Austin Bay
Cerberus, the Greek mythological monster charged with guarding Hades' gates, is traditionally depicted as a huge dog with three carnivorous heads. This dire hellhound has a dreadful job. He (or is it a "they"?) sinks his teeth into Hades' new arrivals, making certain the recently deceased don't accidentally lug their bodies into the Underworld. Yucky, huh? Well, Cerberus is, fortunately, an imaginary monster.

Greece's latest mulligan national election, held June 17, appears to have left the country with a three-headed dog of a potential government. Three "pro-Europe" Greek political parties clawed out enough votes to try to form a coalition. As I write this column, the center-right New Democracy Party (ND), the old guard conservative party that took 30 percent of the votes cast in the electoral do-over, is attempting to reach a power agreement with its "old left" (but fellow old guard) antagonist, the Greek Socialist Party (PASOK) and the small, "moderate left" Democratic Left Party (DL). This triad coalition would nominally control 179 out of 300 parliamentary seats.

While several eurozone officials call an allegedly "pro-bailout" coalition in Athens very good news (which they add may lead to better news), no one underestimates Greece's economic and political difficulties. Exactly how "pro-bailout" an ND-PASOK-DL coalition would be is not certain. ND and PASOK are demanding new bailout terms from lenders. They maintain the election demonstrates that a majority of Greeks want to remain in the eurozone. This demonstration has created political conditions justifying less-stringent loan conditions. Creditors, they argue, can trust the Greek people to work to repay Greece's debt.

Greece's debt, however, is a genuine monster. Creditors have good reasons to question a rosy interpretation of the election. The ND's 30 percent was the largest single party vote total in the election. Deep and unresolved political fractures divide Greece.

OK, the Greek people want to remain in the eurozone; they prefer hard currency euros to devalued drachmas. However, they haven't decided what to do, not decisively, about their structural debt.

In fact, a strident Greek plurality, supporters of SYRIZA, the Party of the Radical Left, still believes the debt monster is hype. If they cast blame enough, shout and scream persistently, just wish hard enough, the debt monster will go poof -- or someone else will pay it off.

Fantasy economics and blaming foreigners has political sizzle. SYRIZA ran second behind ND, taking 27 percent of the vote. SYRIZA refuses to participate in any government that, to paraphrase SYRIZA polemicists, kowtows to foreigners who would dominate and impoverish Greece.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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