Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

One day after the election

There will be certainly a lot to discuss not only what is the outcome of yesterday's election with Syriza gaining 149 seats in a 300 seat parliament, and hence one short of an absolute majority. But already within the very same night, a coalition with the Independent Greek Party of Kammenos ws formed to make possible the forming of a government the very next day.

Anyone watching both the outcome with Tsipras appearing in front of the Classical Building of Athens University (and not at Syntagma) and the speed by which this new government was formed, can enjoy the outcome of such an election. As Bernard Conlon in Belfast writes, he is impressed by the soberness and modesty by which this next step in a transition of power is beginning to take shape. He noted above all the avoidance of any false euphoria. Certainly one member of the Central Committee of Syriza said during election night, “we know difficult and hard tasks are ahead, but we are not afraid.” This resonates with the wise saying, 'don't let fear guide you when you negotiate, but have no fear to negotiate.' It is naturally about re-setting the terms which so far has been set by the Troika in accordance with governmental procedures which had all the appearance of being accepted by the Greek population. Yet the austerity policy agreed upon did not take into consideration all the negative impacts it had even though many of the Greek electorate expressed some anxiety whether or not now the five years of sacrifices they made could be jeopardized. It requires political wisdom to do in such a situation the right things.

Certainly the outcome has in it, what I predicted already prior to knowing the outcome of the election: strong images.

Whether or not the Greeks are self possessed or not, I think it is best not to make such a judgement, especially if it means to generalize a psychological component and extrapolate it so that it becomes a collective attribute. A part of the crisis has been symptomatic in the exaggeration of bad generalizations which end up in stereotypical images as if the Greeks are lazy and the Germans industrious. Since it is always a matter under which conditions people are forced to work, it matters to notice what does make a difference. Here Tsipras emphasized two things: there has to be made an end to this humiliation and respecting human dignity has to be a prime value orientation. About the latter Habermas said it can serve well as moral premise for world governance as everyone agrees this is important and therefore requires no further moral and legal justification. By referring to world governance, it does go beyond the nation state and the European Union, since it embraces all of mankind.

Many people were relieved when they realized others had also the courage to vote for Syriza. During the elections in 2012 (there were held two with the second one on June 17 showing already what strength in terms of conviction Syriza had as the party came in second after Nea Democratia with Samaras), the fear factor played still a major role. It seemed as if the fragmentation of politics let everyone run around like chickens without head. Those who had voted always for Left leaning parties, voted for the Right or even the Extreme Right since they wished to punish somehow the system, while others who had voted till then for the Right, suddenly turned to Syriza. Even before the vote on January 25, comments were heard that Syriza had absorbed many former PASOK voters and members while the party was dismissed as being radical since it had already moved towards the middle ground and thereby took on a supposedly Social Democratic stance.

The interesting thing about the election on Sunday, January 25th when many had left Athens to vote in their villages or on their island, is that many took together a decisive step. That was already noticeable, so to speak in the air, since many in the neighborhood expressed a healthy determination to get out of an anti-politics stance. Until then it was often the case to dismiss altogether politics, the politicians and the political institutions set up to govern the land, since everything was false, corrupt, not trust worthy, indeed without any moral or popular legitimacy. By taking this decisive step to leave behind what Heinrich Böll had once described as outcome of anti-Communism being the best school of political thought, namely anti-Politics, people started to assume anew political responsibility for what will happen next. Of course, there are always as well those who remain sceptical and adopt the usual attitude of lets us wait and see what will happen or take shape as a result of this new government, but they do not realize without assuming themselves responsibility for what happens, not much will change in their lives. Change is as evasive as cumbersome, and often difficult to evaluate, since it is not always clear to all and to everyone whether or not politics is heading in the right direction.

In having said this, and different to the psychological denouncement of Greeks as if self possessed, it is more apt to say that there are so many complex realities in Greece, that this society in relation to a diverse landscape is difficult to be grasped not only by those who live in this country, but as well by any outsider, including those Greeks who have left and joined the new diaspora. Yet as Makis Trochides would express it, those who left due to the crisis may now regret that they departed because he has become optimistic again because now we know that things can change and it is up to oneself on how to work within this new context of uncertainty.

Indeed, that qualitative difference on how to relate to uncertainty is one of the most positive outcomes of this election. Uncertainties are faced quite differently once the imagination has come alive simply because there is hope again things will change for the better. That was also the slogan of Syriza for the election campaign, but here must be added a word of caution in reference to Ernst Bloch who made a distinction between founded and unfounded hope. Moreover, it was Albert Camus who said 'to hope is to resign and to live is not to resign!'

What has buried Greece was a political elite usually educated abroad and who returned with untested models of success which were applied without thinking twice that these models do not fit the Greek reality. This elite also propagated a kind of myth linked to a claim 'now is like then' as if there was a continuity between the Ancient Past and the Present, and this despite Greece being the land of 'continuity of discontinuity'. It includes never completing any work phase and in destroying archives so that no real traces are left behind out of which could be developed the narrative of this society and its people.

But of all the articles written in response to the outcome, there is one excellent the essay since it is a pladoyer for 'a break in Greek tragedy'. It is a very perceptive account because it adds this historical dimension to explain what has come to consciousness with a Left Wing Party forming the government for the first time in European history since 1936.

It should not be forgotten how the Greek Left was betrayed after ousting the German occupation forces by Churchill and how many of them ended up being killed in the civil war, if not thrown later on into jail during the Junta years 1967-74. For seventy years they were not able to shape law according to their wishes for a just society, even though the Left had introduced the most progressive laws in the liberated areas from German occupation. Then they achieved a very progressive legal system which included above all equal rights between men and women.

It is also noteworthy that Tsipras comes from an area in Greece which Angelopoulos described as being the place where you find still very honest people. This area around Ioannina and therefore the region of Epirus is unique. The city has a history of tolerance between Muslims, Jews and Christians - precisely what was proclaimed after the attack in Paris. Also that city went through a period of Enlightenment thanks to Ali Pasha who encouraged Greeks to take up contact with the Enlightenment movement in France. And Ioannina like Thessaloniki was not liberated like Nafplion or Kalamata in 1821, but only in 1913, so that this other halve of Greece is often to readily forgotten in the usual national narrative.

Here then some remarks about politics which also the politicians in the European Parliament have yet to understand, namely that you cannot silence forever true voices of history nor cultivate your prejudices forever since with time even they are outdated. That includes also the reason for many kinds of misunderstandings based not only on misgivings towards the other due to prevailing pseudo-enemy pictures when in reality everyone collaborates in a fake exercise of democracy. For there is something more serious as ingrained negative habit, namely the readiness to be alarmed or to cultivate the crisis while hiding a kind of hysteria. About the latter, Sigmund Freud referred to this phenomenon of inhibiting men in their interactions, whether professionally or personally speaking. Hysteria is a reaction for not being taken serious while escalating the situation emotionally as well as intellectually by dramatizing the importance of the issue as if it is a life and death, make it or break it one, and if not resolved i.e. if one is not consulted and taken into consideration, would mean only negative consequences shall follow. This kind of behaviour is prone to happen especially in a place like the European Parliament where the decisions made by the MEPs is of little importance, and therefore all the more reason to over dramatize their significance within the overall European decision making process. Out of it follows a deception with regards to the key issues Europe faces and how they can be resolved. To date, the European Parliament could not even resolve this dual existence in both Brussels and Luxembourg.

There is something further to be observed in terms of the significance of structural changes which have then an impact upon the meaning of political terms and concepts in use. For they convey what presumptions are made within a given time frame when certain key buzz words indicate the general political direction. Interestingly enough, Michel Foucault made the observation of structural changes in culture and science, historically speaking. While in the 16th century everyone shared songs and sang them without any claim of ownership whatsoever, a sentence related to science would only be considered to be valid if Kepler had said it. Two centuries later the reverse was already the case and has become even more prominent in a private property / ownership orientated society. Now the song is only recognized if of Pink Floyd, or the Beatles, but the sentence that the sun melts the ice in the river can stand on its own. It does not need to be linked to any scientist of reputation to be taken as being valid. Likewise when everyone marched in Paris after the attack on Charlie Hebdo that Sunday, 11th of January 2015, people not only shouted or carried posters with the slogan 'Je suis Charlie', but also 'je suis Flic'. It meant after that horrific three day stand off in Paris starting on 7th of January, that a different relationship between people in general and the police had come into existence. When they marched down the street and saw the police snipers on the roof tops, everyone waved and the police officers waved back. That is a significant turn-around for anyone studying at Sorbonne during the days of the student revolt had no chance to advance if she was a 'flic daughter'. Hence history has sometimes an odd way of turning things around, although it must be added that the people had not forgotten that Sunday what the police stands for in reality. But people realize in view of such attacks, there is a need to go forward together and not exclude the other. Likewise such a structural change is needed with regards to what everyone considers to be still public good and public space, for in the wake of privatisation, there has been created a vast confusion as to where the private and equally commercial space begins and the public one ends.

The Left in Greece faces now a difficult task now that they have won the elections. It is advisable rather than opening up old accounts of grievances (Tsipras is demanding war reparations from Germany), they need to explain to themselves and others why they have not progressed in political discourse? Politics is the art of making possible the finding of sound solutions. Too often the traditional Left tends use concepts filled with pathos. For example, there is made in good old Marxist tradition reference to 'the workers' but that concept has become meaningless in today's reality. Unless you wish to re-affirm merely old left wing dogmatic truths, it is best to avoid such a stereo-typical model being applied to social reality. For these concepts have proven to be just another kind of trap or 'col de sac', and more so they do not allow for any further thinking.

A friend in Paris has expressed that sme concern to an American friend in Detroit after the latter sent him an article in response to the attack on Charlie Hebdo. What he writes, applies equally to the outcome of the Greek election and the risk of a Left still trapped in a terminology which lends itself to a lot of misunderstanding:

"I would say that the opportunity is to develop clarity as to what the real issues are and to be able to move forward. That the world is complicated and contradictory doesn’t bother me, I see the opportunity to project change based on an ethical sense of politics and where we need to go, but this must be in the realm of humanistic politics.

The danger is that without a developed sense of politics we risk descending into fractioned world with violence spreading everywhere. Without real creative understanding that avoids any formulaic and dogmatic responses there will be a strong right wing reaction to this most likely. 

So much of what I read offers explanations of this military adventure or of that historic mistake as if the aim is to understand or justify or explain everything just neatly, but never engaging in complexity of reality that true politics requires. The risk of such thinking is political impotence, violent social clash and probably some sort of fascist revival.

Hatto, we are also with you on this historic day in Greece. Thanks so much for your thoughts on that as well.

Speak soon,



Along those lines of thoughts one article with the title 'A break in Greek tragedy' is worthwhile to read. 1 It does justice to seventy years of history in Greece and shows thereby an understanding the meaning of the Left. It says plainly Europe should be thankful for such an election outcome. Definitely it will mean new questions shall be posed. They are in need to be taken up and be answered. For it is not merely about the negotiation between the Greek government and the European partners with regards to any bail-out agreement, but also what needs to be undertaken within Greece to bring about a reform process. Certainly such a process requires clear communication so that the policy measures can be trusted to bring about just solutions and therefore earn the trust of everyone in the long run.

The outcome, even though great for the Left and for the population they wish to represent and to give them back human dignity after much humiliation, it should not blind us. There is the fact that this vote was not decisive enough to form a government alone. Coalition government means by definition the making of compromises and therefore in being not able to realize everything which has been promised. Nevertheless Tsipras reassured the voter by saying he promised only that, what he can keep. But what does it now mean that he entered a coalition with Kammenos who is of the Extreme Right and as newspapers called him a demagogue and a populist? In reality, he may protect the new government against attacks from those who are affiliated with a fictitious independent Greece, the Church and from all the reactionary forces who have joined Chrysi Avgi. It may prove in the long run to be most important, that Syriza has averted a Fascist government.

Since Tsipras and Syriza used 'hope' as main slogan for their election campaign, it is 'hoped' that the term was used in the way the philosopher Ernst Bloch meant it. Bloch distinguished between 'founded hope' and 'unfounded hope' or 'blind hope'. While the latter will surely lead to disappointment and negative reactions, if things fail, founded hope anticipates failure and more importantly includes the ability to learn out of mistakes. Certainly many will have been made along the way. Thus becoming creative, means both in the arts and in politics the learning out of failure. Everyone stands to learn if prepared to admit the mistakes which have been made. This has not been the case of the ruling political elite in Greece or that matter of the ruling class in Europe. They have created their own myth of grandeur as if their thinking is infallible, and therefore can never be touched by reality. Constantly they ignore and forget the real losses people have been suffering all along. Now it is the turn of the Right in Greece to suffer losses but that shall not be easy for them. Afterall they have ruled the country for over seventy years and never suffered real losses the way the Left had to. So they will respond. Therefore, care has to be taken that reactions do not revive the old Left-Right conflict which brought Greece into a bloody civil war 1945-48.

There are some further crucial points in need of further consideration:

A strong imagination is needed to question reality. Strong images do further the political debate, provided they endorse the human beings in every walks of life. Also poetry and philosophy shall be needed to understand the political and human situation. By having an ethical vision in place, it will allow resolving issues in a creative way. It is important that people are not squashed by reality, but learn to shape their own lives with dignity by becoming able to question reality.


Hatto Fischer

Athens 26.1.2015

Robert Kuttner A Break in the Greek Tragedy

Posted: 01/25/2015 10:45 pm EST Updated: 36 minutes ago


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