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Analyzing Crisis as Greece Goes on Strike

October 19, 2011

A panel of scholars came together at the Watson Institute this week to discuss the social and political aspects, along with the global implications, of the Greek debt crisis.

“It is impossible to talk about economics without talking about politics,” said Kostis Kornetis, a visiting assistant professor in Brown's Department of History. Kornetis introduced the panel, which included historians, legal scholars, and international relations experts.

The panel’s speakers included Cornel Ban, a postdoctoral scholar in international studies at the Institute and deputy director of Brown's Development Studies Program. Ban was joined by Elias Dinas, a post-doctoral prize research fellow at Nuffield College at the University of Oxford; Sakis Gekas, an assistant professor at York University; Nikos Skoutaris, an assistant professor at Maastricht University’s Faculty of Law; and Vassilis Tzevelekos, a lecturer in public international law at the University of Hull.

For three hours, the panelists presented their individual research, discussed each other’s findings, and fielded questions from a packed audience at the Watson Institute’s Joukowsky Forum.

The panel discussion, sponsored by Brown’s Modern Greek Studies Program and Hellenic Students Association, came at the start of a crucial week in Greece, with two of the country’s major labor unions planning a 48-hour general strike to coincide with a parliamentary vote on new unpopular austerity plans. The two-day strike follows weeks of ongoing protests and demonstrations around the country, as Greek workers resist austerity measures that are expected to include pension cuts, tax increases, and reductions in the civil service.

The panelists at the Institute discussed an array of problems facing the heavily indebted country, as well as troubles across Europe as the debt crisis continues to escalate.

The Greek crisis is an issue “too important to leave to the economists,” said Gekas, who joined the panel from York University via Skype. Gekas provided an historical background to the current crisis, drawing parallels between the present day and two prior crises, in the 1890s and 1930s.

Gekas was followed by Tzevelekos and Skoutaris, who placed the debt crisis in a legal framework. In his presentation, “From Popular Sovereignty to Sovereign Debts: A Socio-Legal Perspective,” Tzevelekos asserted Greece has “lost its sovereignty.” But Tzevelekos went further, drawing a distinction between legal and popular sovereignty. He asserted that Greece has not lost its legal sovereignty, but rather its popular sovereignty.

Skoutaris continued with the idea of sovereignty, discussing the concept through the lens of constitutional law. Citing the Greek constitution and other texts, he argued that popular sovereignty – “the main idea… that people represent the ultimate source of political and legal authority within a state territory” – has been undermined in Greece today: “Having the ratification of a law pending for a year and a half is highly problematic.”

Dinas offered the next presentation, “The Transmission of Political Attitudes in Turbulent Political Periods: Evidence from the Greek Debt Crisis,” drawing upon a pilot study, from June, of undergraduate students at three Greek universities. Providing a variety of research about the attitudes of young Greeks, he concluded that there is “very big variation in how the young people in Greece deal with the problem.”

Ban was the panel’s final presenter, characterizing the current crisis as having “systemically international origins.”

“The Euro project has been systematically flawed,” Ban said. “It’s a monetary union, without a fiscal union, which has reached its end.”

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Lauren Fedor ‘12