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Does Anti-Austerity Still Mean Anything In Syriza’s Greece?

J.N. PAQUET photo
J.N. PAQUETLondon
Does Anti-Austerity Still Mean Anything In Syriza’s Greece?
Our exclusive reporting on populism continues with Greece, where a growing radical change in politics led to an unconventional radical-left party running the country since 2015. But what have we learnt from Greece’s "Syriza experiment"?

Our exclusive reporting on populism in the world continues with Greece, the birthplace of democracy. Western civilisation owes nearly everything to Greece from modern politics to philosophy, literature, arts and scientific thought.

Syriza (a Greek syllabic abbreviation for “Coalition of the Radical Left”was originally founded in 2004 as a very eclectic coalition of green and left-wing parties and social/citizen/activist movements (including Eurocommunists, Maoists, left socialists, ecologists, Marxists and Trotskyites). According to the party’s website, “Syriza draws inspiration from the progressive anti-neoliberal changes in Latin America and promotes close relations with many left forces in that region including with the São Paulo Forum.” Something they have in common with Spain’s Podemos, as we have already explained in the previous chapter.

The left-wing anti-austerity radical party gradually benefitted from the deepening radicalisation in Greece that started with the “Indignant Citizens Movement”, a set of non-violent protests that lasted three months, between May and August 2011, and that took place throughout the country. The people of Greece protested against years of austerity, political turmoil, corruption and behind-the-scene negotiations taking place between the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and the centre-right Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy, ND) after and during both the Great Recession of 2007 and the Greek debt crisis that followed. The largest demonstration on 5 June gathered up to 300,000 people in front of the Greek Parliament. Amid a violent police crackdown, the square was eventually evacuated before new demonstrations took place again later.


Alexis Tsipras
 (Credit photo |CC| 2012, by FrangiscoDer)

With its 52 newly elected MPs, Syriza became the second largest party in parliament behind New Democracy. However, the negotiations between parties to form a government failed and Greece was forced into having a snap General election a month later.

A new General election eventually took place on 25 January 2015 in which Syriza grabbed more than 2.2 million votes (36.3%) and 149 out of 300 seats in parliament, only two seats short of a majority. After forming what can only be described as an odd alliance with the right-wing conservative Party of Independent Greeks (ANEL) — an openly anti-liberal, anti-multiculturalism, anti-immigration and pro-Greek Orthodoxy political party, in order to reach a majority, Alexis Tsipras became the new Greek Prime minister.

There were concerns for Europe’s defence and security chiefs because of the more and more apparent links between Syriza and Russia. Anton Shekhovtsov, a researcher who studies far-right politics in Europe, told the Financial Times that with Tsipras in power, “Russia will certainly be looking to capitalise on the win of Syriza and pro-Kremlin sentiments that are fairly widespread in Greek society but especially in these parties. Their foreign policy is overtly, openly pro-Russia. And the fact that the new government’s prime minister’s first contacts were with the ambassador of Russia in Greece (The first foreign official Tsipras invited to the Maximos Mansion in Athens was indeed Andrey Maslov, Russia’s ambassador), that means probably they will be trying to establish more significant cooperation with Russia.”

(Twitter @tsipras_eu)
 

Back at the negotiation table, a few days later, Tsipras agreed on a new loan of €82–86bn in exchange for a series of 49 austerity measures among which: Increase of the VAT, pension system reform, cut in public spending, revocation of government’s laws, bank recapitalisation, privatisation of €50bn of state assets and decrease of public sector cost.

Oddly enough, the people of Greece voted to keep in power the populists of Syriza, whose anti-austerity government took them through a referendum for which they were asked to vote against an austerity deal, before they eventually stroke a controversial deal a week later that actually meant Greece would then face even more and tougher austerity measures than before.

Within weeks after Alexis Tsipras second premiership began, the government faced a formidable backlash with farmers, doctors, pharmacists, port workers, civil servants and metro staff demonstrating in the streets because of the new set of measures. This was Greece’s first general strike since Syriza formed the government.

By reaching power in Greece, Tsipras’ Syriza has become part of the establishment it once despised and shouted slogans against in...

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