The “Greek Crisis” in Europe: Race, Class and Politics
he “Greek Crisis” in Europe: Race, Class and Politics, critically analyses the publicity of the Greek debt crisis, by studying Greek, Danish and German mainstream media during the crisis’ early years (2009-2015). Mass media everywhere reproduced a sensualistic “Greek crisis” spectacle, while iterating neoliberal and occidentalist ideological myths. Overall, the Greek people were deemed guilty of a systemic crisis, supposedly enjoying lavish lifestyles on the EU’s expense. Using concrete examples, the study foregrounds neoorientalist, neoracist and classist stereotypes deployed in the construction and media coverage of the Greek crisis. These media practices are connected to the “soft politics” of the crisis, which produce public consensus over neoliberal reforms such as austerity and privatizations, and secure debt repayment from democratic interventions.
As is generally known, the latest major economic crisis of global proportions started in the usa with the credit crunch of 2007–8. Ten years later, in 2018, critics note that the crisis is far from fully resolved, with a new – and potential-ly more serious – one pending (Roos, 2018b). Along with the economic crisis, a broader and multifaceted crisis with harsh political, ecological and social di-mensions is advancing, with capitalism being the root cause of it (Feldner & Vighi, 2015).In the 2010’s, a growing scholarly literature developed, tackling the various political, cultural and social dimensions of the aformentioned economic crisis. The study of the media is one important dimension in the analysis of the crisis, its politics, and its culture. The media play a crucial political role in the ways that the crisis is perceived and managed. In today’s liberal democratic states, it is through the mass media that the policies predicated to alleviate the crisis are publicly explained and legitimised in order to be applied.
The reintroduction of a critical vocabulary that was made redundant by postmodernism and the subsequent hegemony of neoliberalism as a post-historical project can demonstrate the systemic and structural aspects of the crisis and among them, the values and the social relations naturalising capital-ism. This way, critical theory can estrange and defamiliarise (Shklovsky, 2015: 163) what passes as common sense through the depiction of capitalist society’s deep flaws. Under this view, the capitalist market emerges as an oppressive system other than as a somewhat prerequisite of “civilisation”, “progress”, “free-dom” and “democracy”.
In this chapter, I draw on the critical theories of race and racism, discussed in Chapter 1, that problematise the uses of the concept of culture today in the West. Culture is often deployed to explain issues like poverty and civic dis-empowerment as well as economic crisis, state bankruptcy and corruption, in a rather depoliticised way (Lentin & Titley, 2011: 61). Therefore, the uses of culture to explain systemic flaws only depoliticise social problems, diverting public attention from the structures of power and privilege that undeline such problems, while blaming those oppressed by the politico-economic system the most.
Chapters 4 and 5 presented the cultural and moral construction of the Greek crisis in the European mainstream media. Both dimensions are interrelated and stem from authoritative political and economic institutions and estab-lishments. The technocratic expertise of neoliberal economists in particular, outlines the economic crisis in a seemingly depoliticised manner. Acts of de-politicisation though are in themselves highly political as they aim at advanc-ing particular political agendas (Dean, 2009b: 23). In our case, these agendas derive from the politics of the neoliberal right in the EU, associated with the overall neoliberal project of advancing and safeguarding capitalist globaliza-tion (Slobodian, 2018).The cultural and the moral construction of the crisis (alleged) perpetrators, is connected to the hegemonic politics of the crisis. The mainstream media’s sensualistic crisis representations intensify the specific politics.
This chapter presents an account of the political role of the media. The discus-sion of media and politics begins with the notion of the public sphere and its critical conceptualisation as a field colonised by the strategic economic in-terests and ideological premises of capital and the upper classes (Dean, 2002, 2009, 2017; Negt & Kluge, 2016). In this regard, the concepts of hegemony and propaganda are important for making sense of the ways that the media work as strategic apparatuses and institutions to forge ahead the dominant interests through mass communication practices. While hegemony is achieved and maintained through the regular reproduction of dominant world-views and ways of thinking about various issues (such as what comes to pass as normal or “natural”) on a daily basis, propaganda can be understood as a central method to strategically advance particular positions in the public sphere at critical mo-ments, such as times of war or an economic crisis. As an important space of ex-perience, the public sphere offers the pretext where hegemonic interventions unfold through the media in globalised, late capitalist societies. Simultaneous-ly, the dimension of the spectacle is to be found in all aspects of mainstream media production and political communication today.
Departing from Bourdieu’s (2010) seminal text Distinction, scholars (Ben-nett, 2013; Eriksson, 2015) argue that mass media organise their representa-tional frames on social affairs under a middle-class gaze, which suggests to audiences the preferred ways of looking at things. The media’s middle-class positioning affirms core bourgeois values shared and aspired to by the middle-class. The middle-class forms the ideal social position, setting a “middle-class normative” (Skeggs & Wood, 2012: 52) that is reproduced by the media through the ways that representations are framed. In this context, the working class and the poor often lapse into the position of the “underclass” ( Jones, 2015), associ-ated with different forms of social and individual problems and pathologies, and charged with violence, ignorance and despair. Skeggs (1997) noted that the weight of upper-middle-class values, lifestyles and aspirations establish-es a general disidentification with the working class position.
The economic crisis in Greece is in its 9th year in 2018. Along with it, an un-precedented and polyvalent socio-political crisis has also emerged (Tziovas, 2017). Estimations show that austerity may last for more than fifty years; the repayment of Greece’s growing debt may take much longer. In 2017, after eight years of neoliberal austerity reforms, the Greek sovereign debt had reached a staggering 179% of gdp (Table 1) (which amounts to about 317 million Eu-ros), with the International Monetary Fund (imf) estimating that it will reach 275% by 2060 (Basu, 2018: 140). In 2009, right before the bailout pro-gram’s start, the Greek sovereign debt was at a 126% of the country’s gdp at the time (amounting to just above 301 million Euros). Besides the augmenta-tion of Greece’s sovereign debt, during the crisis years, the country’s gdp also plummeted. Greece’s unemployment also accelerated to over 20% of the total working population. Poul Thomsen, the notorious imf’s director of the “Euro-pean Department” and its representative in Greece’s “Troika” mechanism until 2015, stated in early 2017 that “it would take Greece twenty-one years to return unemployment to pre-crisis levels” (Keep Talking Greece, 2017). According to Eurostat data from 2017, 35.6% of the Greek population is at risk of poverty and social exclusion. In 2007, this number was at 20% (Eurostat, 2009). The so-called “structural adjustment reforms” imposed on Greece through the bailout programs produced an unprecedented economic, social, political and humani-tarian decline in Greece.Greece entered a prolonged economic crisis in late 2009, when the inter-national financial rating agencies downgraded the Greek government bonds. Accordingly, its sovereign debt was assessed as “unsustainable”. This meant that Greece had difficulty borrowing credit from financial markets at low inter-est rates. After revealing his predecessors' false statistics, the time’s “socialist” Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou Jr., requested financial assistance from the EU, which created the so-called support mechanism headed by what came to be known as the Troika, an institutional framework consisting of the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ecb) and the imf. In return for a colossal loan provided by the Troika, Greece had to implement