
Theaforementioned typical segments depict the way in which the Government presents the Memorandum, the debt and the wider political scene. There is a question of “lawfulness”, a “political democratic system”, and Mr Papandreou essentially invites the other political parties not to serve their personal or narrow party interests but to actually votein favor of the first memorandum as an act of consensus (Typical Segment 1). At the same time, however, PASOK is ready to act on its own, believing it has the support of the citizens (Typical Segment 2). The citizens become “accomplices” in the rhetoric of Mr. Papaconstantinou and Mr. Efthimiou, who shows “understanding” regarding the Greek people’s wrath for the debt and Greek pathogenies all previous years and consider that the political system should transformthis rage into a struggle against pathogenicity Typical Segment 3), of course implying that the Memorandum is a “good start” for dealing with pathogeny in Greece. Also important is the addition of MrFloridis, who considers that the government in the dilemma of “bankruptcy or memorandum”, a dilemma that has “been heard” for the last nine years, has done its “patriotic duty” and did not calculate the political cost (Typical Segment 4). Finally, the fifth typical segment comes from MrPapaconstantinou, in another request of “consensus”, a consensus created to “have more time”. Although the first Memorandum was voted for, time was, obviously, not sufficient, and the Greek political system was soon confronted with the singing of the second Memorandum.
Memorandum 2 – Recovery and Conservative Europe
After the signing of the first memorandum, introduced by the government of PASOK and Mr. Papandreou, and the subsequent social unrest, his resignation came on November 11, 2011. Earlier Mr. Papandreou had announced his intention to hold a referendum regarding the new loan agreement on 31 October and 4 days later followed the abolition of that concept because of the attitude of Greece’s Europeans partners, who jointly decided that in a referendum the question should be whether Greece will remain inside or outside the eurozone. Moreover, by highlighting the uncertainty of domestic political development in Greece, they exerted additional pressure by postponing the first disbursement after the announcement to hold a referendum on the decisions of the Eurozone summit. Mr Papandreou’s announcement of a referendum intention “worried” the European forces. Wolfgang Schäuble considered the referendum as a voluntary exit process of Greece from the Eurozone, followed by the Financial Times’ revelation regarding José Manuel Barroso’s proposal to replace the Papandreou government with a technocratic government under the leadership of Loukas Papadimos, which was characterized as a direct intervention of Europe in the interior matters of Greece. The newgovernment under Prime Minister Loukas Papademos, a New Democracy, PASOK and LAOS, that later voted against the second memorandum, was sworn on November 11th and led the new government to negotiate the new loan agreement. In this context, the parliamentary debate on the adoption of the second Memorandum in Greece was intensified on 12 February 2012, Five typical segments from this specific parliamentary discussion follow, to explore how the new government negotiated rhetorically the Debt and Europe.
- the progress made over the past two years in restoring fiscal stability and international competitiveness is significant, the primary government deficit has fallen from EUR 24 billion to EUR 5 billion, a decrease corresponding to eight percentage points of gross domestic product (Papadimos, Prime Minister, Score: 289.07)
- By implementing the new Program the financial support and debt restructuring accompanying it will reduce uncertainty and increase trust in the prospects of the Greek economy and this will result in increased investment activity and a faster recovery of the economy (Papadimos, Prime Minister, Score: 261,98)
- …and these reforms will positively affect investments, export and employment; labor market reforms aim at improving cost competitiveness and reducing unemployment, especially among young people, which has reached a very high level (Papadimos, Prime Minister, Score : 256.91)
- We must protect the Greek citizenand the Greek family from the consequences of a devastating dominance of the marketswithin a conservative Europewith a struggleto the end in favor of the creation of the solidarity mechanism in order to help the politics to dominate over the markets (Papandreou, President/PASOK, Score: 255.50)
- It is a battle I gave in Europe for two years that opposed to the theory that the problem in the Eurozone had a Greek name. It is a battle I gave by rejecting from the beginning that the solution of the problem is simply that Greece should handle its own problems(Papandreou , President/PASOK, Score: 194,19)
The new government had to negotiate the failure of the first Memorandum and the implementation of the second, amidst social explosions and disputes. However, Mr. Papadimos believes that “progress has been made” over the past two years (Typical Segment 1), but the new Program will reduce uncertainty, increase confidence in the prospects of the Greek economy, and hence investment will be strengthened and the recovery of the economy will follow (Typical Segment 2). At the same time, these reforms will improve the country’s exports and competitiveness, and will lead to a reduction in unemployment (Typical Segment). Mr. Papadimos’s economic and technical rhetoric reveals his role as a non-directly elected Prime Minister. The aim is to present the Memorandum as an “opportunity” not only to reduce debt, but to recover the Greek economy, while it is totally lacking any “political” instances. At the same time, Mr Papandreou’s statements, who now is “deliberated” from being a Prime Minister, are also interesting: against the “conservative” Europe dominated by the markets (Typica Segment 4), he underlines the “battle” he had to fight two years ago, with the signing of the first Memorandum, against this conservative Europe, which sacrificed Greece and refused to recognize the wider problem as European (Typical Segment 5).
The next three years have been marked by intense social upheaval, as massive layoffs, loss of basic labor rights, pension cuts and wage cuts have taken place in the context of the reforms, while many businesses have been pushed into discontinuing their operations. The “opportunity” of the second Memorandum has led to the destruction of basic and, until recently, non-negotiable economic rights and ultimately to a change of government.
Memorandum 3 –The Memorandum to end all Memoranda
The early elections of January 2015 were caused by the failure to elect the President of the Republic, had as a result a wide electoral victory of SYRIZA, a political entity that had profoundly criticized the policy of the Memoranda. The government promised to renegotiate the debt, to prove that it is “illegal, repugnant and unsustainable” by MrsKonstantopoulou’swords and the pen of the newspaper “Avgi”. The negotiation led to the famous referendum in June with the Greek people opposing the draft agreement with 61.31%. After the referendum, the government reached ab agreement with creditors on 13 July 2015 on terms of a third Memorandum. This shift led to a breakdown of SYRIZA in the September 2015 elections, with Syriza being again the first party with 36.34%. SYRIZA started with a cooperation with ANEL, that had received 4.75%. It is important to note that in these elections a historical abstinence rate was recorded, reaching 43.4%. Consequently, the new government coalition had a low endorsement regarding the whole electorate, but acceptance of the electorate that attended the elections. The coalition government was called upon to manage its pro-memorandum shift and to justify the, until then, unthinkable: the third Memorandum by a former anti-Memorandum political force. The following typical abstractsexplore the way in which SYRIZA and ANEL managed Europe and Debt.
- Ladies and gentlemen, I do not want to embellish reality, as it is a mistake to present it better than it is, so is a mistake to steamroll it. Our basic obligation now is astruggle to compensate the negative consequences of this agreement (Tsipras, Prime Minister, Score: 636,29)
- I do not regret ladies and gentlemen, nor have I fought as much as anyone – I believe I do not want to offend anyone in order to defend what’s rightfor the Greek people this right that I also believed in (Tsipras, Prime Minister, Price: 628.05)
- This is of greatimportance. The fact that the small and medium-sized enterprises are now relieved and the principle of restoring the real economy is put in place, ladies and gentlemen, it is importantthat money goes into the market (Kammenos, President ANEL, Price: 612.75 )
- There is absolutely no doubt that the budgetary targets for the period 2015-2018 in the new agreement concern a very modest fiscal adjustment which was reflected in the final figures we have today (Stathakis, Minister of Economy, Price: 19.92)
- but from others that are looking for excuses for their pre-announced choices to say constantly that today we would come to vote the worst memorandum ever.There is no doubt that there is no good memorandum and neither do I want to defend it (Tsipras, Prime Minister, Price: 17,60)
The political pro-Memorandum shift of SYRIZA and ANEL have essentially delivered anti-memorandum rhetoric to two political parties, the KKE (Communist Party) and the Golden Dawn (neo-Nazi, extreme right). In addition, the rest of the political system has a pro-Memorandum rhetoric, therefore, the government has rhetorically, little at its disposal to reflect the debt itself or Europe. Managing the debt is now seen as a prerequisite for Greece’s remain in Europe, while its subversive acceptance of the aforementioned shifts the debate to another rhetorical center. From Debt and Europe, to the political transformation of the coalition GovernmentMr. Tsipras considers that it is now time to give a “battle” against the negative consequences of the agreement (Typical Segment 1), he does not regret his choice as he was trying to defend the “rights of the Greek people” (Typical Segment 2) while MrKammenos mentions the positives of the third Memorandum, the relief of small and medium-sized enterprises and the return to the real economy (Typical Segment 3). The “success” of the third Memorandum is “a more mild fiscal adjustment” (Typical Segment 4) while in the opposition’s criticism that the third Memorandum is the worst, Mr Tsipras replies that there is no good Memorandum (Typical Segment 5). It seems that coalition government has now fully complied with European imperatives, and all that remains is the “hope” that the measures will be milder.
Τhe way that the Greek governments managed the concept of debt in the parliamentary discussions for their vote is common: “Memorandum or Bankruptcy”. This reasoning led Mr Papandreou to the introduction of the first Memorandum, was strengthened in the discussion regarding the second Memorandum and was fully internalized in the discussion regarding the third Memorandum. The Memoranda were rhetorically constructed under terms of “national salvation”, “avoidance of bankruptcy” and even a “battle”, always focusing on economic indicators and the repayment of Greek loans. The government’s rhetoric very rarely linked debt to social injustice, but rather accepted an enigmatic dilemma, which links Greece’s remain to Europe with repaying the Debt at all costs. The pro-Memorandum shift of SYRIZA and ANEL underlines the full compliance of the political system with the previously “unsustainable” Debt, despite the attempts to rename the Troika to Institutions and the Memorandum to an Agreement. At the same time, however, it seems that this shift “numbed” the entire social spectrum, leading to feelings of frustration regarding the famous “change”, hope and growth. Today, few people are talking about Debt, the “extortion of Europe”, and as in any traumatic event, everyone seems inclined to not talk about “that” as if “that” never happened …