Former bankers Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti have taken over in Athens and Rome, exploiting the threat of bankruptcy and the fear of chaos. They are not apolitical technicians but men of the right, members of the Trilateral Commission that blamed western societies for being too democratic.
In November, the Franco-German directorate of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — the “troika” — were furious when the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, announced plans to hold a referendum. This, they said, would call into question an agreement reached in October to strengthen the economic policy that had brought the country to its knees. Summoned to Cannes for an interview during a summit that his country was too small to attend, kept waiting, and publicly upbraided by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy (who were responsible for exacerbating the crisis), Papandreou was forced to abandon the plan for a referendum and resign. His successor, a former vice-president of the ECB, promptly decided to include in the Athens government a far-right organisation banned since the Greek colonels lost power in 1974. (The troika expressed no views on this.)
The European project was supposed to secure prosperity, strengthen democracy in states formerly ruled by juntas (Greece, Spain, Portugal), and defuse “nationalism as a source of war”. But it is having the opposite effect, with drastic cuts, puppet governments at the call of the brokers, and renewed strife between nations. A young Spaniard voiced his anger at having to go to Berlin or Hamburg to find work: “We can’t go on being Germany’s slaves.” The Italians find the French president’s high and mighty attitude offensive and wonder, rightly, what exceptional talents might justify this. Some Greeks are complaining about the “occupation” of Greece, with cartoons depicting the German chancellor in Nazi uniform.
For people in countries suffering under austerity measures, the history of Europe provides some outstanding examples. In some ways, recent events in Athens recall Czechoslovakia in 1968: the crushing of the Prague Spring and the removal of the Communist leader Alexander Dubcek. The troika has played the same part in reducing Greece to a protectorate as the Warsaw Pact did in Czechoslovakia, with Papandreou in the role of Dubcek, but a Dubcek who would never have dared to resist. The doctrine of limited sovereignty has been applied, though admittedly it is preferable and less immediately lethal to have its parameters set by rating agencies rather than by Russian tanks rolling over the borders.
Having crushed Greece and Italy, the EU and the IMF have now set their sights on Hungary and Spain.