The team of the Austrian solidarity and information initiative “Griechenland entscheidet” (Greece Decides) gives its opinion on the election results and Greece’s new government.
Let’s not ignore the significance of what has just taken place: 25 January will go down as a historic day in recent European history. For the first time in decades, a party that offers a real alternative to neo-liberal capitalism has been elected to govern an EU country. This is an event that will radically alter the European political landscape. SYRIZA will take the fight against the failed approach adopted by the EU elite – be it their austerity policies, immigration policies or the pursuit of TTIP – to the institutions of the European Union. This will increase momentum for those fighting political struggles outside of Greece, be they social movements, unions or political parties.
Even though SYRIZA narrowly missed out on winning an absolute majority, their victory was impressive. It is the result of years of determined political efforts, as well as a process of unification among Greece’s pluralistic Left. Just as SYRIZA’s victory would not have been possible without Greece’s social movements and political struggles, these factors will also be instrumental in shaping the party’s success in government. Given the level of supremacy held by the European elite, national oligarchs and international financial markets, the government will need the pressure that comes from political struggles within businesses, parties and on the streets in order to be able to stay its course.
The real battle is only just beginning. The people of Greece have been given a chance to bring their humanitarian crisis to an end and to negotiate a fresh start for their economy. We in other European states have been given the opportunity to use this momentum to drive political, economic and social change in our own countries.
With 149 out of 300 seats in parliament, SYRIZA has narrowly missed out on an absolute majority, which means it must form a coalition. SYRIZA has ruled out an alliance with the social-democratic PASOK party as they backed the Troika-led bailout. Their first choice was the Communist Party (KKE), which won 15 seats. However, this party has long refused any form of cooperation with SYRIZA, and despite the latter’s historic victory, KKE has no intention of changing its stance. Their leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas said it would be “unthinkable” to form a coalition with SYRIZA “in order to save the EU, the euro and the great monopolies”. KKE has made an EU exit one of its core policies, despite going against what the overwhelming majority of the population wants.
As their number one choice refuses to climb on board, SYRIZA is left with three poor options: new elections, a coalition or a partnership with TO POTAMI or ANEL. Refusing to form a new government, and thus triggering a fresh round of elections, would make SYRIZA look as though it was fleeing its responsibilities. Moreover, a new round of elections would be scheduled to take place at the end of February: a date that falls dangerously close to the official termination of the Troika’s bailout programme. Both would increase the likelihood of anti-SYRIZA propaganda (dubbing them “unfit to govern”) and blackmail (“capital flight”) during the next election campaign.
TO POTAMI (17 seats) is a party that is best described as post-political; it was only formed one year ago and is carried mainly by its founder, the journalist Stavros Theodorakis. He has close ties to the Greek oligarchy and enjoys the support of the private media. Here, TO POTAMI is described as “left-liberal”, but in reality the party represents neo-liberal and racist policies, such as a migrant quota for each city district. Furthermore, as a self-declared “pro-European” party, it prefers to distance itself from SYRIZA. In tough negotiations with the Troika, SYRIZA could find itself battling an enemy within its own government.
ANEL (13 seats), on the other hand, shares SYRIZA’s views on the issue of negotiations. The party rejects the Troika programme for nationalistic reasons. It was created in 2012 through a separation from the conservative ND after that party voted for the second Troika bailout deal. Since then ANEL has consistently voiced its opposition to the country’s austerity policies. During the failed presidential elections in parliament, which triggered the elections that took place yesterday, the party was a reliable partner for SYRIZA. For ANEL, one key issue is the fight against corruption and tax fraud. They have no links with the old political elite.
At the same time, it is important not to overlook the fact that ANEL takes a right-wing conservative stance on a number of other issues. The party has close ties to the Greek-Orthodox church and stresses its patriotic leanings. Their nationalistic policies focus heavily on the naming dispute between Greece and Macedonia – an issue which is unlikely to play an important role in the coming months. Recently ANEL has been sparing with statements on immigration and refugees so as not to endanger any potential coalition with SYRIZA. But ANEL is undoubtedly a right-wing party with unacceptable views on a number of issues, albeit nowhere near as extreme as the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn.
SYRIZA assumes that if it cooperates with ANEL, it will not have to make any concessions in its policies in the months immediately after the elections. Its two main objectives – to fight the country’s humanitarian crisis and negotiate a reduction of Greece’s debt – are shared by ANEL. What form their partnership will take beyond these core issues and which role ANEL will play in government remains unclear. Issues where the two parties hold fundamentally different views in some areas of policy-making should be put to one side during these initial stages.
The first and most challenging task that awaits the new government is confronting the European elite. The main bone of contention will be a reduction of Greece’s debt. During the years of the Troika-led bailout, the country’s public debt grew rapidly and today its stands at 175 percent of GDP, suffocating any attempt the Greeks make to revive their economy. At the same time, the EU elite fear nothing more than SYRIZA getting their way on the issue; should Greece succeed in sharing out the burden of its financial crisis more fairly, other countries will follow suit. Each of SYRIZA’s political victories will bolster support for PODEMOS in Spain, where elections are also due to take place at the end of the year.
But the EU elite can barely afford to exclude or force Greece out of the Eurozone completely. The economic and political fallout would be impossible to predict. Key players such as German leader Angela Merkel or ECB president Mario Draghi would be willing to undermine years of their own hard-fought political gains to save the Eurozone at any cost.
Negotiations will undoubtedly play out as a fine balancing act. It will essentially be a battle of propaganda and of psychological influence. Threats and blackmail attempts from the EU elite are to be expected. We should remain cautious and not take everything that is written and said about the Greek government in the coming months at face value.
SYRIZA has a number of competent economists in its ranks. The party undoubtedly has the expertise needed to hold its own during these negotiations. Whether or not they can win this game of high stakes poker depends on two factors: firstly, the government needs the active support of the Greek people and, most importantly of all, the social movements. Secondly, the leading parties are reliant upon support from outside Greece. It is up to us to put pressure on our governments and the EU elite in order to make them agree upon a fair solution to the debt crisis – this will be the first step towards fundamental political change.
The international solidarity witnessed over the past weeks has been impressive. The diverse range of activities staged by various groups across several European cities meant that anti-SYRIZA scare-mongering and smear campaigns had a lesser impact than in the 2012 elections.
Now that the country has a new government that will confront the political elites at both a national and a European level, our solidarity has become even more important and yet more fraught with difficulty. Concerns about a cooperation with ANEL are valid. It remains to be seen whether all of the government’s actions will meet our expectations. Criticism should, of course, be a part of international solidarity – but it should not be the be all and end all. We believe criticism is undoubtedly legitimate, but it is important not to lose sight of the common cause. Retreating back to political doctrines and launching a dogmatic attack on SYRIZA is not a position we advocate.
Now is not the time for cynicism; now is the time for hope. SYRIZA’s success depends on us all. We need to step up our political pressure and create the space necessary for the government and people of Greece to be able to embark on a new political era. This historic moment is the best chance Europe has had for a long time to enact real change. Let’s use it.
First we take Athens, then we take …!