For Athens, the birthplace of democracy, the time has come to decide the fate of the European Union (EU), the most ambitious political experiment in the world. Fate is maybe too strong a word, but the Greek elections on June 17, 2012 will surely go down in the history books as a watershed moment in the Euro Crisis, but what makes this election important? In November 2011, former Prime Minister George Papandreou called for a referendum to be held over Greece’s continued commitment to the IMF/ECB (International Monetary Fund/European Central Bank) financial bailout package or more simply whether to abandon the Euro. Papandreou later called off the referendum due to political pressure but he resigned as a result. This ushered in an interim coalition government headed by Lucas Papademos, former Vice-President of the ECB, which lasted until elections in May 2012.
The latest elections resulted in no political party winning the majority of seats in Parliament, required by the Greek constitution to form a government. The three largest parties each got an opportunity to form a simple majority through party alliances but failed. The constitution called for Parliament to be dissolved and new elections scheduled, which bring the current situation to bear.
Greece’s upcoming election will decide more than a new government, but put to vote the public’s commitment to the Euro. Time has run out for the people of Greece to put this decision off any further. Voters have a hard choice between continuing with harsh austerity measures or the unknowns of returning to the drachma. No matter what the verdict social unrest and economic instability are sure to continue. However, the decision to go it alone presents the most pressing issue. Without the backing of the EU, Greece’s financial situation will deteriorate resulting in political instability not seen since the aftermath of the Second World War.
Extremists of both the left and right have seen a return to politics in the current crisis and they will gain further ground in the face of hyperinflation. Domestic upheavals not experienced since the days of the Greek Civil War shall haunt the country. If this is allowed to occur, imagine the international consequences. Just look at recent large-scale protests against the budget cuts in Spain, Portugal, and Greece.
Apply the possible rehabilitation of ideological doctrines such as communism and fascism opening a Pandora’s box of mass refugees and genocide. The result would be a repeat of the Kosovo Wars of the 1990s but in the Balkans and Iberia. Therefore, contrary to some EU officials there is no sacrificing Greece for the greater whole. The moment Greece leaves the EU this will cease to be a financial crisis but a humanitarian catastrophe. If representative parliamentary democracy fails in the birthplace of democracy, what hope is there for countries ruled by totalitarian governments?
The EU represents an international experiment in transcending the conventional understanding of nationalism. From its foundation as a simple custom union, it has expanded to 27 countries linked together by organizations that govern common practices of law, cultural, religion, energy, and military. The evolution of Europe has never been a predetermined path but is the result of decisions made by millions of individuals who are committed to the cause of being European and unknowingly challenging the rigid ideology of nationalism.
In 1989, East Germans took to the streets shouting “Wir sind ein Volk” (We are one people) calling for the reunification of Germany. Maybe this phrase is still applicable twenty-three years later. Millions of people have embraced the notion of the European Union and its institutions, many more aspire to belong. As an organization, the EU long ago superseded any conventional interpretation of nationalism. While the United States of Europe may never materialize it is time that someone says, “We are one all people, we are Europa.”