- Populism and Crisis Politics in Greece by Takis S. Pappas
Over the past five years, the Greek financial crisis has stimulated a plethora of studies and analyses of the European Union, its monetary policies, and those of international financial institutions, as well as assessments of the culture, politics, and the economy of Greece. Many of these accounts are simplistic, drawing parallels from European interwar history and politics that have little to do with today’s economic and political realities. One must express dismay about the large number of analysts who have suddenly discovered their Greek “expertise.” In an attempt to provide “new” insights on the origins and prospects of the ongoing Greek financial debacle, many analysts seek a new twist to make their story more compelling.
Takis Pappas, having rejected cultural and institutional explanations of the Greek predicament, focuses on a “unified explanation based on the extraordinary development of populism in Greece.” And, eureka, his single-minded explanation is the rise of “populism” in postjunta Greece, particularly in the post-1981 period following the election of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), the allegedly socialist party of the charismatic economist and politician Andreas Papandreou. Given the controversy surrounding the career of the late Papandreou, the author is careful to stress that by focusing on him he does not “have any ax to grind.”
Disclaimers aside, grinding an ax is what he does, writing as if Greek postjunta politics began in 1981 and not in 1974. Without underestimating the role of populism in Greek politics before or after the fall of the junta, it has now become fashionable to attribute all of Greece’s socioeconomic ills to the late Papandreou. Ironically, many [End Page 117] such critiques come from people who benefited from his policies and never questioned PASOK’s populist agenda during the good days of postjunta Greece.
Pappas defines populism as “democratic illiberalism.” Its core properties include a democratic credo and illiberal practice; ergo, while populism may be democratic, it is never liberal. Populism, according to the author, is one of representative democracy’s two faces, the other being political liberalism. He proceeds to distinguish populism from political liberalism and also from populist occurrences in nondemocratic settings, as in the case of Juan Perón’s Argentina.
Pappas claims that after reaching power in 1981 Papandreou’s populism permeated Greek politics and produced a populist democracy supported by state institutions and a party system that handed out political rents to every member of society. While populism may have been a characteristic of Greek politics, it cannot be attributed only to Papandreou. The book adopts a rather simplistic perspective of postwar Greek politics before the junta period (1967–74) as well as following the restoration of democracy in Greece in 1974. Papandreou’s meteoric rise to power was due to a host of factors, populism being just one of them. Populism had been part of the post–World War II Greek political system. All of Papandreou’s postwar predecessors and successors, in various degrees and for various reasons, relied on populism to meet their agendas and deliver services to select audiences. Thus, PASOK’s 1981 electoral victory was not a case of a democratic “paradise lost” caused by Papandreou’s populism.
One of the author’s examples of Papandreou’s populism was the 1985 amendment of the postjunta Greek constitution that limited the powers of the indirectly elected president of the republic. However, even under the original postjunta constitution, presidential powers were circumscribed both by constitutional intent and actual political practice. The overwhelming political preference was for a presidency that was nonpartisan and above politics. This is why in the first decade of postjunta Greece, presidents were respectful both of their limits of power and the range of tolerance of the political system.
In a pessimistic concluding chapter titled “Embattled Democracy,” the author argues that even though the pluralist political system introduced in Greece following the junta’s collapse in 1974 aimed at a liberal republic, it evolved into a populist democracy ending in...