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Greece: the explosion of a revolution

My next scheduled visit to Athens is only four months away, and I guess the city will still look pretty much the way it did last time I was there, its skyline dominated as ever by the Parthenon and the Acropolis. But in social and political terms, Greece is going to feel very different. Such are the stakes in the wave of social unrest currently gripping the country.

At gut level, the local far right understands this perfectly well. Georgios Karatzaferis, president of the ultra-nationalist LAOS party, remarked earlier this week: ‘I will not contribute to the explosion of a revolution from destitution that will burn all of Europe.’

Somehow stability increasingly does not look like an option. The Greek economy is undergoing a catastrophe without obvious parallels in postwar capitalist Europe. Unemployment tops 18% on the official tally, and is probably higher than that in reality.

More than one young person in three is out of work. There are plans to dismiss 150,000 public sector workers by the end of the year. Those that remain in work face wages cuts on a grand scale; the minimum wage, for instance, will fall by 20%.

British ex-pats I speak to on the phone joke about turning to the soup kitchens that are springing up everywhere. But for around one Greek in ten, soup kitchens are a reality rather than a wisecrack. One in three have reduced their food intake over the last year.

Despite populist rhetoric from the top, LAOS remains a participant in the Papademos coalition, and I have yet to read any serious commentary that suggests it will stand in the way of the agreement necessary to push through yet another austerity budget.

Last time I checked the FT website, a deal seemed imminent. Then again, three deadlines have already been missed.

So the ‘destitution’ part of the formula is not going to change anytime soon; what about the prospects for revolution?

Going by the media coverage, it is difficult to estimate to what extent the crisis is having a radicalising impact. On some accounts, the numbers involved in protests are small and on the wane, and there is even talk of a sense of acceptance slowly setting in.

Yet even analyses of this kind have a short shelf live. The popular mood in situations of crisis is often volatile, and small incidents can have unexpected ramifications. Almost anything can in retrospect turn out to be the Ceausescu moment.

The key question is how far resistance will go, and how it will play out in political terms. Social democracy is effectively a spent force; the experience of rule by the corrupt and incompetent family business that goes by the name of PASOK has left it clean out of credibility. Unfortunately, no other forces with a fractious left have achieved any mass purchase.

Another possibility – and one that would probably be more to Mr Karatzaferis’s authoritarian liking – is a military takeover. Don’t forget that the Greek army has form on this one, and the possibility has already been raised by sections of Greek capital.

I’ll leave the firm predictions to those who know Greece better than I do. But it should certainly be an interesting business trip.

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