Like a reality TV star who can’t remember applying to take part in the show, ordinary, respectable Greek people have had all their dirty laundry aired in public over the past couple of years. It’s unlikely that the citizens of any other nation on earth have undergone such intense scrutiny as the Greeks. Everybody knows what the Greeks earn, what they pay in taxes, how they live, how much their wages have been reduced, how many hours they work, how much vacation time they have, what they spend their money on, how they vote and what their most personal fears are.
Much of this is to be expected as a result if the mess that Greece got itself into and the unprecedented loan packages that it has received. But the line must be drawn somewhere. These loans come with extreme conditionality. Just as Greeks’ personal lives are pored over, so the bailouts dictate not just economic policy but a whole range of other policies down to the finest details. This is the quid pro quo of the loan deals: Greece receives money in return for certain fiscal measures and structural reforms. Nowhere does the agreement dictate how people should vote in a free election.
This hasn’t prevented a number of European officials from expressing an opinion about their preferred outcome of Sunday’s vote. The latest to do so was Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. «If the radical left wins – which cannot be ruled out – the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable,» said Juncker, who as head of the Eurogroup also holds an institutional role within the European Union, a role that – theoretically – implies neutrality on such sensitive issues as national elections.
Juncker’s comment is in keeping with repeated interventions by Europeans over the last month. Their comments implied a deep disapproval of potential choices by free citizens. This began in February when German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble made the incredible suggestion that Greece should hold off elections and allow the interim government led by Lucas Papademos to stay in power for longer. This revealed a Europe that has become scared of democracy, unable to deal with the uncomfortable realities that it can produce.
How different things could have been if at that point Schaeuble and other European leaders could have made it clear that they would work with whatever government the Greeks elect as long as it is committed to remaining in the euro, as almost all the parties are. How refreshing that would have been for the European Union’s democratic principles. How it would have defused a tense situation and negated attempts by Greek politicians to stir up antagonism with Germany and the eurozone.
The opportunity was missed on both sides and Greeks head to the polls with this terrible chatter ringing in their ears. After living in the public eye for the last couple of years, the least they deserved was a moment of peace, a moment of freedom.