Interesting German newspaper commentary on the Greek referendum

There's an article about how suddenly the democratic idea of the nation's (= the people's) sovereignty is being forgotten when a referendum (in this case the Greek one on the debt deal) might not yield the desired outcome.

Im Minutentakt las man gestern, wie Banker und Politiker drohten und drohen, die Börsen brachen ein. Die Botschaft war eindeutig: Die Griechen müssten dumm sein, wenn sie ja sagten. Und Papandreou ein Hasardeur, weil er sie fragte. Doch ehe die Panik-Spirale des Schreckens sich weiter und weiter dreht, ist es gut, einen Schritt zurückzutreten, um klar zu sehen, was sich hier vor unser aller Augen abspielt. Es ist das Schauspiel einer Degeneration jener Werte und Überzeugungen, die einst in der Idee Europas verkörpert schienen.

I've seen similar comments in other contexts as well; especially when there were referendums about joining the Euro or about joining the Lisbon treaty.

My impression is again and again that a ruling oligarchy of professional politicians and top corporate figures perceives democracy ever more as a deception of the masses away from the oligarch's power, not as the only legitimation of governance.

This works even in micro scale, as for example in the half-humorous affair about the "Bud Spencer Tunnel".

The only good referendum is a referendum that agrees with the powers that be.

S Ortmann

P.S.: This is not meant as a conspiracy theory text, but as an observation about a creeping slide away from living democracy towards democracy as a facade. One could come to much, much more extreme views on how this country really works.


  1. Excellent post on what I read (i can't read german,)referendums on major issues should be held much more often than they are, but one downsize is the "tyranny of the majority", I thought the UK should of had a EU referendum not long ago when they were in the news for it.

  2. "Rule by referendum" can have rather unfortunate consequences, an example of which being the financial mess in California, US. Over several decades of such maneuvers, "the people" managed to vote for low taxation and high mandated social services - a basic sort of "gimme but i don't wanna pay" result. The problem as I see it is that it can be easy to sway opinion on complex problems with quick and dirty sound bites. The number of issues facing a government that are simple is small. Something as complicated as the Grecian debt situation doesn't stand up to easy analysis and giving the decision over to the general population, half of which are below average intelligence, is probably not a sound basis for coming to a useful solution (this assumes that "intelligence" correlates with sound decision making). I wish them the best, regardless, especially given that I understand that Goldman-Sachs was supposed to have set them up for this just turn some cash.

  3. Dude, the Greek produced the mess with representative democracy, not with referendums. What you describe is a human fault that applies to both direct AND representative democracy. It's nonsense to blame only one form with this.

    I've got a low opinion of such arguments".
    "Too many people are not really democratic-minded because they don't really trust the voter to vote responsibly in plebiscites. They prefer to have professional politicians and bureaucrats as a filter."

    You can't be both; democratic AND suspicious of the mob. Everyone who distrusts direct democracy is a closet pro-autocrat in my book.

  4. SO, I concur - both with the article & your last comment. The CA problem is caused by entrenching a 66% requirement of support to increase taxes, so that there is a perpetual barrier to the will of the majority .. not my idea of democracy, really.
    In many ways I think the shadow puppetry form of democracy is more entrenched in the US than in Europe, and better camouflaged. Wish I saw a feasible solution

  5. @SO: Ironically, the Greeks are the ones responsible for representative democracy which in turn has landed them in this mess. If we follow the classical example this should mean them turning into a military dictatorship and invading the near and middle east.

    In other news I read that they've just bought quite a few M1A1s ^^

  6. Anon Coward again: I fully realize that there is a basic tension between the "tyranny of the majority" and the basic "power derives from the people" concepts. Representative democracy is an attempt to balance those issues, US rep. demo. was yet another attempt to refine this. The CA referendum system was an attempt to balance out the power of the entrenched politicians and some of the corruption seen in various institutions. But, as with any form of power, it managed to generate abuses and this has helped to put CA where it is now. It's more than just the 2/3rds majority for tax modifications - there are lots of referendum generated problems. The old saw that "democracy is the worst possible form of gov't, except for all the rest" is more true than I wish was the case.

    My comment about Goldman-Sachs helping the Greeks get into the mess derived from learning that G-S loaned them money to cover over the weakness of their debts and let them "cook their books" in ways that are illegal for companies, and that this "cooking" let them get into the Eurozone. Why did the Greek politicians think this would help them in the long run? Why didn't the Euro accountants spot this issue? Got me. The Greeks also voted in politicians that borrowed money to splurge on public spending to get the votes to get back in office. Lots of blame all around. I just didn't see how putting the response to the debt problem to popular vote was going to help, other than to let the politicians duck responsibility, which was supposedly why a representative democracy is improvement over the potential abuses of a democracy - a channel for tough decisions to be made that may be unpopular with a majority but necessary for all.