Friday, November 04, 2011

Not to be confused with democracy

The legend of "plucky Greece" being flattened by the Merkozy "bulldozer" is rapidly gaining ground, aided and abetted by the Daily Wail - which seems very long on assertion yet remarkably short of evidence.

In those same assertion stakes, however, we cannot avoid noticing that alongside the political turmoil of the last two days, we have also seen huge market convulsions. Stocks crashed on the news of Papandreou's referendum bid and made a dramatic rally when he abandoned it.

Anyone with sufficient money who thus read the market correctly – or were blessed with insider knowledge – might have made a small fortune, or even a very large one. It is during precisely such conditions that fortunes are made.

That said, one must recognise that the political and corporate sectors in Greece are amongst the most corrupt in Europe. Even the Wail has recognised this in the past, although it is currently suffering a spot of selective amnesia as it airs its "plucky but doomed" legend and promotes Papandreou in his newly found "man of the people" role.

It would not do to say, therefore, to remind people that Greek political corruption has tentacles spreading to Brussels and to the other EU member states, forming a tight network of mutual interest. This is a country where corruption pervades every corner of life, a country mired in fraud and fiddling, the political landscape of which is ingrained with vested interests, endemic kleptocracy and bribery.

Further, the potential riches to be gained from recent events would have been more than enough to have motivated the actions we have seen taken. The secrecy on the timing could be explained by the need to maximise market impact. One hopes that the financial regulators in the different capital cities are looking hard for signs of unusual selling and buying, and any spectacular profit-taking.

Even without that, however, it cannot be said that the actions taken were in any way motivated by a burning desire for democracy. We are talking about politicians here, and not only European politicians but Greek politicians – leaders of a state which is a by-word for corruption.

The country over which they now rule may have enjoyed in some of its ancient city states a form of government that is called democracy – but which would hardly qualify for the term now. In no way does that suggest that the successors share the values of the ancients.

In fact, evidence of the last few days goes to suggest that the referendum ploy by Papandreou, far from being an exercise in democracy, was simply a cynical manoeuvre. It was aimed primarily at securing the survival in power of the premier and his cronies.

Thus, without being rooted in conviction, when for diverse reasons the balance of utility swung hard against holding a referendum, Papandreou not only dropped it like a hot cake. He went so far as to suggest that he had never intended to hold a plebiscite in the first place.

Whether these ploys succeed politically remains to be seen, but the man is nothing if not a survivor. It would not exactly be a miracle if he was to weather the vote of confidence later today.

Whether he does or not, we will have to wait and see. Of one thing we can be certain though. There are people out there today who are very much richer than they were at the beginning of the week. And, whatever the outcome of today, they will no doubt be grateful to those who kicked off the events that made it all possible.

What we should never do, however, is confuse them with the workings of democracy. Any similarities with any such process, past or present, are entirely coincidental.