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How Greece Crisis Sparked A New Era Of Extremist Politics

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By Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou

Societal crises breed extremism. As political theorist Hannah Arendt has claimed, extreme groups gain momentum by offering solutions when other alternatives appear unable to “alleviate political, social, or economic misery in a manner worthy of man“.

Both the far right and the far left can be understood as the product of external triggers, such as economic crises. Parties at both extremes of the political spectrum capitalise on the insecurities of downward social mobility. They appeal to the dispossessed, the socially isolated, the economically insecure, and authoritarian persons at every level of society.

Image source: EPA/Armando Babani
Image source: EPA/Armando Babani

The Greek crisis is a perfect example of this phenomenon. As the country spirals towards disaster, the extreme left and extreme right find themselves singing from the same hymn sheet. But while their eurosceptic nationalism is being celebrated by many in Greece, it also poses a threat.

Rise Of The Extremes

Radical left coalition Syriza made a significant electoral breakthrough in 2012, coming second in the election with 26.89% of the vote. On the far right, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party moved from the fringes into the mainstream after winning 6.92% of the votes, giving it 18 seats in the Greek parliament.

This trend continued into the 2015 election, when Syriza and ANEL, a far-right party formed by defectors from New Democracy, formed a coalition government. Syriza had secured 36.34% of the vote and secured 149 parliamentary seats – just two seats short of what it needed to form a majority government.

Golden Dawn lost a little ground since 2012 but still managed to come third, with 6.28% of the vote. This despite the fact that the party did little campaigning and its leading members were in prison at the time of the election, facing charges of indictment.

All three parties were elected on an anti-austerity platform that emphasised the independence, dignity and sovereignty of the Greek nation. The crisis altered the cleavages of Greek society from left versus right to centre versus extreme. These three parties are now converging in their support for the campaign to reject the bailout deal being proposed by Greece’s international creditors in the referendum being held on July 5. Rejection in this vote may be interpreted as a call for Greece to leave the eurozone and even the EU.

Strange Bedfellows

It may seem counter-intuitive that both the far left and the far right belong to the same camp and put forward similar ideas and solutions to the crisis but it actually makes sense.

Societal crises breed extremism when economic woes meet political turmoil – particularly when severe issues of governability limit the ability of the state to fulfil its social contract obligations.

Image source: EPA/Yannis Kolesidis
Image source: EPA/Yannis Kolesidis

This breach of the social contract is accompanied by declining levels of trust in state institutions, resulting in the collapse of the party system. This is what happened in Greece. The people lost faith in the ability of the state to mediate the effects of the crisis. They stopped trusting institutions, political parties and democracy more broadly. Citizens questioned the existing mechanisms of democratic representation, which gave anti-systemic parties space to offer an alternative vision.

This vision is premised on national pride, defiance and an antagonism against the status quo – which explains the convergence of the extremes. The far right and left both take an anti-establishment stance and reject the European Union on the basis that it is an exploitative power seeking to undermine the unity, autonomy and identity of the Greek nation.

Paradoxically then, nationalism is the underlying feature that unites the far right and the far left in Greece, cross-cutting traditional alignments and mobilising support across the political spectrum.

Since the eruption of the crisis, left-right polarisation has been superseded by polarisation over the demands being placed on Greece by its creditors.

The extreme versus mainstream cleavage is based around the question of whether the Greek crisis can be resolved within the confines of the eurozone or whether the people should reject European membership in order to maintain their national pride.

Decision Time

The impending referendum is yet another indicator of the state’s failure to manage the crisis and implement solutions based on democratic practices. The timing of the referendum, the ballot paper itself, and the question posed, all fail international standards. The people are being pushed into answering a complicated question at very short notice, while the government has openly supported the No camp.

The most important effect of the referendum has been to further polarise an already deeply divided society. The tension between the Yes and No voters provides an opportunity for extremist parties and there is grave danger that Golden Dawn will be able to harness even further support.

History should act as a warning here. When societies have opted for extreme measures in response to crises, they have found themselves plunged into economic disaster, isolation, dictatorships and totalitarianism.

This is because for the dispossessed, the socially isolated and economically insecure who vote on the basis of anger and emotion, the extreme becomes acceptable and banal.

But their choice is often the product of a lack of reflection, information and clarity about the severity of the implications. Expecting Greek voters to provide a simple answer to an extremely complex question, within a very short period of time and without a clear plan of what comes next, deepens societal polarisation and undermines the very democratic practices a referendum is purported to promote.

This article is part of The Conversation’s Politics+Society series. 

Daphne Halikiopoulou is Associate Professor in Comparative Politics at University of Reading.

Sofia Vasilopoulou is Lecturer, Department of Politics at University of York.

This article was originally published here on The Conversation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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