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With Syriza, the Greek People Can Revive Hope in Europe

For Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s candidate, an absolute majority in Parliament would be an asset in order to impose a renegotiation of the Greek debt.

Translated Sunday, January 25, 2015, by Isabelle Métral.

For Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s candidate, an absolute majority in Parliament would be an asset in order to impose a renegotiation of the Greek debt. The radical Left’s leader promises to set up “a government for all Greek people” if his party comes first in Sunday’s election.

From our special correspondent in Athens:

Syriza is well and truly set to get into the saddle. The last twenty-five opinion polls broadcast by the Greek media all point in the same direction: the anti-austerity Left is in pole position. On the eve of a crucial general election, it even pulls further ahead of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy. The only question is how much leeway will electors give Alexis Tsipras’ party in Parliament. Short of the absolute majority, Syriza would have to seek alliances in a confusing scene where split-offs cloud party lines as a result of the political crisis. “The stronger Syriza will come out, the safer the country’s future,” Alexis Tsipras insisted in Thessalonike last Tuesday and in Patras last Wednesday. Addressing thousands of supporters, he asked electors to give him a clear majority so that he can implement Syriza’s Leftist platform without having to negotiate and settle for less.

By all appearances, all the international pressure and threats from international financial institutions, all Brussels’ warnings have only fueled the Greeks’ determination to push austerity policies down under. Hence the aggressive radical strategy chosen by Antonis Samaras’ New Democracy. A leading figure in association with the disastrous policies dictated by the Troika (the European Central bank, the IMF, the European Commission), the Greek prime minister is hoping to hedge his losses by posing as the guardian of Greece’s future in the EU. “To initiate a conflict with Europe would be disastrous for Greece,” he insists, without ever assessing the results of the incumbent team’s policies. Never mind that they are disastrous from a social point of view, with an unemployment rate that stands at 27% (and peaks at 50% among young people), and are also significantly heavier on the lower classes. The social distress has worsened into a real humanitarian crisis, where an increasing proportion of the population are unable to meet their elementary needs in terms of food, health, and housing. Those that have newly fallen below the poverty line depend on the solidarity of their families and on volunteer social networks for keeping barely afloat.

Public services sold off to multinationals.

The austerity policies have spread their poison in the country’s economy. 90,000 small and medium-sized companies have been driven out of business between 2008 and 2011. The country’s frail productive foundation has gone bust, while public companies ahave been sold off to multinationals, pension funds and the Greek financial top-brass. To Yannis Eustathopoulos, an economist who works for the General Labour Confederation’s Labour Institute, the policies that have been implemented over the last five years “have contributed to a new model of economic growth based on the degradation of labour, of social rights, of the environment, and of territorial cohesion,” without these mutations however resulting in an alleviation of the public debt. It now stands at 175% of the GDP, against 113% in 2009 before the crisis. As to the 226,7 billion euro in aid granted by the Troïka since 2010 – in exchange for a stringent structural adjustment program – they have on the whole directly or indirectly benefited the financial sector.

In view of this poor track record, the statement of Wolfgang Schaüble, German Finance Minister, exhorting the Greek people to keep to the track of austerity and “accept the Troika’s control”, is ill received. Indeed it gives momentum to the campaign of Alexis Tsipras, who maintains that the only solution lies in “the cancellation of the greater part” of the debt since it is “unsustainable” and in its “restructuring” with a growth tag attached to it. Whereas the Right, which finds renegotiation unrealistic, waves the specter of “Grexit”, Syriza’s leader declares himself ready for a show of strength, even if the tactics were to lead Greece to exit from the euro zone if needs be. “Where would the line be drawn? How many suicides, how many school and hospital closures would we accept to take? Would 150 euro be the tolerable minimum for wages, and 100 euro for pensions? And how many million unemployed people and poor people? If you ask us the question, we will give you a clear answer: the euro must be compatible with dignity, justice, and solidarity,” Tsipras declared yesterday in his address to the Greek diaspora.

If Tsipras should not win the absolute majority, however, he would have to seek an agreement with other political forces. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) has so far been opposed to the principle of collaborating with Syriza. But this week it made a short step in the direction of a conditional support, no doubt to reassure its electors who might opt for a Syriza vote. “Of course, if circumstances permit and if the government proposes a law to stop the regression, we shall support it,” Dimitris Koutsoubas, the party’s secretary promises. But he stakes a clear limit: “If the Communist party openly supports this kind of government, it will lose the trust the people have placed in us; this would just alienate the people’s feelings – as has been the case with other communist parties that have supported governments.”

Pasok’s social democrats at a loss to reposition themselves

Practically wiped out by their support of the memorandums that laid down the austerity measures and by the impopularity of the incumbent coalition, Pasok’s social democrats seek to reposition themselves. Evangelos Venizelos, the vice prime minister and Foreign secretary says he is ready to support “ a national unity government” that included “supporters of the country’s European future”. A similar move towards Syriza was made by Stavros Théodorakis, a former famous TV figure that opted for politics and founded To Potami (the river) – a party that advocates “social policies” and a strict negotiation of the public debt”. Tsipras himself promises to set up a government for all Greeks if his party comes first in the polls – without the supporters of the memorandum. [1]

1. The “memorandum” is the document issued by the European Commission, setting forth their demands for crippling austerity policies put into place in 2011. The “memorandum” quickly became the focus for the popular discontent that arose in May 2010. The European Commission describes the memorandum in different terms.

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