Tuesday

16th Oct 2018

Feature

Greece turns left: What next?

  • Spanish left-wing MEP and Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias made a guest star appearance next to Alexis Tsipras at Syriza's main elections rally on 22 January in Athens (Photo: Keep Talking Greece)

Across Greece people will tell you the country is a litmus test for the rest of the continent, that where Greece goes Europe will follow.

The country has been devastated by austerity. The far-right has flourished, suicide rates have doubled, half of all young people are unemployed and island paradises have been sold off to Oligarchs.

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  • The victory of the radical left-wing party Syriza marks uncharted territory in anti-austerity politics (Photo: The All-Nite Images)

The victory of the radical left-wing party Syriza in Greece marks uncharted territory in anti-austerity politics. The next weeks and months will be vital in determining if Greece and Europe can steer a new economic and political course.

“First we take Athens, then we take Madrid”

On the final electoral rally of Syriza on Thursday evening (24 January) in the working class Omonia district of Athens, Leonard Cohen was been played to a crowd of enthusiastic Syriza supporters before Pablo Iglesias the leader of Podemos came to the stage.

Iglesias, who heads the one-year old sister party to Syriza born out of the Indignados movement in Spain, came to the stage to chant: “First we take Manhattan then we take Berlin!” quoting the lyrics of the famous Cohen song before voracious applause.

“First we take Athens and then we take Madrid” has since become a regular slogan amongst Syriza supporters.

At a Syriza UK discussion a few days before, Stathis Kouvalakis, a lecture at Kings College and a member of the Syriza central committee and one of the driving ideologues behind the party, said that “the greatest asset Syriza has in Europe is Podemos”.

This sentiment is echoed across Athens. Giving his victory speech outside the Athens University before banners and flags of several tongues and hues Alexis Tsipras the youthful leader of Syriza declared “this is a victory for all the peoples of Europe fighting austerity”.

It is anti-austerity sentiment across Europe that will be the main bargaining chip for Syriza in the coming months. The party wishes to remain in both the eurozone and the EU whilst renegotiating the country's crippling debt with its creditors.

They wish to “repay Greece's debt based on the growth vector of the country” according to Kouvolakis instead of through cuts to public services.

They propose a moratorium on debt in Europe's crisis countries based on the 1953 reduction of German debt following the second world war. Their argument is one that resonates with a lot of people in Europe's south.

Hundreds of Italians made the trip across the Adriatic to celebrate on Sunday night and instigate endless renditions of 'Bella ciao' with the crowds outside the Syriza 'kiosk' on Klathmonos square.

“Hope is coming”

Although the message of hope has attracted a lot of people here in Athens, there are those who feel Syriza's message cannot go beyond rhetoric.

“I like what he [Tsipras] says. But I just don't believe him.” Said Dimitri, a 45-year-old taxi driver as he drove past a rather empty New Democracy tent on Syntagma square.

“He wants to give more money to the pensioners, good. But where will it come from? I don't like [PM]Samaras but he knows how to talk to Europe and that is where the money is. In six months Greece will be bankrupt.”

Ultimately it will be Tspiras' ability to talk to Europe that will decide the country's fate.

Although European leaders have taken a more conciliatory tone toward Syriza as they looked sure to gain power, there will be tough negotiations ahead between Athens and the Troika (of the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission).

The leftist party's slogan in the run-up to the election has been “hope is coming”. While not everyone buys into the Obama-esque optimism of the campaign, most Greeks want a different economic direction.

“Nobody believes everything will transform from one day to another. But the current deal we have with the EU has to change. If Tsipras stays strong to his word he will be able to force Germany to listen”, said Stamoulis, 24, a waiter from Meganissi in western Greece.

Along with the rise of Podemos, Syriza's other weapon is of course the option of a unilateral default on the country's debt, which would cause turmoil in the eurozone. However this is the last possible bargaining chip that poses a whole range of potential problems.

Two seats short of the absolute majority it was hoping for, Syriza is set to team up with the right-wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks, and will have to make some economic concessions to them too.

This will moderate their ability to go guns blazing to Brussels with drastic options.

Social Pharmacies

Where the state has failed volunteers and communities have stepped in to provide basic services such as medicine, food and social care for society's poorest.

One such community-driven 'social pharmacy' in Galatsi estimates they arrange voluntary health visits by doctors and nurses to 120 people each week, most of whom have chronic diseases.

Austerity has quite visibly caused the state to fail to provide basic services to citizens and the Greeks have protested this at the ballot box.

The question now is to what extent will the new government be able to implement its mandate of ending austerity without causing further turmoil.

How the rest of Europe reacts will determine a big part of that question.

As the broken banners and empty Alfa cans are swept away from Klathmonos square, it remains to be seen how the victory will play out in Brussels and Berlin.

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