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Slavoj iek

Save us from the saviours

Slavoj iek on Europe and the Greeks
25 may 2012
Imagine a scene from a dystopian movie that depicts our society in the near future. Uniformed
guards patrol half-empty downtown streets at night, on the prowl for immigrants, criminals and
vagrants. Those they find are brutalised. What seems like a fanciful Hollywood image is a reality in
todays Greece. At night, black-shirted vigilantes from the Holocaust-denying neo-fascist Golden
Dawn movement which won 7 per cent of the vote in the last round of elections, and had the
support, its said, of 50 per cent of the Athenian police have been patrolling the street and beating
up all the immigrants they can find: Afghans, Pakistanis, Algerians. So this is how Europe is
defended in the spring of 2012.
The trouble with defending European civilisation against the immigrant threat is that the ferocity of
the defence is more of a threat to civilisation than any number of Muslims. With friendly
defenders like this, Europe needs no enemies. A hundred years ago, G.K. Chesterton articulated the
deadlock in which critics of religion find themselves: Men who begin to fight the Church for the
sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight
the Church The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked
secular things, if that is any comfort to them. Many liberal warriors are so eager to fight antidemocratic fundamentalism that they end up dispensing with freedom and democracy if only they
may fight terror. If the terrorists are ready to wreck this world for love of another, our warriors
against terror are ready to wreck democracy out of hatred for the Muslim other. Some of them love
human dignity so much that they are ready to legalise torture to defend it. Its an inversion of the
process by which fanatical defenders of religion start out by attacking contemporary secular culture
and end up sacrificing their own religious credentials in their eagerness to eradicate the aspects of
secularism they hate.
But Greeces anti-immigrant defenders arent the principal danger: they are just a by-product of the
true threat, the politics of austerity that have caused Greeces predicament. The next round of Greek
elections will be held on 17 June. The European establishment warns us that these elections are
crucial: not only the fate of Greece, but maybe the fate of the whole of Europe is in the balance.
One outcome the right one, they argue would allow the painful but necessary process of
recovery through austerity to continue. The alternative if the extreme leftist Syriza party wins
would be a vote for chaos, the end of the (European) world as we know it.
The prophets of doom are right, but not in the way they intend. Critics of our current democratic
arrangements complain that elections dont offer a true choice: what we get instead is the choice
between a centre-right and a centre-left party whose programmes are almost indistinguishable. On
17 June, there will be a real choice: the establishment (New Democracy and Pasok) on one side,
Syriza on the other. And, as is usually the case when a real choice is on offer, the establishment is in
a panic: chaos, poverty and violence will follow, they say, if the wrong choice is made. The mere
possibility of a Syriza victory is said to have sent ripples of fear through global markets. Ideological
prosopopoeia has its day: markets talk as if they were persons, expressing their worry at what will
happen if the elections fail to produce a government with a mandate to persist with the EU-IMF
programme of fiscal austerity and structural reform. The citizens of Greece have no time to worry
about these prospects: they have enough to worry about in their everyday lives, which are becoming
miserable to a degree unseen in Europe for decades.
Such predictions are self-fulfilling, causing panic and thus bringing about the very eventualities
they warn against. If Syriza wins, the European establishment will hope that we learn the hard way
what happens when an attempt is made to interrupt the vicious cycle of mutual complicity between
Brusselss technocracy and anti-immigrant populism. This is why Alexis Tsipras, Syrizas leader,

made clear in a recent interview that his first priority, should Syriza win, will be to counteract panic:
People will conquer fear. They will not succumb; they will not be blackmailed. Syriza have an
almost impossible task. Theirs is not the voice of extreme left madness, but of reason speaking out
against the madness of market ideology. In their readiness to take over, they have banished the lefts
fear of taking power; they have the courage to clear up the mess created by others. They will need
to exercise a formidable combination of principle and pragmatism, of democratic commitment and a
readiness to act quickly and decisively where needed. If they are to have even a minimal chance of
success, they will need an all-European display of solidarity: not only decent treatment on the part
of every other European country, but also more creative ideas, like the promotion of solidarity
tourism this summer.
In his Notes towards the Definition of Culture, T.S. Eliot remarked that there are moments when the
only choice is between heresy and non-belief i.e., when the only way to keep a religion alive is to
perform a sectarian split. This is the position in Europe today. Only a new heresy represented at
this moment by Syriza can save what is worth saving of the European legacy: democracy, trust in
people, egalitarian solidarity etc. The Europe we will end up with if Syriza is outmanoeuvred is a
Europe with Asian values which, of course, has nothing to do with Asia, but everything to do
with the tendency of contemporary capitalism to suspend democracy.
Here is the paradox that sustains the free vote in democratic societies: one is free to choose on
condition that one makes the right choice. This is why, when the wrong choice is made (as it was
when Ireland rejected the EU constitution), the choice is treated as a mistake, and the establishment
immediately demands that the democratic process be repeated in order that the mistake may be
corrected. When George Papandreou, then Greek prime minister, proposed a referendum on the
eurozone bailout deal at the end of last year, the referendum itself was rejected as a false choice.
There are two main stories about the Greek crisis in the media: the German-European story (the
Greeks are irresponsible, lazy, free-spending, tax-dodging etc, and have to be brought under control
and taught financial discipline) and the Greek story (our national sovereignty is threatened by the
neoliberal technocracy imposed by Brussels). When it became impossible to ignore the plight of the
Greek people, a third story emerged: the Greeks are now presented as humanitarian victims in need
of help, as if a war or natural catastrophe had hit the country. While all three stories are false, the
third is arguably the most disgusting. The Greeks are not passive victims: they are at war with the
European economic establishment, and what they need is solidarity in their struggle, because it is
our struggle too.
Greece is not an exception. It is one of the main testing grounds for a new socio-economic model of
potentially unlimited application: a depoliticised technocracy in which bankers and other experts are
allowed to demolish democracy. By saving Greece from its so-called saviours, we also save Europe
25 May