Refugees in Greece: the Greeks as ‘refugees’

by Sissy Velissariou

Abstract
The state of economic emergency under which Greece has been put for the past eight years throws into relief the basic antinomy inherent in democracy. This pertains to the exercise of national sovereignty on the basis of borders whose safe-guarding, however, implements a network of state practices of control and selection of populations both ‘within’ and ‘out- side’. In Greece, under the memoranda imposed by the Troika (involving four institutions: IMF, ECB, ESM and EC, not three as in Troika), extreme austerity has created ‘superfluous’ populations within their own country. The internal shifting of the borders that produces exclusion, sustained by parliamentary dictates and intense supervision because of the Troika’s policies at the national level, goes along with the stiffening of external border control by the state in a strategy of deterrence against the entry of war refugees into the country. At the same time, the regulation of ‘superfluous’ refugee populations replicates the biopolitical model of EU governance introduced to the national ‘body’. Therefore, the Greek radical Left has to demonstrate that both dispossessed Greek subjects and refugees are victims of globalised capitalism, distance itself from humanitarianism and politicise solidarity by creating the terms for a common struggle.

Introduction: the Greek case

Since 2007, as a result of the memoranda imposed by the Troika on Greece (involving four institutions: IMF, ECB, ESM and EC, not three as in Troika), state policies of internal devaluation and extreme austerity brought about the shrinking of the Greek economy to a level lower than that of Germany’s during 1913–1920 (Laskos and Papadatos- Anagnostopoulos 2016, 22) and a humanitarian crisis unprecedented for a European country.
Greece’s economic demise and the abolition of popular sovereignty ignited a popular radicalism which brought down all the memoranda governments and made the lack of political representation a central issue for the first time since the Second World War.
The people en masse no longer recognised in the old parties of the Greek oligarchy the moral and political right to represent them and, by consequence, the dual-party system consisting of the right-wing and social democratic parties was fundamentally delegitimized. This systemic crisis was produced by an intense class struggle between the impoverished majority and the memoranda forces as well as their political representatives in the government.
At this historical conjuncture, Syriza has managed to express the radical demand for Greece to be released from the bonds of severe austerity and for its people to regain their dignity. In January 2015, it was elected as the first Leftist government in Greek history.
Before the elections, Syriza had warned that the memoranda introduced not just a series of painful measures, but a monolithic and rigorous programme of extracting power and wealth from the working classes and shifting them to the rich. Strategies of profound redistribution of wealth are the case in the vast majority of major capitalist crises, but in post-memoranda Greece they are implemented in the context of a peculiar state of exception. This does not take the form of general measures that suspend the judiciary and affect the constitutional order.
Neither does it produce a space – as suggested by Butler (2006, 67) in reference to Giorgio Agamben’s well-known notion – where ‘certain subjects undergo a suspension of their ontological status as subjects when states of emergency are invoked’. Instead, it is imposed by the emergency powers of ‘the sovereign’, the Troika, which targets the vast majority of the Greek population at all levels. In fact, the memoranda serves the needs of the most aggressive sections of capital, such as hedge funds, monetary financial institutions and others, while at the same time, the indigenous capitalists profit from the large-scale deregulation of the labour market.
It is the Troika that regulates an excessive debt crisis that amounts to 179% of the GNP (a level which has been recognized as non-viable even by the IMF), by depriving the government of fiscal policies. At the same time, it enforces on parliament a series of radical measures that target labour rights and introduce structural reforms at the level of the state in support of a violent and unprecedented redistribution of wealth.
The extreme austerity and its dialectically related abolition of popular sovereignty are politically ‘legitimised’ by the debtors’ argument that Greece’s case can only be treated as an exception to ‘the EU precedent’, legal, social and economic, because of the Greek state’s unreliability and disreputability. In the context of Greece’s ‘failed state’ status within the EU, the memoranda are deployed on the basis of the specific state of economic emergency.
At the same time however, as will be shown, they represent an extreme paradigm of governmentality that inheres in neoliberalism, which is experimentally imposed on a nation-state that has been jettisoned from the European boundaries demarcating ‘normality’. They are essentially a meticulous reorganization of specific class interests on an everyday level in the guise of the common interest (Stavrou 2016, 216), effected by complex mechanisms of constant supervision and accountability; in brief, the memoranda signify the loss of popular sovereignty and the rise of neoliberal governmentality.
After six months in office and the signing of the third memoranda in July 2015, Syriza’s political transmutation into yet another memoranda party is evidenced by its economic and social policies that implement the EU’s model of biopolitical governmentality, insofar as they methodically restructure and regulate the populations on the Greek land (Stavrou 2015).
On the other hand, Syriza in power makes a consistent though unconvincing effort to maintain the semblance of its original Leftist ideological characteristics centring on human rights and individual liberties which, along with its initial anti-memoranda stance, had formed its emancipatory agenda. Central to that was its anti-racist and pro-immigrant ideological opposition to and fight against the right-wing’s clearly xenophobic rhetoric and policies, and Golden Dawn’s neo-Nazism.
The Syriza government showcases its humanitarianism by receiving a great number of refugees primarily from Syria and by juxtaposing this to the refusal of countries such as Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria and Slovakia to admit a single refugee into their territories. However, after the EU agreement with Turkey (March 2016), whose purpose is to end ‘irregular migration’ by removing the incentive for refugees to seek ‘irregular’ routes to the EU, Greece has turned into the EU’s external border.
Having fully accepted the EU’s inhumane logic, Syriza’s government enforces the harsh model of regulation, control and segregation of refugee populations, the logic of which ironically reproduces precisely the biopolitics imposed on the Greeks by the EU austerity agenda.
For the Greek radical Left, however, and irrespective of the current stagnation into which it has fallen, the refugee issue has to be problematized in depth. The great number of refugees arriving and staying in the country poses a formidable, unprecedented challenge which is present on several levels, all of them inextricably interwoven.
I name only a few of them: dramatic geopolitical changes in the eastern Mediterranean; the issue of borders and Greece’s assigned position as the EU’s external frontier; the presence of thousands of refugees and the uncertain duration of their stay; as well as the country’s pauperization and loss of popular sovereignty. At the same time, this dramatic situation poses a great challenge to the trajectory of the international radical Left insofar as the Greek paradigm starkly showcases the shifting and slippery ground upon which such issues as migration and political integration are to be tackled.
More specifically, the radical Left is called on to perform the difficult task of negotiating its Marxian categories of critical analysis predicated on class, class conflict, labour and relations of production with a new theoretical agenda that might reconsider these basic notions in the light of the multiple cultural identities generated by globalised capitalism.
The question is often posed in terms of a categorical (and facile) ‘either- or’, which signifies that either one sticks to what is usually perceived as economic reductionism or relinquishes the notions of class and production altogether for that   of identities. However, the crux of the matter lies in the dialogue that the radical Left should initiate over the reconsideration of staple analytical categories including those that pertain to identity politics in a project that would be at once theoretically revitalizing and politically effective.
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