SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK’S SPEECH AT SYRIZA EVENT IN ATHENS
I am honoured to be here, but ashamed that I don’t speak your language. So, let me begin: Late in his life, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, asked the famous question; “What does a woman want?” Admitting the perplexity, when faced with the enigma of feminine sexuality. And a similar perplexity arises today; “What does Europe want?”
This is the question you, the Greek people are addressing Europe. Because you know what you want, you want this guy to be your next Prime Minister. Europe doesn’t know what it wants. The way European States and Media relates to what is going on now in Greece, is, I think, the best indicator of what kind of Europe they want. Is it the neo-liberal Europe, is it the Europe of isolationist states or maybe something different. Critics accuse SYRIZA of being a threat to the Euro, but SYRIZA is, on the contrary, the only chance for Europe. Far from being a threat. You are giving a chance to Europe to break out of its inertia to find a new way.
In his notes towards a definition of culture, the great conservative poet, T.S. Eliot, remarked the moments when the only choice is between heresy and non-belief. That is to say moments when the only way to keep a belief, to keep religion alive, is to perform a sectarian split from the main course.
This is what happens today with Europe; only a new heresy represented at this moment by SYRIZA, can save what is worth saving in the European legacy; Democracy, trusting people, egalitarian solidarity. The Europe that will win, if SYRIZA is out-maneuvered is a Europe with Asian values – and of course these Asian values have nothing to do with Asia, but with the clear and present tendency of contemporary capitalism to suspend democracy.
SYRIZA is said to lack the proper experience to govern. Yes, I agree, they lack the experience of how to bankrupt a country by cheating and stealing. You don’t have this experience. This brings us to the absurdity of the politics of the European establishment; they bring the preach of paying taxes, opposing Greek clientelism and they put all their hopes on the coalition of the two parties which brought to Greece this clientelism.
Christine Lagarde, recently said that she has more sympathy for the poor inhabitants of the Niger, than for Greeks, and she even advised the Greeks to help themselves by paying their taxes, which, as I found a few days ago, she doesn’t have to pay. Like all liberal humanitarians, she likes the impotent poor who behave like victims, evoke our sympathy and bring us to give charity.
But the problem with you Greeks is that you suffer, yes, but you are not passive victims, you resist, you fight, you do not want sympathy and charity, you want active solidarity. You want and you demand a mobilization, a support for your fight.
SYRIZA is accused of promoting leftist fictions, but it is the austerity plan, imposed by Brussels, which clearly is a work of fiction. Everybody knows that this plan is fictitious, that the Greek state, cannot ever repay the debt, in this way. In a strange gesture of collective make-belief, everyone ignores the obvious nonsense of the financial projection on which the European plans are based.
So why does Brussels impose these measures on you? The true aim of these measures is not to save Greece, but of course to save the European banks.
These measures are not presented as decisions grounded in political choices, but as necessities imposed by neutral economic logic. Like, if we want to stabilize our economy, we simply have to swallow the bitter pill. Or, by tautological proverbial sayings, like you cannot spend more than you produce. Well, the American banks and United States as such, are a big proof, for decades, that you can spend more than you produce.
To illustrate the mistake of austerity measures, Paul Krugman, often compares them to the medieval practice of blood letting. A nice metaphor, which I think should be radicalized, further. The European financial doctors, themselves not sure about how this medicine works, are using you as test-rabbits, they are letting your blood, not the blood of their own countries. There is no blood letting for the German and French banks. On the contrary, they are getting big transfusions.
So is SYRIZA, really, a group of dangerous extremists? No, SYRIZA is here to bring pragmatic common sense. To clear the mess created by others. It is those who impose austerity measures who are dangerous dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think that things can go on, indefinitely, the way they are just with some cosmetic changes. You are not dreamers; you are awakening from a dream, which is turning into a nightmare.
You are not destroying anything; you are reacting to how the system is gradually destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons, Tom and Jerry and so on: The cat reaches the precipice, but goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet, then it only starts to fall down, when it looks down and notices that there is nothing. This is all you are doing. You are telling those in power, “hey, look down!” and they are falling down.
The political map of Greece is clear and exemplary; In the centre, I hope you noticed it, there is, that, one big party, one party, with two wings, left and right, PASOK and New Democracy. It’s like, you know, Cola, which is Coca and Pepsi, an indifferent choice. The true name of this party, if you bring PASOK and ND together, should be something, I think, like NHMAD, New Hellenic Movement Against Democracy.
Of course, this big party claims that is for democracy, but I claim they are for decaffeinated democracy. Like, you know, coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without sugar. They want democracy, but democracy where instead of making a choice, people just confirm what wise experts tell them to do. They want democratic dialogue? Yes, but, you know, like in the late Plato’s dialogues, where one guy talks all the time, and the other only says, every ten minutes, “by Zeus, so it is!”
And then, there is the exception. You, SYRIZA, the true miracle, radical left movement, which stepped out of the comfortable position of marginal resistance and courageously signaled your readiness to take power. This is why you have to be punished.
That is why Bill Freyja, recently wrote in the Forbes magazine, in an article with the title “ Give Greece what it deserves: Communism.” Here is a short quote:
“What the world needs, let’s not forget, is a contemporary example of communism in action. What better candidate than Greece? Just toss them out of the European Union, cut off the flow of free Euros and hand them back their old drachmas. Then, stand back for a generation and watch”. In other words, Greece should be exemplary punished so that once and for all, the temptation for a radical, leftist solution of the crisis will be blocked.
I know that the task of SYRIZA is almost impossible. SYRIZA is not the extreme left madness, it is the voice of pragmatic reason, counteracting the market ideology madness. SYRIZA will need the formidable combination of principle politics and rootless pragmatism of democratic commitment and readiness to act fast and brutally when needed. If you, SYRIZA are to be given a chance, a minimal chance to succeed, you will also need pan-European solidarity.
This is why I think, you, here in Greece, should avoid cheep nationalism, all the talk about how Germany wants to re-occupy you, destroy you and so on. Your first task is to change things here. SYRIZA will have to do the job, which the other guys should have done. The job of building a better, modern – an effective state. The job of clearing the state apparatus from clientelism. It’s a hard job, there is nothing enthusiastic in it, it’s slow, hard, boring job.
Your pseudo-radical critics are telling you that the situation is not yet right for the true social change. That if you take power now, you will just help the system, making it more efficient. This is, if I understand it correctly, what KKE, which is basically the party of the people who are still alive because they forgot to die, are telling you.
It is true, that your political elite demonstrated its inability to rule, but there will never be a moment when the situation will be fully right for the change. If you wait for the right moment, the right moment will never come. When you intervene, it is always immature. So, you have a choice: Either comfortable wait and look how your society is disintegrating, as some other parties of the Left suggest, or heroically intervene, fully aware of how difficult the situation is. And SYRIZA made the right choice.
Your critics hate you, because, I think, secretly, they know you have the courage to be free and to act as free people. When you are in the eyes of the public, those who observe you understand, at least for the flash of an instant, that you are offering them freedom. You dare do what they also dream about. For that instant, they are free. They are one with you. But it is only for a moment. Fear returns and they hate you again, because they are afraid of their own freedom.
So, what is the choice that you, the Greek people, are facing on June 17? You should bear in mind the paradox that sustains the free vote in democratic societies: You are free to chose on condition that you are making the right choice. Which is why, when the choice is the wrong one, for example when Ireland voted against the European constitution, the wrong choice is treated as a mistake and you know, they want to repeat the voting, in order to enlighten the people to make the right choice. And this is why the European establishment is in a panic. They see that maybe, you don’t deserve your freedom, because there is a danger that you will make the wrong choice.
There is a wonderful joke in Earns Lubifish, classical comedy, Ninoxka: The hero, listens carefully, visits a cafeteria and orders a coffee without cream. The waiter replies “Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk, so can I bring you coffee without milk?” So, in both cases, you get coffee alone, but I think the joke is a correct one. You know negation also matters. The coffee without cream is not the same as the coffee without milk. You are in the same predicament today; the situation is difficult. You will get some kind of austerity, but will you get the coffee of austerity without cream, or without milk? It is here that the European establishment is cheating. The European establishment is acting as if you will got the coffee of austerity without cream. That is to say that the fruits of your hardship will not profit only European banks, but they are effectively offering you coffee without milk, it is you who will not profit from your own sacrifice and hardship.
In the very South of Peloponnese, round Mani, I was there, I know it, the so-called weepers; women that you hire to cry at funerals. They can do the spectacle for the relatives of the diseased. Now, there is nothing primitive about this. We, in our developed societies, are doing exactly the same. Think about this wonderful invention, I think maybe the greatest contribution of America to the world culture, the so-called can-laughter. You know, the laughter, which is part of their sound track on TV. Like, you know, you can go home tired, you put on TV some stupid show like Cheers or Friends and you just sit and the TV, even laughs for you. And, unfortunately, it works.
That’s how those in power, the European establishment, wants to see, not only Greek people, but all of us: Just staring at the screen and observe how the others are doing the dreaming, crying and laughing. There is an apocryphal but wonderful anecdote about the exchange of telegrams between German and Austrian army headquarters in the middle of the First World War: The Germans sent a message to the Austrians; “Here, on our part of the front, the situation is serious, but not catastrophic.” The Austrians replied; “Here, the situation is catastrophic but not serious.”
This is the difference between SYRIZA and others: For the others, the situation is catastrophic, but not serious, things can go on as usual, while for SYRIZA, the situation is serious, but not catastrophic, since courage and hope should replace fear. So, what is ahead of you is to quote the title of an old song of the Beatles, “a long and winding road.” When decades ago, the cold war threatened to explode into a hot one, John Lennon wrote a song, you remember it, if you are old enough, “all we are saying is give peace a chance.” Today, I want to hear a new song all around Europe, “all we are saying is give Greece a chance.”
Allow me just to conclude with a reference to one of your greatest maybe, the greatest classical tragedies, Antigone: Don’t fight battles, which are not your battles. In my idea of Antigone, we have Antigone and Creon. These are just to sects of the ruling class. This is, a little bit, like PASOK and New Democracy. In my version of Antigone, while the two members of the royal families are fighting each other, threatening to ruin the state, I would like to see the chorus, the voices of the people, stepping out of this stupid role of just wise comment, take over, constitute a public committee of people’s power, arrest both of them, Creon and Antigone and establish the people’s power.
Just allow me now to finish with a personal note. I hate the traditional, intellectual left, which likes revolution but the revolution, which takes place somewhere far away. This is why when I was young, the further away it is, the better; Vietnam, Cuba, even today, Venezuela. But you are here, and that’s what I admire. You are not afraid to engage in a desperate situation, knowing how the odds are against you. And this is what I admire. You know, there is also a principled opportunism, opportunism of principles. When you say the situation is lost, we cannot do anything, because we would betray our principles, this appears to be a principled position, but it’s really the extreme form of opportunism. SYRIZA is a unique event of how precisely that left -in contradiction to what the usual extra-parliamentary left does, that cares more if some criminals’ human rights are violated, than if thousands are dying- gathered the courage to do something. So I conclude now with a great honor to give the word to your future prime minister.