We’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing over Greece in the last couple of weeks. Various commenters have compared it to 1968 and to 1973, have noted the deep-rooted miseries that this has exposed in Greek society, and have expressed concern that violence may spread to other Mediterranean economies (Italy, Spain) or even to France.
Maybe. Maybe. But let me advance a contrarian suggestion: maybe nothing much is going to happen.
Here’s the contrarian argument spelled out in a bit more detail: Greece’s current government is either incapable or profoundly unwilling to make sweeping changes of any sort. So, the most the protests will get from the current government will be some very modest changes that are mostly cosmetic.
So what does that leave? The protests can either (1) violently overthrow the government, or (2) force the government to collapse, triggering new elections. I submit that (1) is unlikely. (People talk about the Athens Polytechnic uprising of 1973, but that didn’t topple the military junta — it just caused them to reshuffle a bit at the top, and actually made matters worse for a while by bringing hard-liners back to power. It took the disaster in Cyprus to bring the colonels down.) That leaves a government collapse, which is certainly possible but doesn’t seem the way to bet right now. Karamanlis’ government is weak, but weak governments in the Balkans tend to cling to power with that much more desperation. They’ve only been in office fifteen months or so; they have (in their own minds) years yet to turn this around. So it won’t be easy to get them out.
And even if the government does fall… well, again, so what? The major rival party, PASOK, is composed of much the same sort of place-holders. If PASOK came to power, they’d probably do so in combination with one or more parties of the far left, which would be interesting but would probably not add much to their effectiveness in governing. And it’s hard to believe that a PASOK government would be much better than the current one in addressing the deep-rooted social and economic problems that are giving rise to the protests.
I could be wrong. But what the hell. Here’s my prediction: the government won’t fall and, in the end, the protests will dribble away without accomplishing much. And (hedging my bet) if the government somehow does fall, the next government won’t make much difference.
Just for the hell of it, I’ll throw in a bonus prediction: life is going to get more difficult for minorities in Greece, especially for Albanians.
N.B., there’s no joy in this. Greece really is a kind of messed up place, Greek cops do seem to be corrupt and brutal, and a lot of the protesters seem to be earnest kids crying out against the fact that society has systematically screwed them over. You’d like to think that something would change. I just don’t see how it happens. Like the old joke: “if that’s where you’re going, I wouldn’t start from here.”
What do the rest of you think?