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12
Aug2013

Idiotic(ation), part 1: The poetics of Privatisation

Image from www.hradf.com Image from www.hradf.com

The Greek word for privatisation is idioticopoese (ιδιωτικοποίηση) which etymologically comes from the word “making” (=poese [ποίηση]) and “private” (=idiotico [ιδιωτικό]). Namely, privatisation could be translated loosely in English as idiotication.

The Right wing in Greece is fervently in support of the ancient etymological roots of words which are used all the time by their politicians to remind themselves of the good old days. The neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, in its anthem, claims that they are “the new Spartans” while various ministers of the government such as Adonis Georgiades are notorious for their constant employment of ancient Greek in their discourse. The colonels’ dictatorship (1967-1974) paved the way for contemporary politicians, introducing a ridiculous version of ancient sounding Greek language which was full of grammatical and syntactic errors and made little sense. Besides the grotesque –but still dangerous- figures of the Greek Right wing, if one buys the obsession with ancient Greek they should then admit that privatisation in the Greek language refers in a straightforward way to the activities of an ignoramus, one who is not able to see beyond their micro-sphere to the future or toward collective interests; an idiot. Nevertheless, the current government led by the Right-Wing New Democracy has established a special company, The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, aiming to sell the entire real estate portfolio belonging to the Greek state.The bargains are unique, e.g. one can buy the headquarters of the Greek Police or the two companies monopolising the water supplies of the two major cities (EYATH and EYDAP) or the company monopolising the electricity supply of the entire country (the Public Power Corporation). Most highways, ports and airports which remain in the hands of the state are also included in the endless list.

Most European governments over the last thirty or so years have gradually glorified the private sector of the economy, proposing privatisation as the solution to almost every problem. Starting in the early 1980s the few neoliberal governments of the time broke away from the post-war paradigm which suggested that States have to undertake production and distribution of certain services and goods and generally have some minimum provisions for all the people. Based on humanitarian ideas or ideas about social harmony it was evident that for the sustainability of capitalism it was necessary to keep the people pacified with such provisions. But from the 1980s on, gradually privatisation, austerity and a general decrease of social provisions were promoted as the new paradigms. The end of socialism in Eastern Europe did not mean only that socialist ideals about social provisions saw much of their political power fading, in practical terms, it meant that half of the continent would become a neoliberal laboratory, where societies of extreme poverty and near zero social provisions were created. Within a few years, societies of Eastern Europe where the entire economy was run by the State saw most services and means of production passing to private hands. In terms of real estate half of the continent was transformed from State owned to private owned. Local new postsocialist elites, opportunist capitalists from the West and other oligarchs exploited this, cheaply available, real estate, means of production and infrastructures of the new capitalist territories.    

By the end of the 1990s neoliberalism and the culture of privatisation had become the European paradigm of both conservative and social democratic governments which applied identical policies. EU integration contributed towards that direction, the so-called “flexible and smaller State” was one of the major integration criteria, decreasing social provisions and privatising services and goods which before were undertaken by the states.

The violent privatisation of real estate in half of the continent and the more gradual privatisation of the rest of the continent signified a unique boom in the construction sector of the economy. That construction fever was second only to the post world war II reconstruction. However, perhaps this similarity is not accidental. What the new infrastructures created was again a new Europe, precisely as the post-war reconstruction built the, then, two new Europes one of capitalism and one of socialism. The post-1990 reconstruction combined with the massive privatisation of real estate built the materiality of the new Europe of extreme neoliberalism. Within this context it is not a coincidence that the memorandum of collaboration and the loan agreement between Greek governments and IMF/EU/ECB have striking similarities to the memorandum of agreement between EU and e.g. Albania signed a couple of decades before the Greek one.

by Dimitris Dalakoglou
 

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City at the Time of Crisis is a research project tracing and researching the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece. Read more...