They said ‘No’. Called to vote on the lenders’ aid plan on 5 July, more than 61 percent of Greeks rejected it. And now? In some EU countries, with Germany in the lead, the possibility of Greece leaving the Eurozone is no longer a taboo.
In the following interview with Sarah Halifa-Legrand of L'Obs, philosopher and member of the Greek anti-capitalist Left party Antarsya, Panagiotis Sotiris, maintains that there is only one way to avoid humiliation: leave the euro. Translated from the French by David Broder; read the original French text here.
What was your reaction to the ‘No’ camp’s victory?
It is an immense expression of defiance in the face of Greece’s creditor institutions. But this referendum should not be just one moment of dignity: it has to be the beginning of the rupture with the Eurozone. This will be a difficult rupture, yes, but it is necessary in order to get back an element of democratic control over our country. The Greek government has to stop believing in an imaginary negotiation and an impossible compromise. We shouldn’t expect the European Union to make concessions just because the Greek people said ‘No’. Tsipras has seen well enough in these last five months that you can’t negotiate with the EU. After all, what it wants is not only the repayment of the debt – which is impossible, anyway – but to change Greece’s social and economic model, ‘improving’ it in the neoliberal sense. So if we are to avoid the humiliation of an entire society, I can see only one solution: leaving the euro.
You don’t believe that it’s possible to transform the Eurozone from within?
We can imagine a Eurozone with a different architecture, Europe’s central banks working in a different way, a redistribution policy that corrects regional inequalities, or a way of thinking that abandons the dogma of austerity. But the question is not what we can imagine, but what we can do. The current functioning of the European institutions makes any such changes impossible.
A monetary union demands political union, with the creation of a state that rebalances the various disparities. But the European Union is not a state and thus it cannot have a single currency – as the functioning of the Eurozone demonstrates, founded as it is on Germany’s preeminent role. That’s why I think that the wish to reform it is bound to be in vain. But even if we did think that this was possible, the EU would need a shock in order for it to change, and Greece leaving the Eurozone could be that shock.
Would Greece then be sacrificing itself?
No, because leaving the euro is its only chance of survival. It is impossible to overturn the consequences of five years of austerity without getting back our monetary sovereignty. That is the only way that it would be possible to apply an economic policy that breaks with the institutions’ neoliberal orthodoxy, allowing us to escape the vicious circle of the debt.
Yet the social and economic cost of leaving the euro threatens to be even worse than what exists now…
It is not an easy decision. But staying in the euro means resigning ourselves to accepting recession and poverty. It is necessary to convince the population that a temporary collective effort will be necessary in order to head toward a better future. We are at a historical turning point. The crisis has been a cathartic moment. It has made us reflect on everything that we have been doing for years. After all, this is not only a question of currency. It is necessary to rethink what we call growth, production, and consumption. We have to reinvent forms of industry, reduce our dependency on imports, and not bet everything on tourism…
We can now experiment, on the basis of our experiences of the crisis: all the forms of solidarity and the parallel networks that have emerged are paths towards organising a new model of society and production. It is feasible. Economists have studied this scenario of Greece leaving the euro. Transitioning via a parallel currency to the complete adoption of a new, national one; a new exchange rate; nationalisation of the banking system… All this is a vast construction site. So it is better that we prepare our exit ourselves, rather than see ourselves expelled from the Eurozone by the European institutions.
But the population as a whole remains unfavourable to leaving the euro…
Greeks have shown that they have more courage than people had thought. They are more and more ready to abandon the euro. But it is true that confrontation with part of society that has profited from the European model is unavoidable. Indeed, that is one of the problems with Tsipras: he tries to satisfy everyone, which is impossible.
Would the Eurozone survive Greece leaving?
I hope that Greece’s departure would be followed by a chain reaction. After all, the problem of the debt and austerity is also posed elsewhere, from Spain to Italy and France. This would be the beginning of the dismantling of the euro and, with it, the European Union, which is already struck by a deep crisis. Winning back not only national sovereignty, but also popular sovereignty, is the only possible way to build a Europe of solidarity.
- Panagiotis Sotiris is a contributor to Springtime: The New Student Rebellions.