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A Crisis of Democracy

As the latest, controversial austerity measures were passed by Greek MPs on Sunday evening, Athens was in flames. With tens of thousands of protestors massing outside the parliament building during the crunch vote, long-running tensions over proposed cuts and declining standards of living burst forth into civil unrest. Stones clattered against police riot shields, petrol bombs were hurled through the air, and shouts of anger and frustration echoed through streets teeming with burning buildings.

In a speech delivered shortly before the vote, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos sounded a defiant note against the fury raging outside. “Vandalism, violence, and destruction have no place in a democratic society,” he claimed while urging support for measures that would “set the foundations for the reform and recovery of the economy.” But while many Eurozone leaders, relieved by parliament’s approval of the austerity measures, find themselves entirely in agreement with Papademos, the majority of Greeks are left asking whether the increasingly hopeless pursuit of economic recovery has done irreparable damage to Greek democracy. Has the management of the economy taken precedence over the representation of the people?

For Papademos and the majority of his cabinet colleagues, there is no trade-off between democracy and economic stabilisation. As Papademos’ predecessor, George Papandreou, frequently observed during his ill-fated premiership, the interests of the Greek people are best served by securing much-needed aid from the country’s European partners, and by attempting to lay the foundations for economic recovery. As representatives of the people, the Greek government has an obligation to work in their best interests in this most severe of crises.

The only problem is that not everyone shares this perspective. For a growing number of Greeks, the Eurozone’s demands for further cuts have overshadowed democratic representation.