The Rise of Syriza – When Democracy Doesn’t Do What It’s Told

The results of the Greek election are being systematically belittled by the notion that Syriza is just another product of Greek desperation. In European and American media, the radical Greek left is being treated similarly to the extreme right; like a chilly populist wind that hopefully will soon blow over. Never mind the fact that Syriza’s party structure is populated by professors, community organizers and even resistance fighters who defended the country against the Nazis during the second world war, as opposed to the buffoonish thugs of The Golden Dawn. Never mind that the politics of austerity have confessedly failed, making the rise of Syriza a logical democratic occurrence rather than a desperate measure. Again we see democracy devalued when it leads to the “wrong” outcome. Or as David Cameron so diplomatically put it: “the election results in Greece will increase uncertainty.”

The election results in Greece should increase uncertainty, because they are more historic than anyone dares to admit. So let’s just state the obvious and slightly uncomfortable truth: a European country has elected a Marxist government in 2015. But it doesn’t end there. In Spain, a similar party called Podemos went from not even existing in 2013 to receiving eight percent of the votes in the European Parliament election in 2014, and a membership of 310,000 paying members. You can look at Italy and Portugal and find similar mass movements and similar demands for raising the minimum wage and introducing maximum wage regulations, raising the income tax for the super wealthy, health benefits for the unemployed: could these be the things that are causing uncertainty? Fear of an anti-austerity domino effect across Europe?

Or maybe they just want their money back, and hence they are worried. Nothing wrong with expecting a country to honor its commitments, except for the fact that it is slightly unfair to send 300,000 people back to the middle ages by depriving them of electricity, or taking away the jobs of one quarter of the population. It is equally uncool to subtly – or not so subtly – repeat the idea of laziness and corruption in the Greek national spirit as the main cause of this problem. Taking away a people’s dignity is never a good idea, but it is a particularly bad idea to do so when all evidence suggests that it is not giving you the (putatively) desired outcome. The numbers are in, and austerity has simply failed.

It should not be so hard to understand how Syriza could win such a landslide victory. They are definitely not a part of the old corrupt establishment, which automatically gives them a moral advantage in the eyes of the Greek people. Syriza’s members of parliament donate 20 percent of their salaries to a humanitarian organization called Solidarity for all, and many of the party members are grass roots activists and aid workers – a good way to make friends in a country where mortality rates are rising and medicine is often scarce. All this may be an elaborate façade, but if they are what they appear to be, the Greek voters could have done much worse.