When they have to point out the difference between referendum and plebiscite, even dictionaries become vague. In both cases, it is a consultation of the entire nation, but perhaps the most relevant difference is that, if the referendum intends to test opinions o a certain matter of general interest, plebiscite is more like a white check granted to the power that has demanded the support of the nation. From this point of view, the “referendum” in Greece is actually a mere plebiscite. A blank check granted to the present power to continue the political line of anti-austerity. Actually, the question of the referendum may be translated as follows: ‘do you want us to pay our debt or not?’. Generally, people respect their engagements for fear, not for being animated by honesty. Did the “respectable” and “bourgeois” English nation abstain from stealing whatever they could when an outbreak turned their neighbourhood into chaos? Who wants to pay their debt if they are provided a chance not to? The left-wing rhetoric is emphasising the idea of the injustice of capitalism that takes advantage of bank loan mechanisms. And, therefore, it merely represents a privilege to rich people, which thus become even richer by speculating the needs of the poor.
Let us not forget though that the problem is not the debt and ethics of financial transaction, but the functionality of the Greek state. If debt was canceled, or at least some of it, as Greeks want, could Greece restart economically? Obviously, when we speak about predictions, everything seems possible, yet, the “social state” mentioned by the left wing needs real sources of financing and the Government dominated by Syriza offered no proof so far that thwy have a trustworthy reform strategy. You cannot merely insist on the rights of poor people without being able to produce enough in order to provide them actual help. Since Syriza came to power, the situation in Greece has deteriorated, in spite of certain “social” measures. It happened after, before the latest elections, there were the first signs of exit from recession. The Greeks were unpatient though, seduced by Tsipras’ populism.
Let us not give in though to the temptation to examine the situation in a Manichaeic manner: “good ones” vs. “bad ones”. The mistakes of Greek politicians that have preceded the present power are well know. The rush to join the Euro area proved lethal, as may now be the rush to exit it.
Similarly well known are the structural shortcomings of Greek economy: unemployment, black economy, defence expenses – all of them procentually “astronomical”, compared to other European countries. A social state may only support itself by a competitive economy. It is what the Christian-Democrats tried, when they rebuilt post-war Germany. Therefore, “social justice” may only be achieved by a lot of violence and parallel injustice – similarly to the case of Communist regimes, where granting certain rights was based on the drastic suppression of other rights.
Yet, the thing what should worry us the most after this actual plebiscite is the blank check granted to the Syriza Government. Far from being a sample of “direct democracy”, it is more like a beginning of “totalitarian democracy”. The plebiscite is precisely a manner of authoritarian leadership with the pretext of “popular will”. Even Rousseau, the author of the concept of “popular will”, knew its limitations, limitations that were deviously exploited by many modern era autocrats. In the name of what values does a leader like Tsipras act?
It seems humanism, due to the refusal of social injustice and implicite exploitation – an anarchy – inspired humanism, that stands for maximum freedom of the individual in relation to “parasitic” institutions of the world. As long as European leaders cannot assume a concurent humanism and are merely hiding behind financial mechanisms, people like Tsipras will be more convincing. European humanism is in a crisis due to ideological decay. And, at the level of ideas, courage and responsibility are needed. Actually, the difficulties of today’s politics are based on the complicated relations of various actors involved: ideologists, politicians and the electorate, who are frequently watching one another with tremendous suspicion. And frequently, the consequences of suspicion are devious.