Austerity and democracy in Greece

3 July 2015

Greece’s referendum is a first for reasons too often ignored or forgotten. On no other occasion has a country’s population been asked to approve or disapprove the conditions laid down by creditors for a country.

SYRIZA supporters celebrate victory in the 2015 elections, at a rally outside the Athens University headquarters.

The nearly 300 adjustment and austerity programmes required of countries in Africa and Latin America in the 1980s and 1990 were never put to a country’s people. Instead they were negotiated behind closed doors by financial officials of the government with visiting bureaucrats of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, often in secret from other ministers of the government and elected parliamentarians.

Usually, the only means for people to express their views was by demonstrations and protests, a not uncommon occurrence. A young World Bank official once told me that as his aeroplane was taking off from a Caribbean island for Washington he saw from the plane window people rioting in the streets. Having just negotiated and signed an adjustment programme with that country, he wondered how much he was responsible.

Whatever the result, Greece’s referendum is a first.  

Credit Image: Chryssa Panoussiadou / Panos

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