By: Tesha Teshanovic
In order to give a picture of the moment, we decided to interview two people with opposing views on Syriza. The first one is Dimitrios Papageorgiou, a Greek right wing journalist from Athens, the second one is Joshua Tartakovsky, an independent left wing journalist and film maker from Jerusalem.
What are your comments on the victory of Syriza at this elections?
Dimitrios Papageorgiou: It was something bound to happen. The New Democracy’s government had all the aspects of a government that was going to soon crumble. And since the socialist party is almost non-existent nowadays, a big part of it is part of SYRIZA now, it was the only logical assumption that they too would gain power at some point.
Joshua Tartakovsky: The victory of Syriza has immense ramifications for Greece, Europe and even the world. For the first time in Greek history, a party that is truly on the Left, combining Communist, Socialist and Green elements, won the elections in Greece.
It should be remembered that it was the so-called socialist PASOK of George Papandreou, that agreed to the bail-out plans laid out by the Troika, which entailed austerity for the Greek people while the center-right party, New Democracy, continued this path. This austerity meant, in real terms, decline in wages, pensions being cut by 40%, the economy shrinking by 26%, wages declining, prices rising, and the government cutting down on health and education.
The Greek people saw no future in sight with austerity and recession,and if there is one place where neoliberal capitalism clearly failed, it is in Greece. Therefore, the Greek people decided to vote for a party that offered hope, writing off citizens debt, providing electricity for those who cannot pay and expanding the public sector, while, of course, ending austerity. The victory of Syriza is a radical change from business as usual in Greece. In a country where a military dictatorship was once the norm, and where the Greek Communists were massacred and betrayed by pro-Nazi collaborators and by Winston Churchill in 1945, a party whose many of its members comes from the Communist tradition is finally in power.
Neeless to say, the Old Guard and traditional strongholds of power are not too happy with this and may try to impede Syriza’s steps in various ways. Syriza knows that the economic conditions of the people are dire and that social policies must address these problems. It is not a party that will continue the same neoliberal policies, and if it will, the disappointed populace is likely to rebel against it.
Dimitrios Papageorgiou: I doubt Greece can be brought out of its current financial problems with any kind of government, that has had to make deals with the exact same interest groups and lobbyists that gain money from Greece’s woes, especially the Anglo-Saxon banking system and its big funds and investors. It might cancel some austerity measures, but it will be done the same way that certain groups enjoyed generous handouts in the previous generations.
It is done by loaning and putting the burden on the shoulders of the younger generations. As for the negotiation part, I think that these decisions are not actually taken in Greece, but in Berlin, Paris, London and Brussels. The rest of the EU countries are more like sattelites at the moment.
Joshua Tartakovsky: Syriza is in a very difficult position. On the one hand, it must deliver to the Greek people a better quality of life, provide for a third of the population that is impoverished, and practice, at least to a significant degree, its ambitious social agenda. On the other hand, Greece will be undoubtedly, heavily pressured by Germany and the Troika in various ways, and this can be expected to be an all-out war in which everything is permissible. Cutting the country short of a cash line for emergency times is only one option of many. If Syriza compromises to a significant degree but cannot provide for the people, it will be replaced. The economic situation in Greece is very dire. The question therefore is whether the Troika will understand Greece’s predicament, realize that austerity has failed and agree to a significant debt reduction.
It may be willing to compromise by making aesthetic changes but it appears that it cannot compromise significantly, to a point that will satisfy Syriza. Greece still needs money for its social programs, and it is far from certain that the Troika can offer it, as most of the revenues have been gone for debt payment. If Syriza holds its grounds, Germany will be in a difficult position, since it knows that if it gives in to Greece, Spain will follow with its demands after a Podemos victory.
For this reason, as well as due to the economic orthodoxies the Troika adheres to, and due to a general dislike of Syriza, it seems to me more likely that the negotiations will fail and Syriza will have to leave the euro and come up with a Plan B which would involve the BRICS, especially Russia. Other scenarios in which a third party pays and Greece remains inside the euro are also possible.
What about relations towards Russia? Is the new Greek government pro Russian?
Dimitrios Papageorgiou: In the rhetorics department all Greek governments were friendly with Russia, with the exception of the Papandreou government and his successor in PASOK, Venizelos. The issue is what’s being done on the level of reality. We will have to wait and see any actual changes in the foreign policy.
Joshua Tartakovsky: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said several months ago that the new government in Ukraine contains neo-Nazis and that he opposes sanctions against Russia. Tsipras has visited Moscow in March and met with politicians who are sanctioned by the US. It should be remembered that on the same day of his inauguration as Prime Minister of Greece, Tsipras visited Kaisariani where 200 Greek Communist partisans were executed by the Nazis and laid roses there. The sympathy that many Syriza members have towards Russia cannot be underestimated.
At the same time, Tsipras is pragmatic and cannot rock the boat with his opposition to EU sanctions as long as he is in the EU and negotiating for debt relief. Syriza’s government however, did manage to remove a phrase that blamed Russia for the incident in Mariupol and the vote was on sanctions that were already in place and not on their extension.
The right-wing Independent Greeks party which is now part of the government, is generally pro-Russia and anti-Germany. However, whereas Syriza is generally pro-Russia due to its opposition to fascism and sympathy to Russia, Panos Kammenos is pro-Russia due to his dislike of Germany and since he sees Russians as Orthodox brothers. Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, Kammenos said that ” “we publicly support President Putin and the Russian government who have protected our Orthodox brothers in Crimea”. That Kammenos visited Moscow in January 2015, during the election campaign indicates that he is strongly pro-Russia.
Both Syriza and the Independent Greeks are anti-austerity, anti-Germany and pro-Russia.
Dimitrios Papageorgiou: I expect to soon have official gay marriages in Greece, since SYRIZA is comprised of different “small parties” that include these kinds of “special interest” groups. In its role in the opposition SYRIZA continuously lobbied for “gay rights”, for “anti-sexist” legislation, even for harder “anti-racist” laws that should include “homophobia” of some kind.
SYRIZA wants the Greek church and state to be ripped apart, and that was obvious in the denial of their ministers to take a religious vow, and of course the fact that their leader Tsipras has announced himself as an atheist and refused to baptize his kids or marry their mother. On the other hand there are many that support SYRIZA in the church. Denying those things is not just denying their religious importance but also their traditional importance.
Joshua Tartakovsky: In an interview two years ago, Alexis Tsipras said he will consider the question of gay marriage after he solves the financial problems Greece is facing. Syriza has generally supported the separation of church and state. However, during his election campaign, Tsipras visited the monastery of Agio Oros in Mount Athos and was received warmly by the Orthodox clergy. He clearly expressed his respect for the Orthodox faith and for the importance it has for Greece and in Greek history.
Tsipras celebrated Epiphany Day in Piraeus and again was well received by the clergy. At the same time, he did not make his oath on the Bible when sworn in as prime minister. Tsipras therefore has shown tremendous respect for the Orthodox faith even while personally he may be more secular. His coalition partner, the Independent Greeks are pro-Church and against gay marriage. However, these issues are not expected to come to the forefront any time soon as solving Greece’s economic debacle is the most pressing and urgent issue.
How big is the problem in Greece with illegal immigration? What will Syriza do with that? Is that a threat for Greek people?
Dimitrios Papageorgiou: It is huge. And it is part of why the system in Greece has collapsed in every aspect. The health system, the employment system, everything has to do with Greece being swamped with immigrants. This is probably the most scary for me part of the SYRIZA agenda. Citizenship to all immigrants’ children, born and raised in Greece, was announced by the minister’s deputy for immigrational policy Tasia Christodoulopoulou.
She gave emphasis to the “restoration” of all those children that knew no other home, even those that were not born here, but came very early in Greece and grew up here, finished school here”.
One can easily understand that we are talking about staunch defenders of multiculturalism.
We will probably see also voting rights given to immigrants. The same minister mrs Christodoulopoulou also said that it is a “duty” to have an open corridor for immigrants to Europe.
Greeks generally disagree with these positions and voted SYRIZA for its fiscal policies, but they will go through with them, in order to appease the hardcore new-leftists that comprise a big part of its base.
Joshua Tartakovsky: Syriza spoke out in the past against the difficult conditions in detention centers, also named “ghetto areas” for refugees. There are now about 44,000 asulum-seekers in Greece. Syriza will be more lenient on asylum for those in need and will relax the policy of sending migrants back. However, it will seek to renegotiate the Dublin Agreement of 1990 which means that migrants must be settled in the first country in which they arrive, as Greece bears the burden for this.
Dimitrios Papageorgiou: Well it is a historical moment, since it is the first time a radical left party has taken actual power in the EU I think. It could definitely be a turning point. But in both ways. Should SYRIZA fail we will probably see a conservative turn in the whole of Europe. Should it succeed even partially, we will see more parties like this bidding for power.
Joshua Tartakovsky: The victory of Syriza is, without a doubt, a radical challenge for the EU as a whole. For the first time in EU history, a government of the South, dares to challenge the neoliberal orthodox doctrines and imperatives laid out by the EU, European Central Bank and the IMF. This means that finally, the Greeks have an opportunity to express their opinion and demand a debt renegotiation and an end to austerity.
This is, of course, there democratic right, but it also sheds light on the fact that the way the EU has punished Greece, Spain and Italy with austerity, was undemocratic. Therefore confrontation is inevitable. Due to Syriza’s victory, Podemos in Spain is reenergized and people in Italy, Portugal and Ireland are also following closely. Greece has the potential to radically change the EU, or at the very least, if it does not back away from its demands, break itself free from undemocratic neo-liberal chains placed on it by the Troika.
In light of this, it is not difficult to understand why Brussels and Berlin view Syriza with great alarm and to predict that immense pressures will be placed on it to conform. Still, it has a young, bold, highly educated and courageous team, and it will probably know how to deal with the pressures.
Syriza cannot disappoint the public since incredible hope has been placed in it and the situation on the ground is unsustainable. The degree to which Syriza will be able to hold its ground in negotiations will send a message to Podemos in Spain and to other countries. Therefore, the stakes are very high.