This is point of inquiry for Tuesday, July 14, 2015.
This week’s episode is sponsored by Casper, the online mattress retailer that’s disrupting how you buy a premium quality mattress. You can get 50 bucks off your purchase by visiting Casper dot com slash point and using promo code point. I’m Josh Zepps. Host of Huff Post Live and of the new topical comedy panel podcast, We the People Live. And this is the podcast of the Center for Inquiry. It has been quite a week for democracy. Last Sunday, July 5th, 2015, Greeks voted no to the bailout that would have kept them in the euro. In the following days, the Greek government backflipped and the fate of the EU has been swinging around like a carousel. And this week’s episode is something a little different and I hope something special. That’s because I’m currently in Athens and I have been throughout this whole no vote Greek drama. And what’s happening in this cradle of democracy has fascinating undercurrents that touch on the rationality of voters, the irrationality of politics, the power of nationalism, the rise of the far right, and even the threat posed by Islamists and what that does to our secular politics, especially in Europe. Who better to dig into what the Greek crisis means for people who care about secularism and reason than Daphne Halki Upolu, who is Greek, obviously from her name. And there’s also a world expert in radical nationalism in far right parties and populism and of course, the culture and politics of Greece. She’s a lecturer in comparative politics at Redding University in the UK. She’s a regular BBC contributor and her book is The Golden Dawn’s Nationalist Solution, explaining the rise of the far right in Greece. She’s in Athens now. I hope you enjoy the insights she has about the cultural and philosophical implications of all these dull Greek debt headlines that you’ve been seeing. My apologies if the audio quality isn’t perfect. I am in Greece after all, but please enjoy the show.
Let’s get into it. Definitely. Thanks. Thanks for being on point of inquiry. Pleasure.
So everyone knows about the no camp and the yes camp and we’ve been seeing this merry go round go on for five or six years now in terms of Greece’s negotiations with its creditors.
Can you give us a bit of background about where the sense of the no camp comes from culturally in Greece?
OK. Well, I think there’s two things to say here. And the one is that the no camp is unclear in itself. So it’s not actually united. And this is something we need to realize because the question of the referendum itself was very unclear. So the different camps within the no camp. And some people perceived it as. Do we accept the austerity measures that have been pushed forward by the lenders in Europe?
And then they say no. And other people perceived that as do we accept the euro or do we want to get out? So it is a diverse camp in itself.
But all they’re all overarchingly is this idea of, you know, the culture of Greek nationalism. So the entire no camp has been premised on this idea of dignity and sovereignty and maintaining our national sovereignty.
So it’s sort of these foreigners are here to try to undermine what this is all about. And this is something that’s happened before. And we are going to try and get out of that by saying no. And, you know, no is a no as a historical thing in Greece as well. So can you explain that? Yeah. So knows what we said in 1940 when our own dictator Yoni’s with access said no to the axis powers and therefore Greece became Greece was invaded.
Just unpack that for us. What had happened? It was 1940. The war is raging.
And Mussolini, who comes to Greece and says it’s that time in Europe where you’ve got, you know, these sort of fascist regime dances with excesses is a fascist within Greece.
And Mussolini comes along and says, you know, do you want to join the axis powers? And middle class says, no. I love Silbergeld.
So he you know, he puts Greece against the axis powers. And this is celebrated in Greece’s as a huge act of defiance. And it’s ironic in a way, because it’s celebrated as an act of defiance against Naziism and fascism. Well, very few people say that Metaxas himself was a fascist and not a democratically elected leader.
Right. But the the act of saying, no, you foreigners get out of here. We are Greeks and we’re gonna decide our own destiny was essentially a kind of a suicide pact in a sense. Right? I mean, he knew that that was only going to lead at some. That Greece was going to have to fold by force or not by force.
Well, exactly what what then. But what what how we celebrate it.
So initially we were invaded by the Italians and then we fought the Italians all the way up until the Albanian border. And, you know, there’s a lot of pride in that, that we managed to do that in our armed forces. They went there and they kicked them out. And we are so brave because bravery and valor is a defining aspect of Greek national identity.
But then, of course, the Germans came in and we kind of retreated and got invaded. And the occupation until the end of the war. This is also not new. You can see it with me. That’s in the 300 as well. The other ancient Greek myth. You know, we said I can’t mobilize again. She said no. And everybody died.
But they did so very with pride in a sense, all of the confusion that followed. I think a lot of foreigners have towards the no camp, which is. Well, there are there are two points of view in the West, and we can go over those as well. There’s the there’s the sense on the on the broad left, the kind of Paul Krugman left that, look, austerity is inherently a misguided tactic that has been taken all over the world since the financial crisis. Greece’s is bearing the worst brunt of it. And therefore, they really should just just say no, they should get out. They should devalue a new currency like the drachma, and they should stand on their own, their own two feet rather than enduring the ignominy and the grinding poverty that austerity brings with it.
So we can talk about that in a second. And then I think the other attitude that foreigners have towards the chaos in Greece is more just like why would you say if you want to be in the euro and you know that the creditors and Germany are not going to budge. And realistically, they’re probably not. Why would you vote no and commit suicide? But when you talk about ancient Greece having a love of committing suicide by no. And then in the Second World War, the Greeks being proud of essentially committing suicide by saying no. Does this kind of hearken back to that? Like, no matter what happens, even if this means that we’re going to destroy our country, we are not going. We’re gonna destroy it ourselves. Damn it. We’re not gonna allow Angela Merkel to do it.
Kind of. Or at least that was the rhetoric of the politicians. I think, you know, on the ground, people care more about the financial situation. I mean, the people I spoke to, they a lot of them said, well, enough, we have had enough of austerity. It’s not working. How worse can things become? So then therefore a rhetoric that sort of resonates with what we learned in school as children, that we are this proud people that says no one has survived through the centuries. You know, Bush said no one, maybe we committed short term suicide, but here we are thousands of years later, probably one of the oldest nations that exists. And we are proud and we are defiant. So in a way, the far left, the cities are far left and the far right, the independent. Greeks in a government together have pushed forward this rhetoric to get the people to, you know, to mobilize, it’s a mobilizing tool to get people to vote no.
Yeah. And so when you say that people have you know, who you’ve spoken to have asked rhetorically. Well, it’s so bad. Austerity hasn’t worked.
How much worse could it become? How much worse could it become if Greece were to, in a disorderly manner, crash out of the euro?
Hugely worse. Hugely worse. Greece would become hugely was that it would be an economic disaster that would be unprecedented. People tend to conflate leaving the euro with having maintained one’s national currency. But this is not the same thing. You know, we’ve been in the euro for years. The economy is joined with the European economies. And also, we export virtually nothing and import almost everything. So there’s going to be a serious shortage of even food product, of medicine, of a variety of other. Anything you can think of. Most things are imported. So things are going to be really expensive. The currency is going to be devalued. And I think, you know, more and more people are going to get affected. But a lot of people don’t realize that. But I think the government does, given the sort of, you know, the the summersault. Yeah. Yes.
We’re recording it at at a time at which it looks like the Greek government is coming around to talk to rebuffing the no vote. And this is doing everything it can to stay within the union, although these things move terribly fast. So who knows what the case will be? When the listeners are listening to this. So you just alluded to the economic impact of crashing out of the euro. On the first night that I got to Athens earlier this week, when you and I were having having dinner with with other colleagues, I was struck by your concerns.
And they’re concerns that the real problem with crashing out of the euro would not, in fact, be economic, but would be political and cultural.
What are those concerns?
Yes, I think there’s significant and given Greek history in Greece as a country that has been very deeply polarized in its history and this polarization has been mainly along the lines of left and right. So, you know, we had the civil war right after the Second World War. There’s been a lot of atrocities carried out on behalf of the right against the left, but also vice versa. Polarization is not a new thing for the country. And extremism is not a new thing for the country either. So should we plunge in this economic disaster? And let’s remember that, you know, economics and politics very, very closely intertwined. So there’s a huge reason why the country has failed. That goes beyond the economy. That’s actually the unification, structural reform. And why has the Greeks have been unable to implement structural reforms? I think that is because any proper mainstream politics that has been introduced since the Restoration of Democracy 1974 has been linked with clientelism and a corrupt political system. So the crisis led to the delegitimization of that system and hence gives in a further feed, if you like. It triggers further both the extremes.
So your field of expertize is is those extremes is, you know, the rise of the right in Europe. What does that landscape look like in Greece? Who are the people who are who are on the extreme right and or the extreme left? What similarities do they have? Who supports them?
Well, I would put what you call the extreme within the umbrella of far because we have many parties that have no right of the right. But they vary in terms of the Greeks are the biggest, I think, worrying phenomenon that has taken place since the crisis is the overwhelming rise of the Golden Dawn, which is a neo-Nazi party. They were a marginal grassroots group that started off in the nineteen eighties, but then they gained momentum in 2012. They go about almost seven percent of the vote and almost 20 seats in the first election, 21 seats and then 18 in in June and May.
That’s out of a that’s out of a parliament of 300.
Is that out of a parliament of 300, despite the fact that they’re currently indite under indictment and they’re currently undergoing trial for murder, grievous bodily harm and various other and maintaining a criminal organization. These people got six point twenty eight percent of the Greek vote in the January election. So if you think about it without any campaigning and some of the members, the leading cadres in prison, that’s a huge percentage.
So obviously, the popularity of any political party is contingent on the times and the conditions that they’re in. If conditions got really bad in Greece.
If the crisis had been mishandled or still is mishandled in Greece, crashes out of the eurozone and unemployment gets even worse and shortages get even worse and people can’t withdraw money from banks and people are hoarding fuel and medicines aren’t getting in and so on.
What is the sort of upper buffer limit, do you think? Too far, right. Parties in Greece, is there even a way of answering that question?
I mean, I think what’s dangerous is the possibility of them being the next alternative to have a government we’ve had in the eyes of people has failed. And now with everything that’s happened. So, you know, the firstly, let’s not forget that the far left party see is in government with a far right independent Greeks. So they may not be Nazis like the Golden Dawn, I mean, the independent Greeks, but they’re also far right.
And they have to explain that to us because a lot of people will be shaking their heads right now saying, what did you just say? That a quasi communist government is in bed in an alliance with a far right wing party?
I just did. I just said that. And that is because what united these parties was there anti memorandums stance?
So if you like, ever since the crisis emerged and when you say can you just define memorandum for people who haven’t been paying close attention to the world?
I will. So ever since you know that the crisis deepened and Greece got bailed out by the European lenders and the IMF, a new political cleavage emerged in Greece. Right. So this was the pro memorandum, either pro bailout. Should we be bailed out by the foreigners camp, which included the mainstream parties and the anti bailout camp, which included parties on the fringes of the party system? These ranged from the extreme, such as the Golden Dawn. And on the left, the Communist Party of Greece got back up on. But then also the radical Syriza and independent Greeks. Unfortunately, the mainstream, as as I mentioned earlier, has been very closely linked with corruption. Clientelism and economic failure. So people sort of rallied in favor of the anti memorandum anti bailout camps. And this, in a way, explains the dramatic rise of these parties in 2012 and subsequently 2015.
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So in some parts of the world when there have been crises and I’m thinking partly of America in it during the recent financial crisis of 07 08, the response has been for a charismatic, centrist figure, progressive, centrist figure to capture people’s aspirations. Yes, we can campaign in some ways.
It’s sort of oddly reminiscent of the no campaign where you say yes or whether you say no, you’re sort of displaying some kind of defiance and a sense of change. And we’re not going to tolerate any of this anymore. And that in the United States, regardless of your politics, has has led to at least a White House that is capable of getting some things done and is not driving the country off a cliff.
Is there any chance that if there were a Greek exit from the euro and things got bad, that Greeks, instead of relying instead of swinging to the far right or to communists, that they would, that someone would emerge who would be able to embody the values of liberal democracy?
I think the impediment to that, as explained earlier, is that the center has been weakened by its association with failure and clientelism and corruption. So, you know, what really damaged the Yes camp is that all these politicians that were part of these mainstream governments, whether it was new democracy, the center right or part of the center left, they sort of went there, you know, and campaigned for.
Yes. And a lot of people said, well, look, look what yeses. No yeses. All these corrupt people who have basically taken all the money and they took all the EU funds and they took all the all the money from the Olympics. You know, the other structures, the I’m sorry, I don’t know, you call it, then you know, the works to build roads, build airport infrastructure. And basically all of these people kind of stole the money and they they embedded further a planned elastic system that would suit them. So why would I vote for nothing? Yes. So I think unlike perhaps America, but maybe more like South America or Latin America. This is essentially a crisis of democratic representation. It is. It is the combination of a very sick system, of an ill functioning system that has political, social and economic implications. And the only way to make a powerful, strong center is to be able to eliminate the association of the center with past corruption and at the same time deliver results. And let’s not forget that it’s very easy to mobilize people against an extreme ideas or radical ideas. But it’s by definition, the center is against radical mobilization. So it’s difficult.
Well, when I got here, someone who lives here said to me that, you know, during all of this crisis, we sort of think of Greece as being the the ugly stepchild of Europe. You know, it’s not Germany. It’s the it’s perhaps the least successful of the of the major eurozone powers. But that that’s actually sort of an incorrect way of thinking about Greece, because you can either look at it at the bottom of Europe or you can look at it as the most successful post Ottoman country, the most successful Balkan country in a neighborhood that has not been full of shining success stories, how the Greeks think of themselves.
Well, Greece think of themselves as, you know, extremely successful. Generally, they also see themselves as the beacon of civilization. They see themselves as inseparable from Europe in terms of culture.
That always has that always been the case. Do you think that in the in the 60s, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, Greeks conceived of themselves as being more similar to the European powers like Germany and the UK than they did to, for example, Turkey and the Balkan states?
I’m not saying they see themselves a similar thing. They see themselves as generally European and leading those people. You know, we say in Greece, well, when we invented democracy, these people were climbing up trees. So we don’t see ourselves as like the Germans or the Brits, but we see ourselves as actually the true European civilization. They came after us in a way we have. There is a superiority complex in Greece which has got everything to do, you know, with Greek nationalism and the way that this has been ingrained in the education system and the political system generally since independence.
But, you know, this is the point. So we we belong to Europe, but we are not going to be humiliated by Europe. And this is also part of Greece’s underdog culture. You know, we were great before and then all these foreigners and the collaborators are here to undermine us. We will be great again.
Let’s talk about nationalism across Europe, outside of Greece and the rise of the far right. I was there. I was having a conversation about an interesting piece that my colleague and friend Howard Fineman wrote recently about the odd paradox that as globalization flattens everything and we become more and more capable of being a single unified. World, we see the rise of nationalism. Whether it’s the Scottish independence, whether it’s agitation for Catalan or Basque nationalism in France and Spain, you know, all over the place, and this is clearly echoed here in Greece and that in times of crisis, nationalism flourishes. What do you make of its rise?
Yes, there is. You could you could say that there is a rise of nationalism across Europe. And, you know, we see many manifestations of this. So UKIP in the UK and me, that’s the UK Independence Party, which did very well.
I think 13 percent of the vote or something in the recent in this year’s British elections. And this is the sort of nationalistic, slightly xenophobic, anti-immigrant party as you Antiguans, you see the rise of Eurosceptic parties, both of the left and of the right.
And you also see the rise of some separatist parties or movement. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that nationalism is a linear phenomenon.
I think what’s interesting is that it’s manifesting itself very differently in different European countries. So in Spain, for example, there is no far right wing party at all. There is them. Spain, 2000 and Democrats in general. But they are tiny and they didn’t exhibit any increase in Portugal as well. The parties, all national Nevado, which is another far right wing party, very sort of joint its rhetoric, is close to the Salazar regime. And they also did very poorly. On the other hand, you have countries such as the U.K. with the United Kingdom Independence Party. You have in the Netherlands the Dutch Freedom Party. Certain parties in Scandinavia, they did very well, but they’re very unlike the Golden Dawn or the Hungarian UBC, which is similar to the Golden Dawn and its sort of extremist racism, if you like. So the Western European far right wing parties are sort of more moderate in a way. They they criticize immigration and foreigners, but they don’t have a racist stance. They you know, they say that the European Union and labor mobility is a problem for jobs, is a problem for the welfare state. When collective resources are scarce, we can’t give them to foreigners. And they also say that, you know, the ideology of some of these people is kind of contradictory to our liberal idea. So they don’t exclude people on the basis of race or or traits that are organic, but they exclude them on the basis of their ideology. Different, very different movements all across Europe.
And it’s interesting when we talk about the British movement and let’s focus on Denmark and Scandinavian and Scandinavia and the Netherlands, because one of the interesting things there is that this is a part of the world that is so progressive and so and prides itself on being so tolerant.
And a lot of the rhetoric, as you say, is about the idea that the immigrants, usually Muslim immigrants they’re talking about, don’t share the liberal values, the values of women’s rights and gay rights that we cherish so much in them as as Dutch people or Danes. And yet oftentimes, isn’t that the case that the far right parties themselves never originally had much whenever particularly pro-gay.
This is it expedients? Or are they or are they really fighting the liberal Democratic for it?
Well, I mean, if you if you look at Pim Fortuyn, the predecessor in a way of the pepper, then the Netherlands. I mean, Pim Fortuyn was gay and he would come out blatantly and say, you know, this is this is not right. This is precisely because I am gay and because I need to maintain my liberal rights, that I need to exclude these people who are intolerant of of pluralism and diversity in my country.
When he was assassinated by an Islamist. Yes.
Yes. In a way, they shift the rhetoric completely on its head. You know, they say that precisely because we’re all about pluralism and liberalism and the freedom of other people to express ideas that we disagree with. We need to rid the country of those who are intolerant of these ideas.
So there’s a challenge here for for the left, I think, isn’t there, because, you know, take, for example, not at not all the right wing, very few right wing far right leaders in Europe are like Pim 14.
You know, Marion Le Pen, the leader of the National Front in France, which is doing extremely well in the polls and could conceivably even become France’s second party. You know, this is a historically slightly Nazi sympathetic. I’m not saying the neo-Nazis, but the founder, her father, you know, as has said, all of the Holocaust wasn’t such a big deal and has never recanted on any of that. You know, these that there needs to be a way for progressives and liberals to have a conversation about the problem of illiberalism in Islam in Western Europe. That rings sufficiently true to ordinary Europeans that they don’t feel the only people who are speaking honestly about the problem at the fringes of Islam are these far right parties?
Well, yeah, I mean it what’s interesting is if you look two things on this point, National has moderated quite a bit. So since Marine Le Pen took over, if you look at the rhetoric of the party, it’s it belongs more to the, you know, the category of former fascist ties. But Marine is trying to to disassociate the party from this very staunch, you know, the fascist ideas. And that’s why, again, they’re moving towards the Islamist rhetoric and know the intolerant. If you look at the recent, um, partyin slogans and logos, for example, you know, this this very and the poster with the French flag and the the minarets that are posed like missiles. So emphasizing that the threatening element of Islamists. But what’s interesting is that this indeed blurs the lines between the left and the right. And it blurs the the extent to which party competition can take place between these. These parties should not think. It’s very interesting that Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farraj came out and sort of congratulated Tsipras, the leader of OCD in the government in Greece.
In other words, these are these are the two leaders of, respectively, France’s and Britain’s far right parties. Well, mainstream. Extremely right wing parties who are congratulating a sort of Communist Party on its victory in Greece.
I assume that’s because they’re predominantly I mean, their main motivation is anti-establishment rather than any specific ideology.
Is that their main the main concern is euro skepticism. So it all kind of culminates in. We need to limit Europe. We need to exit Europe. Or when, you know, depending on how how radical or extreme these parties are, they have a degree of skepticism. And this was the point. You know, we need to say no to the European Union. So for the very different reasons.
It’s interesting that although the radicals or the extremes, whether of the left or the right, converge, we’ve we see constant reports about how thousands of European young European Muslims have gone to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. We’ve seen a spate of lone wolf terrorist attacks across France, in Tunisia, and, of course, many other places in North Africa and the Middle East. If that continues, what do you think the impact will be on politics in Europe?
Well, I think it’s a symptom and a problem in itself and in a way that shows the failure of mobilizing under an overarching national identity that doesn’t bridge to any extreme right is the same as the bombings in London. What’s interesting, you know, in 2005. And what’s interesting is that these people were British citizens. So people may may begin to identify with England or Scotland or Wales or identify with the foreign element of that. So out of Europe, isolation, etc. But there’s no kind of center that makes people feel a very strong sense of national identity. That is a sort of the uniting factor. And that’s a problem because, you know, people are being mobilized and in favor of ISIS or an enclave of some other radical or extreme ideology. I think generally this points to an increasing problem for the European Union. This Euroskepticism, you know, does not only talk of Grexit, that’s Greek exit from the E.U. There’s also a lot of talk on Brexit, the British exit from the EU, and there’s going to be a referendum probably within the next year about Britain’s future in the European Union. So I think whichever way you look at it, you’ve got a bit of a radicalization of politics and you have increasing Euroscepticism and threatening the actual stability and unity of the EU.
So how do you embolden the center then? My mind goes back to what I raised earlier about Obama, who successfully ran a campaign on on an aspirational sort of centrism. He wasn’t selling any particular ideological bag of goods. He was selling unity and change.
Yeah, this absolutely locks in Greece. And, you know, maybe maybe there is a need for a charismatic figure that does put forward centrist ideas. But don’t forget that national identity in the United States is more what we call civic. You know, because because it is a kind of melting pot. There is no organic nationalism. People came from everywhere and they were able to join together under the umbrella of the American dream. Give me a minute, because the guy with the no problem, you can hear him. It’s worth it.
Is this someone singing a call to prayer?
Oh, God. No, it’s just a guy selling the watermelon. I’m telling you, he causes every day whatever the rage. I’m like, oh, my God, dear, it’s terrible.
Every day doesn’t matter if it’s a Sunday or whatever it is I call.
I don’t think I can hear it anymore.
Okay. He’s gone. I was just thinking, you know. This is civic ideals, the American dream, patriotism, the flag. Anybody can go under these in Greece. Much more difficult to say liberal centrist ideas, because, you know, national identities itself is more what we call ethnic Greeks, a far more homogenous. And they are defined by traits that they are born with, like language or religion, creed. So because of its history and because of the way that nationalism has been embedded in Greek society through various institutions, it’s more difficult, I think, to have a liberal center.
When you look at the European project from this fractious point where we’ve just endured a week in which it looked like the eurozone was going to crumble. Well, a bit at least lose one of its members.
And when you think about the difficulties, the cultural difficulties of assimilating very large numbers of migrants and and Muslims into big European cities and the rise of nationalism and the rise of the the far right.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic that the grand European project and that liberal democracy will prevail?
I’m optimistic and I’m a very strong supporter of the EU myself. And maybe that is maybe that is the reason why I’m so optimistic. But I think, you know, we were part of a generation that were extremely privileged by Greece’s membership of the European Union and of the euro.
So, you know, I myself was allowed to study, travel across the EU, meet people with different ideas, people from all different places, exchange, you know, argument and understand how well the people live.
And I think this kind of multiculturalism is a privilege to people. And it does it does instill more, you know, accepting ideas of pluralism and diversity and this liberalism that is very difficult to to introduce from within.
So, you know, let’s not forget that countries like Greece have benefited and that maybe maybe that’s where the center ground will come from, will come from getting to know people who have those ideas. I think, you know, losing losing EU membership would be dreadful for Greece would be a dire consequence, both socially and then politically and economically.
And I’m optimistic that it will stay in in the eurozone and in the European Union because, you know, at the end of the day, the prime minister wouldn’t have tried so hard for a deal even after the referendum if they wanted out.
Definitely. We will be holding our breath for you and your and your country folk in coming weeks and months. Thanks so much for your time. OK.