Greece agreement is not a coup - lessons for #thisisacoup mob
Arguing with Twitter hashtags is like urinating into a hurricane, and a particularly stupid and self-righteous hurricane at that.
But sometimes, you just have to do these things anway, and dry yourself off afterwards. So here goes: no, this is not a coup.
#thisisacoup has been trending in various parts of the world for several hours over the latest Greek talks. Let’s skim over the awkward fact that Twitter and public opinion are not the same thing and deal with the argument – such as it is – that lies beneath the hysteria and hyperbole. A coup is what happens when a group of people, foreign or domestic, seize power in a country by force or coercion. I’ll allow a bit of poetic licence in political conversation about Greece, so I won’t bother with the literalist argument that it’s not a coup because there are no tanks or guns or men in uniforms involved.
Instead, the argument seems to boil down to suggesting that because the Greek government is about to sign up to policies advocated by foreign governments and international organisations, Greek democracy has been thwarted. After all, the Greek people voted against something like the proposed deal in a referendum last week. Isn’t it undemocratic for that view not to prevail here?
Here’s a quick Politics 101 lesson for the #thisisacoup mob:
1. Greece is not a direct democracy. It is a representative one. That means that the Greek people elect their governments to make decisions on their behalf. Referendums are not binding in Greece; they simply advise the government of the day on the views of the people. (That’s set out in the Greek constitution, a set of rules put in place by elected Greek politicians in 1975 after the country, er, got rid of its military rulers.)
2. To repeat: the Greek people elect their governments. Those governments do things, things like spending, taxing and borrowing. If the Greek people don’t like those things, they can sack their government and get another one. The things that Greek governments do, things like spending, taxing and borrowing, have consequences. One of those consequences is that Greece has run out of money and needs to get more money from someone else. Hence the negotiations in Brussels, where the people who will provide that money are asking for conditions before giving them that money.
Are those conditions extreme, draconian and potentially counterproductive? Quite possibly, yes. Is Greece under enormous pressure to accept them, and facing horrible consequences if it says no? Oh yes: the pressure is vast, the consequences truly terrible. And are the negotiations slanted against Greece, because Germany has more money and political clout within the EU than Greece? Yes. But so what? Germany is a bigger, richer country than Greece. That’s just a fact of life. Welcome to the real world, kids.
And while we’re on the subject of Germany, can I just suggest that the “voice of the people” argument cuts both ways here. Angela Merkel and her government are answerable to the German people, whose taxes are on the line in this deal. The Chancellor is doing the job she holds in the Germany democractic system, and she’ll be held accountable for her actions by German politicians and voters through that system.
Very few of the #thisisacoup crowd seem to be worried that the sovereign will of the German people is being ignored in the Greek talks, even though it almost certainly is: a referendum in Germany would very likely see German voters seeking even tougher conditions on Greece, or immediate expulsion from the Eurozone. When the pious hashtag brigade care as much for the Germans’ popular sovereignty as they do for the Greeks’, they’ll be worth listening to.
Instead, they seem to prefer childish and nasty references to the Second World War. On this point, I’d like to briefly set aside any pretence of courtesy or respect of the views of others and say this: if you compare the actions of the democratic German government led by Angela Merkel to those of Nazi Germany, you are not just an idiot but a hateful, small-minded and bigoted idiot.
Yes, Greece is under a lot of pressure to accept another bailout, and some of the conditions being attached to that bailout are stupidly harsh. But that is not the same thing as Greece being compelled by force to accept. If the Greek people do not like the deal that their current government is about to accept, they can sack that government and get another one, one that might chose to withdraw from the deal and pursue other policies, policies which would have consequences of their own.
This is not a coup. Anyone who thinks it is should grow up and join the real world.