Having been closely following the Greece events, I can’t remember a recent story, at least in the American and British papers, that does not describe Syriza in such terms as “adolescent,” “unserious,” “gamesmanship,” “jousting,” “inexperienced,” and “unprofessional.” One might think from reading the news that the Greek people are latency age children, who enjoy watching their elected leaders turn cartwheels and make their faces appear and disappear while the rest of Europe pursues the serious grown-up work of economic advance. Of course, this gets pretty close to the standard German picture of the Greeks as a people who can’t follow rules, are relatively tribal, have no sense of the larger community, essentially similar to what used to be called “Gypsies,” and before that, peddlers, and — let us not go further with this analogy, but everyone knows the role that racial thinking has played in European history, and in our own.
To understand the coverage of Syriza it is helpful to consider the role that the fool played in earlier societies. Kings and other authorities could not face the truth so a means was derived to tell it to them. The fool told the truth, but as a joke. Lear, of course, is the most famous example. To understand the tragedy now unfolding in Europe, we might situate Syriza in this history. They are no fools. They told the German bourgeois that the austerity policies forced on Greece were destroying the Greek economy. I never understood why this point was taken as “unserious.” But perhaps the Germans, and the Finns, and the East Europeans and the British and American press need to treat Syriza as fools so that no one can believe that a left position can be taken seriously.
Forcing Greece out of the euro, which is and has been the German intention, would be as if the United States dealt with the Depression of the 1930s by forcing the South out of the country. It is to take the poorest part of the continent and say to them, “we do not want to develop a policy that includes your advance. You do not share our culture. You are not hard working and thrifty as we are.” Scapegoating Syriza is an attempt to keep the spotlight away from this mentality, which is precisely what we need to understand, and which is by no means restricted to Germany, though perhaps it is more common there.