WASHINGTON –- Greece gave us democracy and theater, and now is giving us a gripping new synthesis of the two: the dramatic, hysterical alarms of supporters of austerity.
Facing slow growth and crushing debt, “Austerian” leaders in democracies such as Greece, Spain, France, the U.K., (and, until not long ago, Japan) clamped down on social welfare spending and eased regulation of business.
But with unemployment widespread, especially among the young, and disturbing signs of renewed recession in many countries, a backlash has begun. On Sunday, Greece chose as its new prime minister a 40-year-old leftist, Alexis Tsipras, who vows to renegotiate $272 billion in foreign loans while amping up government wages and spending.
In Greece, across Europe, and elsewhere, Austerians are responding to Tsipras types with apocalyptic warnings, many of which are overstated, comical, outrageous or just plain wrong.
Here’s a theater program guide to them (and reasons why not to be alarmed), compiled by HuffPost editors in the U.S. and at our global editions:
NO TOILET PAPER!
As the Greek vote approached, one Austerian suggested that her countrymen stock up on toilet paper. The theory: The Tsipras’ crowd would turn Greece into another Venezuela, famous for the scarcity and rationing of consumer goods, including -- yes -- toilet paper.
So far, however, toilet paper crises haves tended to materialize only when Austerians are around. They are said to have imposed just such a shortage on Catalonian schoolchildren, for example.
And when Tsipras moved into the official residence, he found that even toiletries had been removed by the outgoing administration. “They took everything,” he said. “I was looking for an our to find soap.” No word on the toilet paper.
THE COMMIES ARE COMING!
Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of a profit-mad China, it’s been hard for the capitalists of Europe (not to mention the rest of the world) to make communism sound scary. Now, the Austerians have the anti-austerity forces to demonize.
Despite a deep communist history in Greece, the old talk didn’t work –- perhaps because the Austerians couldn’t decide whether to accuse their foes of being ruthlessly efficient commies or naïve and inept academics. And if Tsipras’s cabinet is any indication, they lean toward idealistic economists and professors.
PUTIN IS COMING!
Okay, so the Soviet Union is gone. But there's still Vladimir Putin, and suggestions that he has an opening to meddle in Greece and in other countries looking to escape the grip of onerous loans from the European Union and other Western international organizations.
But, especially with oil and gas prices tanking, Russia is in no position to be a lender-of-easy-resort to Greece or any other country into which Putin has not sent tanks. Even the Cubans gave up on the Russians, and have been taking aid from Venezuela, and will now take it from Uncle Sam.
THE NAZIS ARE COMING!
In Greece, Tsipras’s party found allies, if not friends, among right-wing ultra-nationalists who hate burdensome foreign loans for tribal, more than economic, reasons. That has led some to suggest that the anti-austerity movement will ultimately bring the extreme right back to power.
But you hardly have to be a right-wing nut in Greece to despise the idea of leasing the Port of Piraeus (ie., Athens) to China, which was one Austerian notion of how to save Greece.
Though there are signs of a right-wing resurgence in Europe, the anti-austerity message of the left isn’t the reason. In France, in particular, there are plenty of other explanations for why the right is on the rise –- and why most voters in France despise them. “Our fear is more against the right,” said Le Huffington Post editorial director Anne Sinclair in Paris.
THE GREEK CONTAGION IS SPREADING!
Tsipras’s Syriza party has a Spanish counterpart called Podemos. Polls show Podemos’ rising appeal. Early tests include regional elections in Andalusia on March 22, followed by nationwide regional elections on May 26.
But in Spain, conservatives and socialists alike join hands in insisting that, “Spain is not Greece,” said El Huffington Post’s Madrid-based editorial director, Montserrat Dominguez.
Spain is not nearly as deeply in debt as is Greece, and Spanish leaders still expect the economy to grow by 2 percent this year. They claim they will create 800,000 new jobs and drop the unemployment rate to 22 percent -– still miserable, but perhaps enough to prevent a Podemas sweep.
Elsewhere on the planet, Japan abandoned austerity years ago, and it seems that U.S. President Barack Obama now wants to do the same.
THE EU IS FINISHED!
Already under pressure, the European Union is more than vulnerable to suggestions that it could fall apart –- and that Greece could be the proximate cause. One theory is that Greece will be kicked out, which will cause a domino effect. Others suggest that the EU itself will end up being lenient, which will cause a different type of domino effect with the same result.
But both of these scenarios understate, or even ignore, the practicality and shrewdness of EU leaders and institutions. Not for nothing is it the largest economic bloc in the world today, and one that has proved more durable and successful than many predicted.
Tsipras, for one, has already signaled that much of what he and his compatriots want is a seat at a table for direct negotiations, and for more investment in, as opposed to new loans to, Greece.
IT’S CHAOS, AND FREEDOM WILL BE LOST!
In the U.K., Conservative David Cameron said an anti-austerity Labour government would lead to economic “chaos.” This month, he staged an unprecedented photo op with five Tory cabinet ministers lined up in a row to warn of the dangers of abandoning austerity, reports Mehdi Hassan of The Huffington Post U.K. They offered up an official looking (but not official) dossier filled with lurid claims about what Labour would do to the fiber of British life.
Such warnings remind others of similar dire predictions that came in similar confrontations long ago. When Francois Mitterand was running on a leftish ticket in France in 1981, a member of the conservative leadership suggested that a Mitterand victory would bring Russian tanks to the Place de la Concorde and an era of repression to France.
Mitterand won; the tanks never arrived. “We laughed about it for years,” recalled Sinclair.
In that same year, a close friend of Mitterand’s, Socialist Andreas Papandreou, won election in Greece. There were similar warnings about how the Cold War was lost because Greece -– always pivotal -- had fallen to the East.
The Cold War eventually was was lost -– by the Russians.
Anne Sinclair (France), Montserrat Dominguez (Spain), Mehdi Hasan (U.K.), Nikos Agouros (Greece), and Kosuke Takahashi (Japan) contributed reporting.