All quiet on the Eastern Front?

LeftEast, the East European Left platform for analyses and struggles beyond national borders
 
Interview with Rossen Djagalov, Mariya Ivancheva, Mary Taylor, on behalf of the LeftEast collective
 
 
When  did  you start LeftEast? What were your main aims? 
LeftEast is an international platform for informed analyses where we also share information, election or action reports and solidarity statements that come from different movements in Eastern Europe and beyond. It was founded as a result of the growing communication between individuals and groups in the newly emerging Left in the post-socialist world. It started in late 2013 as a follow-up initiative of a series of summer encounters on the neoliberalization of the post-socialist world. The first one was co-organized in 2011 by Mary Taylor in Budapest. The launching of the website itself was a result of the second summer school in Budapest in the summer of 2012, and a follow-up meeting in Bucharest that same winter organized by the Romanian left-wing web-portal CriticAtac, which still hosts LeftEast. It was clear to all of us, that each group is locally engaged, and internationally connected, but we know each other’s reality mostly through word of mouth and the scarce and often biased, shallow, or misinformed analyses in the mainstream media in the West. We understood the need to break with the dependence on the West as a source of funding, information, and as an ideational center through which all our collaboration has been mediated in the past. Instead we needed to strengthen the links between movements and struggles in our part of the world, and also open up to further peripheral countries and regions from which we have been divided due to different historical experience and taxonomies of knowledge production. In this sense, LeftEast is not a movement or an initiative that comes out of one movement or struggle, but rather a space where such movements and struggles can find expression and space for debate.
 
Please give us some information about how you function: editorial board, gathering the texts, standards and rules etc.
The editorial board consists of a core of around ten people who do not function as a political collective with unitary opinion, but who express an amalgam of opinions and positions from different tendencies on the Left. We also have contributing editorial board members who are less active in the day-to-day function of the webportal, but produce, edit, or solicit texts with specific geographical or topical focus. We usually solicit texts through our networks of activists and scholars who work in/on the region. Facebook –a necessary evil– is also very helpful in this regard, as we often encourage people to turn their long critical comments we encounter there into short opinion pieces. Once a text arrives, at least two of us read and comment on it. As some of us have native or close to native knowledge of English, we also do proofreading. After all, most of our authors are not native English speakers. We feed editorial and language comments back to our authors. We see this as a longer process of learning both for them and for us.  Sometimes we solicit translations from texts published in some of our kindred platforms from the region. We do our work 100% on a voluntary basis and so do the voluntary translators. This means we all have full-time jobs that have little to do with LeftEast. Each one of us is active in other initiatives locally where she or he is based. And this, by now, is often outside the region. So, LeftEast gives us a unique opportunity to stay connected with the region and –hopefully– to help movements connect, get to know of each other, and get coverage outside their national context. We also try to meet every year in summer encounters – we ’ve held such in Budapest, Sofia, Kaunas, and this year we plan to have one in Istanbul. 
 
The name of the platform is “Left East”. 

The name was actually invented by Costi Rogozanu from the CriticAtac web portal after the Bucharest meeting in 2012. Back then the discussion rotated around names that were heavier, not easy to remember, and definitely exceeded our ambitions – like The East International or East Left Review. Retrospectively, LeftEast was shorter, smarter, and funnier. As your readers might have guessed, it reflects a joke – in everyday Eastern European English it sounds like ['leftist] – the verdict of the infantile disorder of the Left according to V.I. Lenin. As this was a pilot project, the joke was on us, but so was also a more relaxed atmosphere than a longer title would have suggested, so we went along with it. In fact, it spared us “the naming debate” which kills the energy of many collectives at the start. 
 
First, Left. What does  “Left” mean to you, in the 21th century?...
This is a broader debate in which we enter rather with an exploratory mission than with the aim of giving firm and definite answers. What is important to know is that LeftEast functions as an editorial collective, but not as a political collective: in the sense that we rarely publish shared editorial texts or try to have a political line that represents the whole editorial board. We come from different tendencies within the contemporary radical Left in Europe and beyond: autonomous Marxists, Leninists, Trotskysts from different tendencies, anarcho-syndicalists etc... We do share firm anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-authoritarian, decolonial, and egalitarian beliefs. We try ourselves and encourage others to connect political economy oriented analysis with empirical research or experiential knowledge that take into account complex intersections between class, gender, race, and sexual identities. So rather than taking firm positions and political lines, we try to read most materials together and try to generate and curate debates among authors. Surprising as it sounds given all the traditional splits within the Left, it mostly works. 
 
…and, secondly, “East.” How do you describe this region (Balkans and East Europe and…)? And is this “East”  mainly,  a  geographical, historical, or political, concept/term? In your “About” section you say: «The aim is to constitute an alternative to the way we see the region but also to the type of intellectual production historically associated with this part of the world». Please tell us some more on this.
It technically means that we are dealing with the complexities that divisive historical processes have played in the region. We try to resist simple Cold War taxonomies of knowledge, which designate as socialist and post-socialist only East European countries, or stratify them even further into the Baltics, Central Europe, the West Balkans, Southeast Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Caucasus, Central Asia, etc., looking for shared patterns. We try to engage critically with different possible or imagined alliances (e.g. a Balkan or Transdanubian federation), also linking past and present experiences of socialism or projects for radical anti-capitalist social change. We are also interested in transversal knowledge that brings together countries beyond these divisions, for example, Latin America and Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey, etc. Still, due to shared experiences, and contingent circumstances (our origin or research), we are still mostly focused on the formerly state-socialist regions of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Most texts come from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, former Yugoslav countries, and less so from the North or further East. We have more recently tried to reach out to authors and cover topics in other geographies, including a few texts on Latin America and Asia, and have had a strong focus on Turkey and Russia. 
 
There are certain objective obstacles in this expansion: the further we move from the region, the thinner our networks become. Our audience (for the most part Eastern European) also seems to recognize LeftEast as a source of information and analysis about the region, while looking for information on foreign contexts in better established or geographically-specific Left-wing sources. Interestingly, one of our Greek readers and friends (Dimitra Kofti, Greek anthropologist working on Bulgaria) recently asked why we don’t cover Greece. Seems we've unreflectively reproduced one of these divisions we set out to problematize. True, Greece stayed on the “other” side of the Iron Curtain as part of Southern European and second wave EU member countries (PIIGS) and has been –unlike Eastern European countries– covered widely in Left-wing media. The assymetry became ever greater when Syriza was rising to power while the Left in Eastern Europe is still tiny and mostly politically marginalized. Since then Greece has been discussed by our writers, some of whom have contributed to AnalyzeGreece - a kindred English language portal - but Greece has mostly stayed out of our focus. Of course, we would be only delighted if you or your readers send us articles on Greece to publish, that include analysis sensitive to the different historical experiences within the Balkan peninsula. 
 
I would like to hear your thoughts on Syriza and the Syriza government. What does it mean for the movements  and the Left of the Balkans and Europe?
As an editorial collective we don't have a common view of Syriza, and neither do East European movements: for some groups/individuals connected to LeftEast, Syriza was never a real revolutionary alternative; others saw it as a last hope. In the region it was for a few years a hope that a socialist government can put other issues on the agenda of national and EU level politics, which our governments did not. We were all excited and campaigned in solidarity with the Greek people during the referendum in July 2015. Yet, both the Troika dealing and the Tsipras governments’ reaction were sobering and disappointing. Not so much the last-moment surrender, but rather their not having thought of a Plan B –Grexit – and actually preparing for it. While this was all happening, however, many of us realized a second, retroactive disappointment: how was it that a similar solidarity on the Western Left was nowhere to be found in the 1990s at a time when Eastern Europe –without a real Left in government– went through even more severe cycles of crisis and dispossession? So now it’s no surprise that solidarity is not there to be found - Greece still seemed affluent when looked at from e.g. Bulgaria or Moldova. Currently, we’ ve been engaged – individually and at times collectively through texts or invites we receive - in critical dialogue both around Lexit in the UK, and around DiEM’s attempts to revive a democratic Europe. As members of the editoral collective we have different opinions on these and the future of the EU or the lack thereof.  As for Syriza – for good or for bad, the refugee crisis sheds new light on how far the Greek government is ready to go in obeying the Troika, reneging on its mandate. Sure, the brutal economic blackmail doesn't help, but it's disappointing none-the-less...
 
And then, I would like to ask you about your view on the refugee/immigrants issue, and especial the deal (the deal of shame, in my opinion) between the EU and Turkey.
The current dangerous liaisons of Turkey and the EU are one of the reasons why this year we are trying to hold our summer encounter in Turkey. The connection of Turkey to the region is complex, both because of lasting anti-Islamic sentiments due to the legacy of the Ottoman empire and to modern-day Turkey which have been key geopolitical players in the region. We are all clearly outraged by the dirty deal between the EU and Turkey. It uses taxpayers' money neither for economical and political integration of migrants escaping war and economic warfare, nor for the ending of the war and reparation of societies destroyed by war and plundered by neocolonial relations. It technically uses the Turkish state as an eager mercenary to fend off Fortress Europe from these migrants, while waging war on migrants and minorities. This is no surprise – the EU has been a key imperial power in the neocolonial exercise called “Euroatlantic integration” through which our region has gone since the 1980s. Inhuman reforms allowed millions of people in the region to become unemployed and homeless overnight while factories, land and buildings were privatized and remained empty. The neoliberal restructuring let people die without access to medical care while medical concerns and private doctors accumulated enormous sums. It allowed governments to cut even the miserable pensions, maternal and unemployment benefits for those most vulnerable under the premise of the survival of the fittest in a  “healthy” society of cut-throat competition. So as with the Greek crisis, we see the current intervention of the EU rather in continuity with its inhuman policies and tendency to defend elite interests and outsource its problems and create reserve armies by dividing and ruling its periphery. Sadly, the refugee crisis has exacebrated the fear of dispossession which our people experienced in the 1990s, and has pitted many against the migrants, instead of turning them against the elites.
 
What is the current situation, in other words, what are the main problems and prospects on the Left and among the movements in the region?
We have increasingly authoritarian governments driven by capitalist lobbies and not willing to obey even the simple rule of law. While the Left in Europe is raging against evil trade agreements as CETA and TTIP, Eastern European countries have been exposed to the detrimental results of the association agreements with the EU and bilateral trade agreements with European and North American countries, which contain the ISDS and which have twisted the hands of countries into deals that clearly go against the popular interest. At the same time, while the Left is ever further vilified and condemned by conservatives, liberals, and oligarchic social democrats, the right extreme has presented itself as the only alternative that “cares for the people”. The reemergence of Putin's Russia as some new hero for part of the Western and local Left has made it ever more difficult to form alliances locally and internationally. At a time of refugee crisis and the fight over non-existent or severely cut labour and welfare in the region, the Left-wing organizations are structurally volatile and severely underresourced: in each country many activists live abroad and are engaged in long-distance activism due to migration and precarity... In the final declaration of our encounter in Kaunas in 2015 (coorganized with activists based in South European countries), we said “The Balkans are the future of the PIIGS”. Unless the Left in Europe manages to find ways to fight back, it seems Eastern Europe will be the future of Europe. 
 
Rossen Djagalovis an Assistant Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at the New York University. Formerly an organizer for Yale’s graduate student union (GESO), he works on representations of labor and international leftist culture in general.
 
Mariya Ivancheva holds a PhD in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the Central European University in Budapest, on the topic of the higher education reform in Bolivarian Venezuela. She is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at University College Dublin and a member of Attac Ireland.
 
Mary Taylor is Assistant Director at the Center for Place, Culture and Politics, Graduate Center, City University of New York. Mary received her PhD in anthropology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her research focuses on sites, technologies and politics of civic cultivation, social movement, and cultural management; the relationship of ethics and aesthetics to nationalism, cultural differentiation, and people’s movements in socialist and post-socialist East-Central Europe and the United States. She specializes in studying, theorizing, and organizing radical and alternative pedagogical activities under different conditions of urbanization. 

 
Mariya Ivancheva, Mary Taylor, Rossen Djagalov were interviewed by Stratis Bournazos.
 
First published in Greek on “Enthemata” of the newspaper “Avgi”, 15.2016.
 

 
 
 
 
  • Published in EUROPE

Reviving or Overcoming Borders: A Choice for Europe

Interview of  Anna Triandafyllidou  to Antonis Galanopoulos
(re-published from  "Green European  Journal")

Over the past year, Europe, besides the economic crisis, has had to face another big challenge: the largest refugee flow since the Second World War. As a result, the concept of borders has been revived across Europe. Displacement on this scale, bringing with it serious socioeconomic consequences, cannot simply be stopped at the borders. To find solutions, the EU must act on several different levels: for better management of the reception, relocation and integration of refugees; greater cooperation with Turkey; and stepping up efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.


Recently there has been great debate about the Schengen Treaty all over Europe. What does it represent? What does it tell us about borders and about Europe? 
Schengen is very important from a symbolic perspective. The right to freely move and establish oneself in other European countries is the main positive point associated with the European Union that remains in the minds of European citizens. Of course, we should not confuse Schengen with the right to freely circulate within the EU and live or work in another Member State. But the mere fact of not having to go through passport controls is important, both practically and symbolically. In continental Europe, you can travel as if you moved inside the borders of a single country. Restarting border controls in some countries, in some cases, is not terrible, but starting generalised controls will be very bad. And I do not believe that this will solve anything.

Do you believe that we can have a truly ‘European’ system of borders or borders or are they inherently national features? How can we achieve a European border system if this Union is not really a Union at this stage?
We are clearly heading towards a European border system. As far as the international geopolitical crisis is concerned, it is clearly in the interest of all countries to have common European borders. We already have common borders in the EU: our external borders. But of course, these are guarded and managed by national forces. Again, they are important both politically and symbolically. But since these borders are not fully Europeanised, there is a political game there as to ‘whose border is it anyway’. There is currently a dangerous temptation for countries in the north and east who are furthest from the conflict regions to seek to isolate Greece geographically and use it as a buffer zone, since Turkey does not seem to fulfil this function.

During the current refugee crisis, many countries have decided to close their borders, reintroduce border controls and even construct fences. Can such measures be effective for the management of migration and refugee flows?
The fences and closing of borders are not effective practices to address such phenomena. Currently a very big reshuffle is taking place in the Middle East and North Africa and it does not depend on us, or Greece, Bulgaria, FYROM… not even Germany or the EU. It is not possible to stop such large socioeconomic changes at the borders. We try, of course, to influence and manage the flows but to say that we can stop them is simply demagogic. We cannot see ourselves and our borders isolated from the international environment. This will lead nowhere. We will spend all our money and all our energy trying to guard the borders, more people will get killed, the amounts that the smugglers are asking will increase. Several years later, we will realise that too many people have come to Europe in order to find protection, but without having the papers necessary, and that pockets of misery and terrible exploitation have been created.

Why are we seeing a return to borders nowadays?
For many politicians, it is easier to say that we will close our borders and we will protect ourselves. In addition, when you announce ‘the end of the world’, you hit the headlines of newspapers. If you say that this crisis is difficult, but we are trying and it takes efforts on behalf of everyone, you would be at page 10. We usually see that there may be a significant gap between the rhetoric that is for domestic consumption in each country, and the actual policy and practice.

If countries were exiting the EU, would that stop refugees from coming? No. That is not the case. In other words, if the EU were to isolate Greece geographically, seeking to contain the refugee flows going further north, this would not work as the asylum seekers and the smugglers would just find different routes. There is no easy solution. It is necessary to work on many parallel solutions; better management of reception, distribution and integration of refugees, cooperation with Turkey, an effort for peace in Middle East, which of course is not easy.

Right-wing populist politicians, like Viktor Orbán, insist on the idea that the closing of borders will preserve the national identity of a population. Why is this symbolic aspect of borders so important?
Borders are related to sovereignty, which is the essence of national self-determination. So it seems that if we manage to control the borders we can re-establish social order, public order, security… indeed, our high level of technological development and our affluence makes us think that we could isolate ourselves and thereby ensure our security, but this is a fallacy. It is precisely our technological progress and our affluence that make us so open and interdependent.
In my opinion, we are already moving towards a decline of the importance of borders because of regional groupings such as the EU. I think borders are very permeable today – by economy and trade, by cultural flows. They are open for those who are highly skilled or affluent. Borders are closed mostly for the poor and the less skilled, those with the ‘wrong’ passports. But overall we witness multi-polarity in international relations and growing interdependence. This is why borders are increasingly less important.
Another expression of how borders are permeable today is international terrorism. We can install as many controls as we want on our borders, but it is unlikely that this will be a good strategy to stop (prospective) terrorists.

Across Europe, approaches to integration vary as they are informed by different approaches of States towards their borders.  Could asylum and integration ever be managed at a European level?
The border issue has evolved separately from the issue of integration. The different inclusion and integration systems are mainly related to the definition of national identity and the historical experiences that every country has had in terms of both emigration and migration. We need a common asylum status that would be valid throughout the EU. But we do not need a European integration system. Integration is a local process and we have enough top-down coordination and policy exchange so far.

As Europeans, can we be satisfied with the EU’s management of the refugee crisis?
On the EU’s response, I see the glass as half-full. The European Commission’s officials (Jean-Claude Juncker, Federica Mogherini and Dimitris Avramopoulos) have shown great political will for the enforcement and promotion of European solutions. It is the EU member states that have not done their share, and have been disappointing. The EU has played its part. The member states are blocking the decisions and developments. But I repeat that this crisis is big and cannot be solved so easily.

Could you tell us more specifically what the Commission has done so far?  Why is the relation between the EU and its Member States so problematic in this area?
The Commission has put a lot of leadership in seeking the cooperation of source countries of migration and countries in the region1. It has put a lot of pressure on our fellow member states in the East to show solidarity and it has counteracted the easy demagogic pressures seeking to unload the burden and the blame to the peripheral countries. Naturally, the European Commission is not a national government in the way we understand it within a country, so it has limitations as to what it can and cannot do. The same is true for the European Parliament, which is consistently progressive and pro-European in its approach and tries to promote solidarity among Member States. It is perhaps the European Council (i.e. ultimately the Member States) that fail Europe and probably fail their citizens by repeating this claim that they could solve all problems effectively, if only they closed their borders.

There is a widespread belief that the key to the refugee crisis lies with Turkey. An initial agreement was reached recently but efforts are continuing…
It is essential to have better cooperation with Turkey. There are more than two million Syrian refugees, though, already in Turkey, 85% of whom live in cities and only 15% of whom are in accommodation centres. Until two years ago, Turkey was not even in the top 20 countries receiving refugees and now is in the top 3. What has happened in Turkey is huge. Currently, the EU is putting pressure on Turkey to act as a buffer zone in exchange for visa liberalisation. In addition, Turkey rightly also seeks more financial and operational assistance to deal with the 2.1 million Syrians that it hosts. This is a long term negotiation. I think Turks should be given visa liberalisation but should also be encouraged to manage better the migration and asylum flows through their country. Their practices only fuel the smuggling networks activities and profits.

What can we expect from the EU and its institutions such as Frontex in 2016 in order to improve the situation? What must be done?
So far, priority has been given to Frontex and border management, not asylum. Both in terms of financial resources and in terms of operational mandate. This could and should change in the current circumstances. We need a common European asylum system. There must be a fivefold increase of the power and budget of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). During 2013-2014, Frontex’s budget was 115 million euro per year and EASO’s was 15 million. It is also very important to create a European refugee status. We should give EASO such power and jurisdiction. That would allow us to strengthen the common European borders. We should focus mainly on EASO and not on Frontex. We also need an international plan for the resettlement of refugees in other countries, not only in Europe. Refugees should not only be distributed across Europe but in other countries as well, following Indochina’s example2.

What does the border crisis tell us about ourselves? Are migrants the new mirror in front of the European face, confronting it with its past, its incoherence?
I think the refugee crisis brings to the fore pre-existing tensions and dilemmas that have always been there. There is nothing qualitatively or politically new. The problem is that the crisis is of such large dimensions and that it comes after seven years of financial crisis and Eurozone crisis. So it is a difficult and delicate moment in Europe and for the EU. And then there is what we call in Greek “oi Kassandres” – that those that predict disasters are more easily heard than those who speak positively.


First published in English on "Green European Journal", vol. 12, "Border Games: Εurope's Shifting Lines", 11.3.2015.


Anna Triandafyllidou is Professor at the Global Governance Programme (GGP) of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS), European University Institute. She also teaches as Visiting Professor at the College of Europe in Bruges since 2002 and is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies.

Antonis Galanopoulos holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Political Theory and Philosophy (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki). He is blogger and contributor to various Greek digital and print media.
  • Published in EUROPE

How the E.U.-Turkey Deal Came to Be

Apostolis Fotiadis

German chancellor Angela Merkel has trumpeted the agreement to return Syrian refugees to Turkey from Greece as a "European solution." But with no real accord across the 28 member states, terms and conditions that will be difficult to put into practice and continuing arrivals to Greece, is it truly a breakthrough?

Turkey and the European Union last Friday announced a plan under which Syrian refugees and migrants arriving in Greece will be returned to Turkey. Turkey seems to have agreed to the terms and conditions, despite not all its demands having been met.

The deal also aims to address the dire conditions of Greece's asylum infrastructure. Greece is simply not equipped to cope with the current scales of arrivals, nor is it in a position to process large numbers of asylum requests and conduct mass returns.

The German chancellor Angela Merkel faces a difficult battle over the coming months to keep the deal alive, let alone to develop and implement it. But, deal or no deal, European leaders understand her intentions.

The E.U.-Turkey deal was initially spelled out last October, when it was known as "The Merkel Plan." This was during the same period in which E.U. commissioner Jean-Claude Junker brought up the idea of Greek-Turkish joint patrols on the Aegean Sea to implement the scheme. Greece rejected the idea, instead calling for a bilateral "migrant readmission plan" with Turkey.

When that version of the plan did not pan out, Merkel simply repackaged the underlying ideas. During the last few months of 2015 she put enormous pressure on Brussels and managed to bring Turkey to the negotiating table as a privileged interlocutor. At the time, Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu asked for multiple concessions in exchange for mitigating the flow of asylum seekers into the E.U.
These included visa liberalization plans for Turkish citizens, the resumption of E.U.-Turkish accession negotiations and the earmarking of 3 billion euros ($3.4bn) for refugee aid and services.

Despite establishing the E.U.-Turkey negotiations on a council level, last December’s talks led to little progress. The flow of asylum seekers remained very high over the winter and E.U. states were distracted by diplomatic tensions over an impending closure of the Western Balkan route. Turkey, meanwhile, did not express any urgency in wrapping up the deal. It was simply biding its time so it could up the ante. The
plan was reintroduced at the beginning of this year. But this time it was sold as the brainchild of Dutch Labour Party leader Diederik Samsom. The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte smoothly transformed the proposal into an E.U. Presidency plan. Since then it has often been cited as The Samsom-Merkel Plan.

Samsom’s proposal involved the imminent blanket return of all arrivals on Greek soil to be transported back to Turkey in exchange for a package trade-off: a comprehensive resettlement of more than 150,000 registered Syrian refugees from Turkish camps. He hoped for a coalition of the willing – comprising Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria – to implement the resettlement process and absorb the population.

Alas this coalition of the willing quickly vanished when, a couple of weeks later, Austria broke away, aligning itself with the Visegrad Four (an alliance of four central European states - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and the Western Balkan side that unilaterally closed down the Western Balkan route to incoming asylum seekers, acting outside of E.U. institutional proceedings.

The "ringfencing" of Greece and blanket returns across the Aegean Sea are not necessarily conflicting ideas for European states that want to reduce the flow of refugees to a trickle. On the contrary, they serve as a complementary double "line of defence," as imagined by the rising nationalist stars, Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who have both called for the containment of refugees within Greece. Merkel denounced the leaders; then she focused on her own strategy.

On March 6, it was Merkel's turn to play the game outside of the bounds of E.U. institutions. She, Davutoglu and Mark Rutte held an impromptu closed-door meeting at the Turkish embassy in Brussels the night before the planned E.U.-Turkey migration summit on March 7. They practically rewrote, at will, the resolutions that would be presented the next morning. They force fed the new version to the E.U. Council, while casually describing it as "some additional ideas by Davutoglu."

And this is how the current version of the E.U.-Turkey deal came to be. The new element is that blanket returns will be based on an one-for-one model, meaning that for every person sent back from Greece to Turkey, one will fly from Turkey to the E.U. to be resettled. Returnees will be relegated to the end of the resettlement queue, in the hope that this will act as a deterrent for those contemplating similar
irregular crossings.

In the lead-up to last week's summit, various parties in Berlin and Brussels have generated inordinate pressure to push through the deal, while Merkel went public on an almost daily basis to promote a so-called "European solution" as the only decent alternative to central European unilateralism.

However, Cyprus arrived at the summit for the final round of talks having announced that it has no intention of permitting full negotiations for Turkey's E.U. membership. The draft text of the summit's resolutions does not mention any specifics on the issue, and many E.U. countries, including France, do not fully agree with the visa
liberalization part of the plan. There have only been vague references for an additional 3 billion euros of aid money, on top of the 3 billion already on the table, on conditional basis and only until 2018.

It is absurd to call such a deal "European" when it is clearly being forced upon so many E.U. partners without their direct involvement in the pre-summit discussions.

The E.U. is yet to come up with a concerted plan to resettle the proposed number of 18,000 people, with a possible addition of 54,000 to this number. So far, participation appears to be on a voluntary basis and is not based on proportional sharing of the burden across its 28 member states.

Observers and advocacy organizations working on the refugee crisis – among them major figures like the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have attacked the legality of the proposed blanket returns. They have unanimously contested that the deal is a gross violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and various EU treaties and laws. Spain and Sweden have also expressed similar concerns.

The first day the plan was activated, more than 800 people crossed the Aegean, successfully reaching Greek shores. Given that the mechanisms for examining their refugee status and possibly returning them is not yet in place, they – like tens of thousands of others – will be restricted to the islands, until the process practically kicks off.

Without enough preparation time and mounting pressure to implement the deal, the situation on the European side might worsen. Legal, administrative and logistical challenges are inevitable with any new plan. But, failure to implement the one-in-one-out deal could quickly devolve into flagrant legal violations of the protections that should be afforded to all asylum seekers, including those being returned to Turkey. Before E.U. leaders rejoice at sealing the E.U.-Turkey deal, they might want to understand if they have walked into a trap.

Apostolis Fotiadis is a freelance journalist. He has reported on politics since 2005 with an emphasis on European immigration policy and ethnic conflicts in the Balkans. In early 2015, he published his book “Border Merchants” (ed. Potamos) which focused on how the European Union and especially European technocrats and the Commission interpret official immigration policy as a security concern with rapid militarisation of external borders.

First published in English on www.refugeesdeeply.org, 21.3.2016

 

The real heart of the refugee crisis is the lack of solidarity between member states of EU

Interview of Reiner Bauböck to Dimitris Christopoulos
 
Reiner Bauböck is among the most distinguished European political scientist working on issues related to citizenship and migration in Europe after the end of the Cold War. He is holding a chair in social and political theory at the European University Institute in Florence. In 2009, he initiated the Eudo observatory on citizenship in Europe, which he ever since co-directs. Eudo Citizenship is in our days the major academic structure working extensively on citizenship studies across Europe. Reiner Bauböck will be in Athens on March 9th to give a lecture titled “Democratic Inclusion: The Challenges of Migration and European Integration”. The lecture is part of the series “Rethinking Europe”, organized by the Office in Greece of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, in cooperation with the “Initiative for the Defense of Society and Democracy” and will be held in “Gazarte”, Voutadon 32-34 (Metro Kerameikos), on March 9, at 19:00, with simultaneous translation Greek-English.
 
You have dedicated your academic work to citizenship strategies and inclusion of migrants. How would you evaluate the way the European Union has been dealing with this matter after the end of the Cold War?
The EU has very limited competences in these matters. In the 1992 Maastricht Treaty it introduced a common Union citizenship but it has not followed up with harmonizing the nationality laws of member states that regulate access to this status. The Tampere European Council of 1999 promoted a common asylum policy and approximating the rights of long-term resident third country nationals to those of citizens, but in the 2000s this agenda shifted towards emphasizing integration requirements and tests. The slow and incomplete Europeanization of these policy areasin the past creates now a real risk of radical renationalization. The failure of member states to agree on burden sharing in the refugee crisis could trigger a breakdown of the Schengen Agreement on open borders and the Brexit threat serves as an excuse for several member states to suggest new restrictions on free movement rights for EU citizens. One lesson to draw is: policies towards non-European and European migrants can no longer be kept separate. If the former fail, the latter will be affected too.
 
How would you phrase in a few words your recommendations for a sustainable and just integration policy for migrants in our days in the EU?
First of all, there is no integration if there is no prospect for full membership. Long-term immigrants must be offered access to citizenship and their descendants should have citizenship by birth. Second, naturalisation should not only be possible, but also be actively promoted. This sends a signal to native populations that immigrants are welcome as future citizens. Third, not all migrants are long-term immigrants who settle in a “receiving country”. European integration, especially for the younger generations, is primarily about free movement within a space of open borders. Both for EU citizens and for immigrants from other countries moving within Europe must not come at the expense of access to full citizenship. Times of residence in the EU territory should therefore count for naturalisation in any of the member states as well as for protection against deportation. Finally, promoting shared democratic and liberal values is important for integration – for immigrants as well as for native populations. Targeting certain groups of migrants for value training and scrutiny without also attacking xenophobia and social exclusion of immigrants is counter-productive since it reinforces nativist prejudice.
 
There are two trends in Europe today regarding citizenship policies. A trend towards a more liberal approach and, inversely, a restrictive backslash. Could you offer the most illustrative examples for both tendencies?
Citizenship laws consist of many provisions that serve different purposes. In contrast with a widespread scholarly opinion in the 1990s, we have not found any general trend towards liberalisation or restriction. With regard to toleration of dual citizenship, for example, the broad trend is clearly towards more toleration by both sending and receiving states. But even here, there is a recent illiberal trend towards discriminating between singular and dual citizens with regard to citizenship deprivation. The UK initiated this policy and now the French government attempts to revise the constitution in order to make it possible to dump French citizens who are terrorist suspects on other states if they carry a second nationality. From a security perspective this is counter-productive, but as symbolic politics it could unfortunately work. With regard to ius soli for second generations of immigrant origin, there was a weak trend towards strengthening inclusion, exemplified by reforms in Portugal in 2006 and Greece in 2010 and now 2015, but in other countries, such as Italy, repeated efforts have failed to far. Concerning ordinary naturalisation, we see a trend towards less administrative discretion, but also a tendency to facilitate access to citizenship for special categories (such as investors or special ethnic groups) while other migrants are increasingly required to pass integration and citizenship tests.
 
Given the comparative European experience, how could you explain the fact that the Greek citizenship law went through a radical reform which started in 2010 and finally ended in 2015? How could such reforms take place in such grim circumstances for the Greek economy?
I do not know enough about the political process behind this reform, but it seems to fit broadly the hypothesis that left-of-centre governments are more likely to introduce liberal citizenship reforms. In 2010 it was the PASOK government that initiated the introduction of conditional ius soli (if one parent has 5 years of legal residence) and local voting rights for foreign nationals. Both reforms were blocked by the Council of State, whose 2013 final judgment turned the ideology that the Greek nation is based on descent into a constitutional principle. The SYRIZA-led government revived the ius soli reform in a modified form so that now foreign children born in Greece can acquire Greek citizenship by declaration when they enter primary school. This version of ius soli after birth respects the State Council’s view that access to Greek citizenship based on birth in the territory cannot be immediate and automatic, but still achieves the goal of including as citizens second generation children whose parents have settled in Greece. It can be compared to the Swedish law according to which minor children (in the Swedish case also those born abroad) can acquire Swedish citizenship by declaration after 5 years of residence.One can also speculate that for the current Greek government this reform demonstrated its capacity to pursue a culturally progressive political agenda in spite of the economic crisis.
 
The European Union faces a great challenge in ourdays regarding the management of the mixed flows. But is it really a “refugee crisis” –half a billion Europeans and one million refugees–  or a reception crisis?
Whether the numbers are modest or huge depends on what we compare them to. Those who went northwest on the Balkan route are few compared to the intake of refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, but they are very many compared to past inflows of asylum seekers in Central and Northern European states. The sense of a crisis is also related to the different expectations of what states need to do for refugees. Europe’s asylum procedures and standards of social assistance or employment regulation put much more demand on state resources per asylum seeker. The real heart of the crisis is, however, the lack of solidarity between member states and the absence of an EU authority that can overcome the prisoners’ dilemma games played by them through coordinating the distribution of refugees across destination states and making those pay who are unwilling to take them in. Without the European Central Bank, the Euro could not have been saved in the Greek debt crisis. But there is no equivalent to the ECB in the refugee crisis. Germany had to step in to play this role and it seems to fail. The lesson is that European crises of this dimension cannot be resolved through intergovernmentalism even when Germany is willing to take the lead.
 
What could be done in the short term? What should be done in the long term? Can the EU “open” or “close” its borders?
In autumn 2015, the Commission and German government could have enhanced the pressure on the unwilling member states by officially starting a renegotiation of the Dublin Agreement. It is obvious that Greece, Italy and all the states on the transit routes to Germany and Sweden have no incentives to register refugees who can then be sent back to them by any of the destination states. A reallocation and resettlement mechanism can only get off the ground if member states know that they can no longer play the Dublin card to enforce a blatantly unjust distribution of refugees and of the burdens of accommodating them. I am afraid that the window of opportunity for such a more radical reform has already closed. What is more likely now is that member states will be ready to strengthen European coordination of external border control, while insisting that each of them decides separately on which and how many refugees they are willing to accept.
Will this lead to a full closure of European borders? Unlike Australia or Canada, Europe will always remain exposed to movements of migrants and refugees that it cannot fully control. Yet policies to deter refugees from heading towards certain destinations can be very effective in reducing the inflows. If there is no prospect of long-term residence and family reunification, many refugees may decide to not invest their savings and risk their lives for the uncertain passage to Europe.
The predictable result will be even larger humanitarian disasters in Syria, its neighbouring states, and in the Mediterranean Sea, i.e. exactly the same kind of events that triggered the initial change of the European response in early 2015. How will European states react when asked the same questions a second time? It is rather likely that they will be driven more by domestic political fears of rising xenophobic parties than by humanitarian concerns.
 
We say here that Greece is a country facing a “crisis within a crisis” referring to the economic and the refugee issue.  What’s your view on it?
The refugee crisis may have bought the Greek government some more time in terms of the pressure it faces from the creditor states and the “troika”. On the other hand, I imagine that having to imposeharsh austerity policies on its own population did not contribute to the readiness of the Greek government to cooperate with the EU on creating hotspots for refugee registration and reinforcing controls at its shores. The response by the Austrian and other EU governments who called for suspending Greece’s Schengen membership should set all alarm bells ringing. There is an uncanny pattern of repetition. In both crises “kicking out the Greeks” (of the Euro zone and the Schengen zone) does not only harm Greece but the European project itself.

 
Rainer Bauböck is Professor in Social and Political Theory at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the European University Institute in Florence. He has coordinated several comparative research projects on citizenship in Europe and is the director of the EUDO Citizenship observatory.


 

Portugal: Who (has the right to) rule(s) this state?

Athina Simoglou
 
Something unprecedented happened in Portugal last week.  President, Cavaco Silva, went on to explicitly define the foundations of the country’s democratic regime and subsequently, who is the most suitable to govern the country and in which direction.
The facts are more or less known but not through the local media. From the international press – and from a few references in the Greek press, we learned that on the 4 October elections in Portugal, the centre-right coalition of the Popular Party and PDS, under the name Portugal à Frente (Portugal Ahead)– was first in votes but lost overall majority in parliament. We were also informed that a coalition emerged between the Socialists and the Left Block and that Portugal was in danger of prolonged political uncertainty, that political balance was fragile and that it will be very difficult to form a stable and durable government, especially at such a fiscally crucial period for the country.
In some foreign media there was even reference to the word “coup”, as the President  chose --18 days after the elections-- to give Pedro Coelho the mandate to form a government. Coelho is the leader of the centre- right coalition that won the elections, but without secure parliamentary support.  Instead, the President could have nominated the emerging coalition of the Left (Socialist and the Left Block) to form a government, which could secure a vote of confidence.
The use of the word “coup” causes  tension, especially in Portugal, which has suffered under every imaginable and unimaginable authoritarian and totalitarian regime for approximately half of the 20th century. The term gains broader significance if one considers Portugal is a Western country, a member of the European Establishment since 1986, which has also been engulfed by recent economic developments in Europe.
That’s why a “coup in Portugal” sounds incongruous, almost inconceivable.
Was there a coup in Portugal?
The political system in Portugal is a semi-presidential republic. The President who is elected by the people, must consider the electoral result in order to give the mandate to political parties to form a government. So, nobody could exactly accuse the Head of state for his choice, even if political reality indicates that such a choice contradicts the goal: the formation of a stable, durable government.
Someone could argue the effectiveness and the success of the President’s choice, but not easily call it a “constitutional coup”. However, things are more complicated. In his address to the people on 22 October, Cavaco Silva, explained the reasons behind his choice which, as he explained, would otherwise mean a groundbreaking and extremely dangerous alternative, not only for the Portuguese republic but beyond. He spoke about “the major strategic choices adopted since the establishment of the democratic regime”. But what is the nature these choices? The President left no margin for doubt: “… the European Union is one of the country’s strategic choices. This option was essential for the consolidation of the Portuguese democratic regime and continues to be one of the pillars of our democracy and of the model of society in which the Portuguese wish to live…”.
He further clarified: “In 40 years of democracy,  Portuguese governments never depended on the support of anti-European political factions, that is, of the political factions which, in their electoral manifestos  to the Portuguese, defended the abolition of the Lisbon Treaty, of the Budgetary Treaty, of the Banking Union and of the Pact of Stability and Growth or the dismantlement of the Economic and Monetary Union and Portugal’s exit from Euro and still further, the dismemberment of NATO, of which Portugal is a founder member”.
And he concluded: “This is the worst moment to radically change the basis of our democratic regime, in a way which does not correspond to the democratic will expressed by the Portuguese in the elections of 4 October”.
The speech of Cavaco Silva has interesting rhetoric values, since it is characterised by drama and passion, invokes great narratives and national targets, it is emotional and sharp. However, it is not short of connotations. In fact, the President made a genuine interpretation of the content of the democratic values of Portugal: it concerns the country’s “strategic choices”, what he calls its “European orientation”. And what it is that shapes this orientation and, consequently, the basis of the Portuguese democratic regime. The President explains the definition once again: it is the country’s participation in the EU, the Eurozone, the Economic and Monetary Union, the Banking Union, NATO, the Budgetary Treaty.
Having set out the foundations of democracy, the President continues his address to the people explaining that there are “forces” that question the European orientation of the country. These are the infamous anti-European forces that he considers “incompatible” with the exercise of power.
“If the government formed by the winning coalition cannot fully ensure the political stability that the country requires, I consider that the financial, economic and social consequences deriving from the clearly inconsistent alternative suggested by other political forces, to be much worse.”
Finally, having identified the political forces that are “compatible” with government ability, the President saw fit to comment on their post-election political options, regarding their consensus to support his government choice: “It is incomprehensible that the Europeanist political forces could not reach a deal when, recently, they jointly voted, in Parliament, in favour of the Treaty of Lisbon, of the Budgetary Treaty and of the European Stability mechanism, while the other parties always voted against”.
He closed his speech by asking MPs to vote “taking into consideration Portugal’s higher interests, whether the Government must or must not fully assume its responsibilities. “  It’s no coincidence that public debate read this as a direct call to opposition MPs to deviate from party lines and support the proposed government.
The line of arguments seems simple, indicating a trend similar to the one that appeared during the polarised days of the Greek referendum: The European concept gives meaning to the content of democracies, while its own content cannot be open to debate.  When this happens, it is perceived as a “denial” of the European vision, as an “anti-European” perspective which in itself contradicts democratic foundations and is thus undemocratic. Furthermore, the ease and cynicism with which this shift is made, deprives the term democracy of its substantive content. So, it is not about separation of powers, equality, rule of law or, most importantly, popular representation; some are unfit to govern because of their “anti-European views”. The circle is complete. The Head of State of Portugal makes it perfectly clear; Europe defines what democracy is, not the other way round.
Whatever the political development in Portugal is, this address is a ” European first”, as it clearly and adamantly states, via the Supreme State Body ,  the way in which democracy is now understood in Europe, particularly in view of the country’s economic and fiscal position.
Regardless of whether we call it a “coup” or not, it is a very dangerous precedent for all European citizens, Portuguese or non-Portuguese.
 
Athina Simoglou is a lawyer
 
Translated by Caterina Drossopoulou
  • Published in EUROPE

A success of LAE will mean a strong Left

 
Interview with Yiannos Giannopoulos  from Laiki Enotita (Popular Unity)
 
 The Greek elections are coming on the 20th of September. We ask four comrades and friends (Anastasia Giamali from SYRIZA, Yiannos Giannoulos from Laiki Enotita, Sokratis Giannopoulos from the former Youth of SYRIZA, Kostas Gousis from ANTARSYA) some questions about their experience of the Left Government, the split of SYRIZA, the relationship between Greece and Europe, the Memorandum, and the political positions of the party they support. They answered not as representatives of each party, but according to their personal opinion and, at the same time, as supporters or candidates of each party.
ANALYZEGREECE!

 
How do you evaluate the  experience of the government of the Left  these seven months?
In order to draw useful conclusions for a new strategy for the Greek and the European radical left in general I think that we should focus on the main picture and not parts of the government’s action. The first government of the Left in a Eurozone country during the crisis years ended up in a strategic defeat. The defeat is probably most due to the shortcomings of our (since I was a member of the Youth of SYRIZA till recently) analysis for the Eurozone, and not the way of governing itself. However I would like to stress three important issues. The first one is that during the negotiations with the lenders, the movements' role was completely underestimated. The government did not try to use the power generated by the motivation of the masses to support its position in the negotiations in general, with the exception of a short time interval before the agreement of the 20th of February, and the week before the memorandum.

The second one, which is linked to the first, is that no changes were made to the structure of the state that could have allowed the people, the productive forces of our society, the ones that experience the problems and can, hence, address the problems more directly to propose solutions. A wider and deeper democracy, that has no financial cost, was not established. Moreover, and here comes the third point, not even the democratic force within SYRIZA was taken into consideration.

 The party was totally absorbed by the state, exactly in the way that M. Nikolakakis predicted some months ago [1] and so were its chain of command and decisions. People in key state positions were playing a significant role, whereas party officials had no idea what was going on. This meant that the government lost track of the society, and the party, and it also probably explains the confidence of Alexis Tsipras to pronounce the elections, probably expecting that the party would not undergo major losses. We might want to reread the enlightening interview of A.Baltas to L.Panich, where the most famous Greek althusserian philosopher practically tries to relativize structuralism, while he admits that spending 12 hours per day in the ministry did not allow him to communicate with the party. On the other hand side, we cannot abolish the things the government did do for the prison system, higher education and migration policies. Sectors where the government really tried to implement a different logic in its first steps, and this is why the polemic of the bourgeoisie opposition concentrated on these fields. These progressive reforms are going to be fought against by the right wing of the probable government coalition that is going to be formed after the elections.
 
After the whole period of negotiations, we woule like shortly your opinion a) the Eurozone and whether Grece should stay or not in it b) the EU as a field of struggle (for the movement, the Left etc).
Being a member of the left euro communist tendency of SYRIZA, I thought that the strategy of changing the equilibrium of power or to implement anti-neoliberal policies inside this Eurozone was possible. I think that we must honestly admit that we made a huge mistake there. The threat to destroy the currency was not enough, let aside that we did not even have a plan for that. Moreover, I think that we somehow subconsciously assumed that the Left will rise in parallel in other European countries. We actually made the same mistake that the architects of the Euro made. We did not take the economic crises into consideration, and during the crises, the political changes that took place in the affected countries are really asymmetric.

The dilemma we are actually facing is not euro or drachma. It is euro or democracy. The political importance of crushing the different example that could be made by the Left is much more important to the ruling classes of Europe than the cost of taking the risk of a GRexit. The common currency might not survive such an event, but we will not find out till it happens, and it seems as if Dr. Shauble is very willing to take the risk. Apart from the fact that, no one believes that the new memorandum can be implemented successfully, and that the GRexit may lead to an even worse situation after the end of the programme. In addition, the clash of the ruling classes of Europe against each other during the crisis that is still not over cannot let anyone be reassured that there might not be a schism in the Eurozone caused by France or Italy in the next years, since some of the capitalists in these countries would favor exiting the Euro. It is short-sighted not to have a plan-B after everything that happened during the negotiations, even if one would not choose this path himself.

Regarding the EU, I think that we shouldn’t rush to answer this question, however, leaving the Eurozone might have to be combined with leaving the EU. We have to analyse if it is possible to stay in the EU and follow our own policies in  strategic areas such as energy production and distribution, or the common agricultural policies,  were the common EU, and not the Eurozone policy, is strictly neoliberal,. In any case, we must not in any case ignore the importance of the internationality of our strategy. Even if we need to leave the EU to be able to exercise independent policy, Europe remains the geographical space where a socialistic strategy can prosper, due to historical, political, and economic reasons, and we should not forget that.
 
The Greek Left after several years of initiatives of collaboration like Syriza and Antarsya  know is getting again split and divided. How do you evaluate the current situation and which do you believe are the future perspectives?
I am deeply concerned that we may experience a similar situation to the Italian Left in the last decades. Numerous splits and social-democratic mutations that will bury the ability of the Left to form a massive movement to take power. And this is what we need nowadays, fighting for our rights is not enough. If one also takes into consideration the really poor situation of the Greek syndicates, the concern grows. However, the formation of Popular Unity as something that wants to evolve into a front is a step for the Left to survive from the crash and the mutation. The previsions would be more optimistic if the cooperation with ANTARSYA had been achieved, this did not happen, though. SYRIZA will continue to dissolute, and we need to start to discuss very seriously after the elections on how we will manage to create a new party that will be able to serve our new strategy.
 

 What do you think are the immediate political priority for LAE after the elections of 20/9? (basic demands, priorities, fronts of collaboration and tasks)?
The importance of the electoral success of Popular Unity is to have a strong Left in the central political scene after the elections (since the Communist Party acts as if it does not want to be involved with real politics, especially after suggesting to voters to cast an invalid vote in the referendum). From this position it will be able to help the struggles of the next day to blossom again. However, we must not be fooled. The question now is not whether we will be able to gain part of what we lost in recent years. We need to form a proposal and a plan to gain power, not only governmental, but political power in general, inside, outside and against the state and the ruling classes’ coalition which will not retreat easily. This will be a very tough thing to achieve since almost none of the really big enterprises wants to leave the euro, perhaps apart from the pharmaceutical industries. We need to build a plan that will confront and "detour" the classic capitalistic economic and administrative functions of our society as we know it, a plan that one would call, in traditional terms, semi-revolutionary.
 
* The recent years, Greece became  the center of interest for the international movement because of the struggle of Greek people against austerity and  also because of  SYRIZA becoming  the first left government. Where do you think we stand today after the signing of the third Memorandum? What is your message to the people that struggle in Europe and in the whole world?
There is a severe concern that the defeat and the mutation of SYRIZA will affect the Left in the other European countries. We will have to wait for the elections in Spain to estimate the impact of what happened to the other left parties especially in the Eurozone countries. One has to admit, though, that in any case SYRIZA was a beacon for the European Left, the consequences will be severe. I think that we need to confine the repercussions, and start forming an internationalist strategy to break down the Eurozone, in a way that will favour the youth, the unemployed and the working classes of Europe, and not the different lobbies that want to profit from returning to national currencies. We need to cooperate on that, and we need to reach the next level as far as coordination goes. The coordination of the movements does not meet the requirements of the new era, we need to coordinate the strategies, from now on.
 
Yiannos Giannopoulos is a civil engineer, candidate with Laiki Enotita (Popular Unity) at the general elections of 20 September.
 
 
 

 
  • Published in POLITICS

Huffing and puffing for collapse, or looking for an umbrella?

Left with a New Perspective
  
Kostis Karpozilos
 
“A puff and it all comes down”. Thus spoke a wise older comrade in the spring of 1994. After laying out the structural contradictions in global capitalism, he reassured me that a mere puff of air – the collective breath of the global oppressed – would suffice for the ostensible victor of human history to be blown down like a house of cards. A few weeks later, the same comrade explained that a disappointing electoral result was the natural consequence of a dispiriting balance of power: “What did you expect? They are powerful…hold tight and let the storm pass”. Where earlier we had professed the imminent collapse of the global capitalist edifice under a puff of air, we then sought a sturdy umbrella with which to brave its onslaught.

This perpetual oscillation between voluntarism and fatalism constitutes one of the principal contradictions at the heart of the Left; its thought and action have historically vacillated between unconsidered optimism and passive internalization of failure. The past six months have been true to paradigm. Before the 2015 elections, Syriza  reassured us that the internal contradictions of the European Union, together with the pan-European recognition that the Memoranda had failed, would inevitably carve a space for the fruition of something of an ideal scenario: the endorsement of an alternative plan would bring about a radical revision of austerity policies without, however, endangering Greece’s position at the core of European integration. That promise has since been hollowed out, feeding into a further ritualistic stage of voluntarism: the rhetoric of unfavorable balances of power, the post facto admission that the opponent was almighty, that room for an alternative proposal was thus minimal from the start, and that, in such hostile conditions, the Left government was coerced into the decisions it took. 

The tendency on the Left to swing from heightened expectations to extreme disappointments has left all of us – regardless of our views about Syriza – concerned and bewildered about what will come next for the Left. Following Syriza’s negotiations with the creditors, the agreement now being imposed on Greece is anti-political for its neoliberalism. It has acted as a catalyst for increasing skepticism about the six-month experience of a Left government. Over those months, a peculiar exercise in patience led many to tacitly tolerate practices and choices which went against the grain of the anticipated turn in Greek politics and society. The welcoming of the remains of Saint Barbara, the petty nationalist festivities of 25th March, the resurrection of the old political personnel in the middle and upper echelons of the state apparatus and the absence of bold and radical initiatives in education and culture are all indications of a significant problem: the first six months of the Left’s governmental tenure did not signal a transformative moment in policy terms,  nor did they bring about an improvement in living and working conditions for the victims of the economic crisis. Yet we accepted this situation as entailing a set of necessary compromises in the run-up to a grand victory. Our expectations remained high. Now, the half-empty glass of those first six months – the main achievements of which were the passing of legislation granting Greek citizenship to migrants, moves to permit the payment of tax arrears in 100 installments, and some reform of the penal system – now looks emptier still, following the signing of the agreement and all that has happened since.

This experience has brought into relief three main questions facing the European Left in the 21st century. First, there is the question of what organizational form our political involvement should take following the collapse of the mass political parties that historically shaped the Left. Secondly, how do we move from the critique of neoliberal capitalism to concrete proposals for taking power and wielding it effectively? Third, how might we pursue alternatives to neoliberalism at a European level, across national borders? The contemporary Left has proved grossly inadequate in addressing these issues, choosing to avoid their thorny dimensions in favor of the reassuring glow of wishful thinking. The Left’s interpretation of the economic crisis is a case in point. Hundreds of pages of analysis insist that we are faced with a historic crisis of capitalism and with the domination of the most reactionary versions of neoliberal politics and economic thought. Such harsh conclusions, if sincere and not merely rhetorical flourishes, should surely have guarded against any expectation that the alternative plan to austerity put forward by the Greek government would be accepted. That expectation evinced a failure to recognize the true balance of power.

We are at a crossroads: a few months ago, the Greek case seemed the harbinger of a new status quo in which the 21st Century European Left might claim a leading role in shaping political developments. Now, the Left looks set to suffer a decisive defeat which may lead to the dominance of its opponents once again: to the silent recognition of the dogma that “There Is No Alternative”, and to the marginalization of the Left. Recognizing this problem is a necessary prerequisite if the following months are to escape from the spirit of defeatism and introspection which feels, especially for those who became politicized following the collapse of actually existing socialism, like “our own 1989”. The collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989 brought about a crisis in all Left ideological currents, regardless of whether they identified with or opposed the Soviet paradigm, while the Greek 1989*  sealed the incorporation of the Left in the bourgeois political game. The danger today seems analogous: with the possibility of alternatives apparently defeated as Syriza hits the rocks, submission to the form and content of bourgeois politics gains ground.

The possibilities for a new beginning at this moment seem limited. Dialogue within the Left is confined to morally charged exchanges of blame and the odd witticism too on Facebook, or in long-established domains of debate which include ever fewer people and which definitely exclude the overwhelming majority of non-aligned Left activists. The Left needs to look for new forms of organization. We need a Left with a New Perspective which will systematically critique the Left’s inertia, its introspective spirit, by recommending tangible ways to overcome it. That is, of course, a very broad recommendation; I am not here suggesting particular organizational forms or strategies for the Left. Instead, I think we need a radical think tank capable of envisioning and pioneering equally radical forms of intervention in our everyday lives – our lives, that is, not the everyday lives of “others” – with the goal of facilitating the Left’s search for strategies that can successfully enforce its alternatives to austerity and neoliberalism. To prevent any misunderstandings, I am referring neither to a gathering of the aged “wise”, nor simply to a youth wing of already extant initiatives, but to the creation of a movement from scratch which, without grand ambitions, will create political possibilities, intervene in political realities and cast doubts upon past certainties.

In my opinion, any such new body must be innovative in its organizational form itself: it must be based on decentralized working groups, divided thematically, it must aspire to professionalism and productivity as working norms. It must engage with contemporary debates on the emergence of forms of dual power and it must, finally, comprise a creative extension of the numerous Greek initiatives, movements and publications that played a leading role in articulating radical critiques after 2008 and which are today called upon to decide on what comes next: a stormy forecast, as the wise comrade called it back in 1994.

NOTE OF THE TRANSLATOR
In 1989, Synaspismos, one of Syriza’s predecessor parties, participated in a coalition government with the right-wing New Democracy.



 Kostis Karpozilos is a historian and member of the AnalyzeGreece editorial board 
 
Translated by Despina Biri


 
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