The “Latin Americanization” Of Greece - The Real Tspiras Agenda?

Despite negotiations, perhaps the Greek Prime Minister wants to lead his country toward a Latin American-style leftist populism, like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Alexis Tsipras in Athens after his January victory.
Alexis Tsipras in Athens after his January victory.
Jan-Werner Müller

MUNICH â€" What if money isn’t everything to Syriza? And what if the current showdown with Europe isn't even about the dignity of the Greek people? What if, instead of all that, the Greek government's real goal is to "Latin-Americanize" the country in the spirit of Argentine theorist Ernesto Laclau (1935-2014)?

Seen from that perspective, the path that Alexis Tsipras is pursing is not as irrational as one might think. What looks like irresponsible financial and economic policies may instead be an attempt to provide a "new way of educating the people," or establishing a new political hegemony in Greece, as Laclau, who was keen on removing the taint from the word leftist populism, would have said.

The establishment of said hegemony will, inevitably, lead to confrontations with internal as well as external enemies of the state. And so it's a moot point to lament Syriza’s lack of willingness to compromise.

The lessons of Peron

Laclau taught for a very long time at the University of Essex, where Tsipras' recently resigned finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and Rena Dourou, the Syriza governor of Attica, both studied. Together with his wife, Belgian political scientist Chantal Mouffe, Laclau attempted to release Marxism from its chains of narrow-minded economic class analysis.

The Argentine professor was a lifelong admirer of Juan Peron, who served as Argentina’s president for two terms (1946-1955, 1973-1974). Peron’s legacy continues to influence Argentina, where the political arena is divided into two camps: Peronism and Anti-Peronism.

Peron’s success taught Laclau that a successful leftist project has to be populist in nature, and that to challenge the ruling elite, it must unite the public's various grievances â€" the assorted issues that the liberal or neoliberal state fails to address with administrative measures â€" under one symbolically charged theme. In an ideal world, the people of a country would then stand united against internal and external enemies.

Another key aspect of this model is to portray the old elites as a homogenous "caste." This is not exactly difficult to achieve in countries such as Greece or Spain, where the ruling parties, on both the right and the left, have bled the state and demonstrated their economic incompetence.

The legacy of war

But it's also important to keep in mind that both countries were traumatized by civil war in the 20th century. In Greece and Spain â€" as well as in Austria, whose civil war in the early 1930s tends to be overlooked â€" the state was used to bring peace to a polarized society. Clientelism and proportional representation may not have been the most democratic approaches, but they did serve to pacify an ideologically deeply rifted people. For a long time, politicians in those countries felt obliged, first and foremost, to seek compromise, not confrontation.

Syriza and the Spanish Podemos movement are marshaling their powers against these old systems. Their goal isn't just to hold power, but to fundamentally alter the political culture. The cultural shift is akin to the concept of cultural hegemony as put forth by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, one of Laclau’s most prominent sources of inspiration.

When seen from that particular angle, "symbolic politics" are not inferior. Quite the opposite. In the long run, symbolic politics are the most important form of politics.

Inspired by Chavez

Latin-American countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are specific examples that Podemos is attempting to emulate. They represent the avant-garde in the fight against global neoliberalism. In all three countries, emerging leaders, disregarding existing laws, were able to establish assemblies to draft new constitutions. Ultimately they were able to unite the masses behind them and challenge the old elites. They also took on the U.S., which always supported the enemies of the people.

Likewise, the intellectuals of the Podemos movement have declared war not only on the old political parties but also on the constitution of 1978, which was a compromise solution for the interim period between the Franco-dictatorship and the establishment of democracy. But the prospect of having to endure a "Bolivarian revolution" à la Hugo Chavez should be enough to discourage many a Spaniard, despite the wish for change in the political party system.

Time to lend a hand

The defenders of the new "radical democracy," a term coined by Laclau and Mouffe, cannot always agree on everything. But they will always agree on the answer to the question as to who betrayed the people: the social democrats.

The vacuum left behind by the discredited parties such as Pasok in Greece and PSOE in Spain is now being filled by a generation that was radicalized by the financial crisis and makes its presence felt in Syntagma Square, in Athens, and the Puerta de Sol, in Madrid.

In the 1970s, Germany's Social Democratic Party, the SPD, actively helped their comrades in countries that had just stepped onto the path leading from dictatorship to democracy. There's a lesson to be learned there. Those who don’t want a Southern Europe à la Laclau should ask themselves a question: How can the social democrats of today can help those in need of support?

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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