The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has a new piece out in the New Statesman about the tragedy of the Greek crisis.
He starts out with a joke, adapted from one about a Jew trying to leave the Soviet Union:
A young Greek man visits the Australian consulate in Athens and asks for a work visa. “Why do you want to leave Greece?” asks the official.
“For two reasons,” replies the Greek. “First, I am worried that Greece will leave the EU, which will lead to new poverty and chaos in the country . . .”
“But,” interrupts the official, “this is pure nonsense: Greece will remain in the EU and submit to financial discipline!”
“Well,” responds the Greek calmly, “this is my second reason.”
Are then both choices worse, to paraphrase Stalin?
There are no good options for Greece at the moment. And this is partly, Zizek says, because of the strange amalgamation of negotiators that Greece is up against. He writes that the dilemma in Europe as one between its political aims and its technocratic framework.
The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, recently remarked that if he were to meet alone with Angela Merkel for dinner, they would have found a formula in two hours. His point was that he and Merkel, the two politicians, would treat the disagreement as a political one, in contrast to technocratic administrators such as the Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. If there is an emblematic bad guy in this whole story, it is Dijsselbloem whose motto is: “If I get into the ideological side of things, I won’t achieve anything.”
The thing is, though, that even more fundamentally the issue is ideological in Zizek’s mind. The fundamental disagreement between the two parties — the Greek government and its creditors — is and has always been whether the Greeks should feel bad about their debt, he writes.
The Greeks are looking for a solution that is financially sustainable for their economy and their banks. Their creditors are looking for them to do penance for their past sins.
Zizek writes, “the debt providers and caretakers of debt basically accuse the Syriza government of not feeling enough guilt — they are accused of feeling innocent. That’s what is so disturbing for the EU establishment about the Syriza government: that it admits debt, but without guilt.”
In actual policy, Zizek says, Syriza is actually not that radical at all. The government’s ideas are merely radical in that they assert that there should be no more can-kicking in dealing with Greece’s economic crisis. He writes that “if one looks closely at the proposals offered by Syriza, one cannot help noticing that they were once part of the standard moderate social democratic agenda.”