«ATHENS FORUM 2014: Democracy under pressure»
«Does the Economic Crisis Undermine Democracy?»
video of the session 1 of the Forum here
Your Excellencies,Ladies and Gentlemen,
The fear that the economic crisis is contributing to the rise of extremist forces, slowly undermining both the legitimacy and the functioning of our political systems in given crisis-ridden countries is,unfortunately, strong and sound.
I will make just five points on the phenomenon:
First, the 20th century is, indeed, the most frightful reminder of the fact; the two large totalitarian regimes grew out of the humiliation of war but, above all, the unemployment and destitution of large sections of the population.
Authoritarianism (in the form of military dictatorship) often occurs in countries with no major economic problems also (but with non-legitimised political systems or feeble political institutions);
but totalitarianism, and the rise of extreme ideologies in a democratic society appears only when the ground is fertile with vast economic discontent.This is my first point.
My second point is that the more statist and clientelistic a system, the more fragile and erosive it becomes in times of crisis; and by clientelism I do not only mean the distribution of personal favours to specific voters as individuals – that stands too.
I mostly mean the State’s propensity to borrow in order to buy over the sympathies of large sections of the population either through State appointments or with huge transfers of economic benefits to various social groups.
When the crisis erupts such favours necessarily have to stop, and the anger of the favoured »classes» mounts!
My third point is that the more sharply divided, and historically loaded with bitterness against political «rivals» a system is, the more extreme this division grows in times of crisis. This favours a country’s undemocratic forces.
Why so? Because a crisis needs an explanation; and, when the crisis is acute, many people are satisfied only with the harshest of explanations – the «fault» for the collapse is always blamed on one’s historical enemy.Thus in Greece, for example, the Right accuses the Left for having paralysed society with its anti-business and trade-unionist approach while the Left blames the Right for blind servility to the creditors, and so on.
It is a bitter exchange: and the result is that, in the process, ALL parliamentary forces are mutually delegitimised in the eyes of the crisis-stricken people – and we know who profits…
My fourth point is that – when nationalism looms in the minds of a people because of their system of education, historical experiences and the Media – this nationalism aggravates tension both inside a country and in its relations with other countries, particularly the creditors.
That also greatly favours the political extremes.Nobody likes creditors; that’s not news. But, when this dislike becomes a blame game; a discharge of one’s own responsibilities, in the framework of conspiratorial theories cultivated by the Media and by certain political forces, then no wonder that the ground is highly fertile for extreme political forces to profit – and grow in importance.
My fifth, and last, point is that exposure to, or conflict with, »the other» is also a main factor in aggravating these phenomena: massive immigration into our countries, with all the social and economic consequences it entails, raises fear and suspicion, particularly to the least educated sections of the population.
This part of the population, and not only, translates the accommodation with divergence and the tolerance of the democratic forces in a country as mere weakness or incompetence.
They consequently turn their attention to the voice of those political forces who profess that they can deal decisively and »radically» with these issues.
The situation is further aggravated when the immigrants’ countries, or regions, of provenance are perceived as cultural areas in conflict with the basic values of our civilisation.
Immigrants are then perceived not just as an internal inconvenience but as a »fifth column» as well.
This all is butter in the bread of the political forces in the extremes of the political spectrum.
These are my five elementary points on the causes contributing to the rise of extremist forces in our society ladies and gentlemen.
I am ready to elaborate in the ensuing discussion.