“There is a social crisis under way and I think it is different from the one our history books teach us to expect.” That was BBC Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason reporting from the Greek protests, which he called the “front line of the world’s financial system.” On Wednesday this front line was illuminated with stun grenades, street fires, and tear gas, as it continued to bear the consequences of the spiraling fiscal crisis detailed in Mason’s Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed.
Within 24 hours of his reporting from Greece, Mason had posted three blog entries on the protests with recurring themes of what he was witnessing:
1. The erosion of government legitimacy:
The Greek state…is beginning to lose its grip slightly on the actual functions a state should do. It cannot decide its economic policy; it can’t convince its own people of any good intent; the rule of law is imposed hard here—with the impounding of yachts bought through tax evasion—only to break down somewhere else, as people begin to pledge non-payment of bills for the privatised utilities.
It is not anarchy here, but—to use another Hellenic word—neither is there catharsis.
2. The distrust of all pillars of the establishment:
It’s not a problem for me and my [press] colleagues to be hounded off demos as “representatives of big capital,” “Zionists,” “scum and police informers,” etc. But to get this reaction from almost every demographic—from balaclava kids to pensioners—should be a warning sign to the policymaking elite. The “mainstream”—whether it’s the media, politicians or business people—is beginning to seem illegitimate to large numbers of people.
3. And a level of popular agency that transcends “leftists”:
For all the leftist iconography plus the presence of that, by now familiar demographic, the Facebook youth—or “graduates with no future”—this thing has gone beyond left and right, it’s no longer even a class thing. As the crowd around me erupts with the chant, “Greece, Greece, Greece!” it’s clear that for many people it is the Hellenic republic versus the rest of the world.
Unfortunately for the rest of the world, it is failing to comprehend the full breadth of the protests. Mason noted that “the level of mismatch between perception and reality within the Eurozone is worrying. Because last year’s protests were mainly leftist; and the strikes mainly token, a pattern of thinking has emerged that dismisses all Greek protest as essentially this.”
Momentarily stepping away from the front line, Mason offered “Ten Points on the Euro Crisis” with possible options to address the crisis, only to conclude with an eleventh point—that the “myopia of the Eurozone elite” will fail to register all prior points.
Visit Paul Mason’s blog to read his ongoing posts from Greece.