Placing democracy in the too-hard basket

Democracy is proclaimed to be one of the great traditions of the Western world. It is a system often promulgated as a universal right, and is lauded as a building block for a modern nation.

However, at the Eurogroup Meeting on the 27th June 2015, the mask came off and the European elite revealed what they truly think of democracy.

Yanis Varoufakis, the Finance Minister of Greece, informed the Eurogroup ministers that his government would hold a referendum asking the Greek people if they would accept the Eurogroup’s proposed bailout deal on Greece’s debt, to be followed by further austerity and social injustice, or reject the proposal, thereby declaring the debts to be odious. A no vote would allow the Syriza government to face the Eurogroup with a mandate from the Greek people to renegotiate the debt deals.

On his blog, Varafoukis explains why his government decided to hold a referendum.1 Having received only 40 per cent of the vote, the government did not believe it had a mandate to accept or reject the Eurogroup’s proposal.

Varoufakis: “Fully aware of how weighty our decision is, we feel obliged to put the institutions’ proposal to the people of Greece. We shall endeavour to spell out to them fully what a Yes to the Institutions’ Proposal means, to do the same regarding a No vote, and then let them decide. For our part we shall accept the people’s verdict and will do whatever it takes to implement it – one way or another.”

Instead of Syriza’s decision being perceived as upholding the tradition of democracy, the announcement – to consult the Greek people – was met with “incomprehension” and “disdain bordering on contempt.”

“I was even asked: ‘How do you expect common people to understand such complex issues?'”

That the very notion of democracy was treated this way illustrates what the elite really think. That the ministers reacted with incomprehension that a population is qualified to make a decision – one which will affect them on a daily basis – almost beggars belief.

Perhaps the Eurogroup ministers were anxious that a Greek referendum would result in a repeat of the Icelandic referendum of 2011. That referendum resulted in Icelanders voting against a repayment deal to bailout British and Dutch citizens who had lost money when Icelandic banks collapsed in 2008 (as part of the financial crisis). The vote was a rejection of the assumption that the Icelandic public was responsible for foreign deposits and the results of global banking practices.

One may wonder, if this indeed the belief of the elite, why they then allow general elections to decide national leaders. However, at least in the West, it is becoming more apparent that democracy is shallow, with options pre-vetted, offering very little difference, and posing no threat to the powers that be. This democratic façade is used to keep populations content, providing an illusion that people have a say in the running of their country. Voter turnout is usually low, and elections are often won by the party considered “the lesser evil.”

In some cases, even general elections have been ignored when the results do not suit those in power. For example, the Palestinian election in 2006 was won by Hamas, the party more hostile to Israel. The result was not recognised by several nations (most notably Western). This led to the Palestinian civil war and rival party leader Abbas declaring Hamas’ victory void. Other examples include the West’s indifference when Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; supporting the coup against a Russian-friendly government in Ukraine; and repeated calls of illegitimate elections in countries not in favour with the West, such as Venezuela.

There are many examples where the will of the people is ignored when it comes to matters deemed important. This is most often in matters of war, for example ignoring the record-breaking peace marches leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A more recent example is the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which is debated in secret without the details available to the public, presumably as they are too odious for the public to debate.

Almost daily, democracy is used by the West to castigate and sanction nations, and has been used as a reason to wage war (e.g. in Afghanistan and Iraq), as well as to delegitimise non-democratic governments. We are told healthy, modern nations must have democratic principles. Yet when democracy is actually put into action, it is met with disdain.

This disdain and contempt displayed at the Eurogroup Meeting is surely not unique, except in being publicised.

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