Europe, Enraged Coriolanus

Continuing with the fallout from the Greek elections, a translation of a piece by Miguel Ángel Sanz Loroño, Researcher at the University of Zaragoza, published 19th June in Público.

Europe, Enraged Coriolanus


Coriolanus was a Roman general who wanted to give an exemplary punishment to the people of Rome. First he proposed doing it with hunger, then with weapons. In Shakespeare’s work of the same name, Coriolanus proclaims in one scene: to deserve greatness, one must deserve the hate of the people. This is what the leaders of Europe must have in mind, since the bullying of the will of the Greek people has not just come from the German version of the Financial Times, but also from the European institutions themselves. These days Coriolanus does not wear a sword, but a tie.


In a recent interview (11/6/2012) on the Spanish State broadcaster’s 24 hour TV channel, the Secretary of State for the EU, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, indicated with regard to the Greek elections of Sunday past that he was hoping “that the good guys win”. And he added that a socialist friend had told him that “I never wished so much for the right wing to win”. A while back this would have been a scandalous claim. Now, however, it no longer surprises anyone.  

The spectacle put on by Europe in the past weeks with regard to these elections is not the product of a transitory madness, but the expression of the neoliberal European system at a moment of possible collapse. The threats cast by Europe at the Greek people have wounded the delirious vision that the EU has of itself. Either they voted for the conservatives of New Democracy or banishment. This has a price. It is called democracy or European project.

Neoliberalism, understood as the political culture of markets, finds democracy surplus to requirements, but not the nation-State. The rulers of Europe have been making this clear. The manipulation of the Greek vote via a campaign of media terror sets out clearly the contradiction in the European project that had come to light already with the technocratic governments in Italy and Greece. Europe prides itself on legitimacy obtained through a legislative or governmental vote every x years. However, based on the past week we can conclude that the vote gets in the way at certain points, and that it is legitimate to threaten and punish the vote with hellfire if the electorate goes beyond what is acceptable, which is to say, the bipartisan rule that sustains the system morally and accepts the realism demanded by it.


From this we can deduce something that we already know: that liberal democracy is more liberal than democratic. Europe has no intention of bringing the vote into other spheres that might advance the forces of the commons and drive back the empire of the markets (financial capital). And this is because the member states and the European Union have accepted the order of things and the definition of reality that late capitalism has imposed. Among other motives, this is because the governments have been the executors of this vision of the real that conforms to the functioning of the markets. Nation States guarantee this reality via the legitimacy attributed to them to establish this order. But at the same time, these States have accumulated social commitments that are incompatible with the demands of the markets. And here is where the conflict is.



Brezhnev coined a term for the status of Eastern Europe: doctrine of limited sovereignty. The European peoples today find themselves within this type of sovereignty, though the empire is not the Soviet Union, but that of the markets. Greece is the most obvious example, but Spain is no less so. Not a single ruler demands sacrifices from these markets. No-one has voted for them, but governments act to give them confidence to the detriment of their peoples. The peoples vote, but they are not feared, unless their vote goes against these markets that limit the sovereignty of States. The threats of expulsion against one of its members if it were to go beyond the bounds of the acceptable is a hatchet blow against the EU project. The true face of Europe has been uncovered.

It is difficult to think of a way back. The EU was not born as a project of full-blown democracy, but it at least tried to fake it with its rhetoric. However, the Greek elections have marked a new milestone in this process of making institutions subordinate to the markets. The means that Europe has used against other parts of the world are now directed against one of its members. And not against just any member, but against the one considered the “cradle” of Europe. It becomes complicated to think about an EU without the country whose democratic myth functioned as an alibi for the European project.


In recent days we have seen elections under a state of siege imposed upon a member state. The democratic forces of the commons in Greece are suffering this attack from the empire of the markets. But this has not ended. There can be no guarantee that Greece can bear another turn of the screw. The legitimacy of the sytem has been revealed as a farce that now appears before us as a tragedy. Government is not for the multitude but for the markets. When forced to choose between ordinary people and the markets, the governments choose the latter. Greece has demonstrated this, and Spain too. What more can we do, said Cristóbal Montoro [Economy minister in Spanish government], we have already done our homework. There is no homework to do, apart from subordination to the markets in a spectacle that puts a question mark over even the minimum that can be demanded of a liberal democracy with some degree –however small this might be- of social commitment. Government is for the market, and the latter wants to do away with the remains of the social commitment that liberalism accepted in 1945 in exchange for stability and social democracy’s entry to the system. The markets have got what they wished from the EU and the press: a campaign of harassment to avert a SYRIZA victory.

However, European nervousness and irritation show that The Different is present. It is the vote, upon which Europe bases its praise of the current system, that they have tried to punish with a scandalous siege. Europe stands naked. Perhaps the next time a government of bipartisan rule is sworn in, it will pronounce the words that, according to Aristotle, were used by the magistrates in the Greek oligarchic republics: ‘I will be an enemy to the people, and will devise all the harm against them which I can’. Suffering continues for the Greek people.


Lastly, the so-called fear vote must be analysed with care. The campaign of fear would not have been effective if it did not connect with a deeper sentiment. One must not underestimate the disdain for alternatives to the system. After 1968, the systemic Difference was configured in the political imaginary as a monstrous Otherness, grey and brutal, or as an apocalyptic scene of biblical chaos. In this respect, the influence, of what Frederic Jameson has called the collapse of the utopian imagination, has been symptomatic: we can imagine the end of the world before the end of capitalism or its alternative. However, SYRIZA is still there. Its strength has grown and its voice has not disappeared. The possibility of the Difference that this coalition indirectly refers to remains present and real; as real as the European spectre that haunts the night of the enraged Coriolanus.

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