The Failed State of Greek Media

The media landscape in Greece has been described as suffering from a lack of pluralism, whereby a handful of media moguls set the predominant discourses through their newspapers, TV stations, and online outlets. In 2016, Greece finished 89th in the World Press Freedom Index, making it the second-lowest country ranking in the European Union with 80% of the population showing distrust in the country’s TV channels.

Before the leftist ruling party SYRIZA came into power, it pledged to regulate the lawlessness of the media scene and dismantle the old establishments of interest-driven reporting. A series of recent consecutive incidents like the on-air intervention of a media owner in a morning show on his TV channel, or the resistance to a new law introducing a bidding process for private broadcast licenses, highlight that the regime of media “oligarchs” is still firmly rooted.

The boss on line one

On June 6, Dimitris Kontominas, the Alpha media group owner, a leading TV, radio and production group, intervened in a morning talk show on Alpha TV channel to express his dissatisfaction about what he described as shameful comments over private initiatives. Mr. Kontominas called on live television to state "I am ashamed as I have never been in my life with what I heard today from Greek citizens who work in a TV channel that does everything to help the people”!

He continued by demanding that the journalists apologize, while angrily adding that “it is a shame, when we have such a big investment, to talk nonsense. It is an area full of refugees, crooks, prostitutes and the like and you talk against this investment. Instead of feeling ashamed for all those things that are not being done, we feel ashamed about the things that are being done.”

The incident was sparked when one of the panellists criticized the deal for the sale and long-term lease of the old Athens airport of Elliniko, a prerequisite demanded by international lenders in order to unlock loans needed to pay off debt to the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. The Lamda-led consortium, a Greek developer that will own part of the property and get a 99-year lease, is planning to turn the 444-acre site into a tourist, business and commercial hub.

Since the beginning of the debt crisis, state assets have always been on the table for privatization as an integral feature of paying off international bailouts. While supporters of such investments claim that they generate jobs and ultimately boost the economy, critics see them as “selling off” public property. “These investors pay out of their pockets, instead of robbing the state with oil, cigarettes, cocaine. It is a shame to say all those things. You should apologize. This is not an opinion,” Mr Kontominas yelled when the TV show host tried to calm her boss down.

The intervention was an extreme incident in the history of Greek media but not a surprising one. In a blatant, upsetting manner, the media mogul crossed the line between covered manipulation to absolute muzzling, only to set an unprecedented level of censorship. The incident symbolizes the intertwined connection between private media, state and business that has historically dominated the Greek media scene.

Manor House

Although there are no recent official data on the total media numbers, the deregulation of the state monopoly of broadcasting frequencies in the late 1980s has led to an overwhelming amount of private TV channels and radio stations, on national and local level. According to the report "Media Policy and Independent Journalism in Greece" by Open Society Foundations, “from a broadcasting field of two public television channels and four radio stations in the late 1980s, it has become an overcrowded environment comprising 160 private television channels and 1,200 private radio stations, none of them equipped with an official license to broadcast, but only temporary licenses renewed by successive governments”.

Despite the high volume, pluralism has not benefited. Media legislation does not contain specific thresholds or limits to prevent high levels of horizontal concentration of ownership as noted by the 2014 Media Pluralism Monitor. This legal and regulatory framework has urged the concentration of private press, television, and radio outlets into large organizations since its early days. To this day a handful of media groups own the biggest nationally circulated newspapers, magazines, broadcast media, as well as press distribution agencies.

Traditionally, the owners of the biggest media conglomerates, the “oligarchs”, as they are commonly referred to in Greece, are also active in other sectors of the economy, such as construction, shipping, health services, new technologies, and banking business, and often end up with favourable government deals. The support is granted through advertising of banks and state owned enterprises, approving loans to private broadcasters that are currently in debt due to the sharp decline of income from advertisements; assignments of public works (roads and government buildings construction etc.) or public property management to media owners with investments in other business sectors.

In this way, media are used as spaces for indirect profit through the strengthening of relations with politicians and the acquisition of state contracts. “Greek media industry controlled by business tycoons whose other successful businesses enable them to subsidize their loss-making media operations. These media operations in turn enable them to exercise political and economic influence. The result is that the media often provides an image of national and international events that is almost uniform but for its division along party lines” as a US Embassy cable by Wikileaks reveals.

Taking MEGA Channel, one of the most well known private channels, as an example, its three main shareholders are some of the richest and most influential families in the country. George Bobolas, the main shareholder, is also the owner of Ellaktor SA construction company which has participated in multi-billion euro contracts with the state, such as the Athens Ring Road, the Rio-Antirio Bridge, the Acropolis Museum and the Athens Olympic Sports Complex. Vardis Vardinogiannis is engaged in the oil and shipping industry, while Stavros Psycharis controls the DOL media company.

The triangle of power between media, state and business is well intertwined resulting in a state whereby journalists are too careful to avoid criticism to the government of the day, while media owners exploit their outlets for purposes beyond communication. The relationship is a dialectical one and a vicious circle is fuelled by governments offering financial support to the media that in exchange offer favourable reporting to the ruling party’s actions. Over the last year, many cases have highlighted how the two sides interfere in each other’s work.

In February 2016,  the publisher of a low circulation newspaper was arrested with two other journalists on charges of extorting huge sums in advertising from officials at public organizations, banks and businesses. The publisher Panagiotis Mavrikos, who was charged with felony and misdemeanor, including blackmail and being part of a criminal gang, had appeared in the payroll of New Democracy receiving the amount of €18,450 per month, according to the newspaper Parapolitika.

How new is this page?

Prior to SYRIZA’s electoral victory in January 2015 the party had committed to tackle the long-standing relationships of clientelism in Greece and declare a war to the media “oligarchs”. A year later a parliamentary examination committee started an investigation of the legality of advertising expenditure of Greek banks to media and political parties over a period of the last 10 years. The Committee was established following the proposal of the ruling SYRIZA-ANEL coalition last March.

In another attempt in February 2016, parliament passed a law, backed by the ruling coalition and strongly criticized by the opposition and the Association of Private TV Stations of National Range. The new law, which is part of the country’s commitment under the latest bailout, aims to regulate the media market and, allegedly, bring to a halt the link between state and private interests.

The aim is to eventually launch a channel license competition for broadcasting tenders where four out of eight national TV stations would obtain a licence. The biggest media channels dissatisfied with the decision appealed to the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court. The application of MEGA Channel, which is threatened with bankruptcy due to a huge amount of overdue debts, was rejected on June 30.

A few days after the bill was amended by parliament, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was accused of an alleged bribe attempt to media owner Stavros Psycharis. The newspaper “To Vima” – that belongs to Mr. Psycharis’ media group - published an article revealing secret meetings between the two men prior to SYRIZA’s electoral victory in January 2015. According to the article Mr. Tsipras allegedly asked for the support of the influential man, promising that loans taken by his media conglomerate will be erased, and offering political mediation for the acquisition of the total ownership of MEGA TV channel.

After the publication, both sides engaged in a war of words where each one accused the other for falsification of the facts. Whether the allegations are true or not the by now unimpeachable Tsipras began to test the water. The question is whether he and his party will manage to escape immune or will go missing in the media abyss.

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

Refugees without asylum, states without reason, societies without illusions


 Some thoughts on the deal of shame between EU-Turkey

 
Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos
 
 
It only took four months for Wolfgang Schäuble's “sincere” statement regarding the refugees –namely that “They are not desired in Europe”– to become a guideline for the whole of the European Union, at the helm of which, and let us bear this in mind, are neither Marine Le Pen nor Nigel Farage, as yet. It took just four months to dismiss the supposed “war against the peoples' smugglers” doctrine and explicitly acknowledge through the EU-Turkey Agreement, that the aim of the EU is to “put an end to the refugee flows.” And just like that, along with the pretexts, the commitment of the member states to the Geneva Convention and to the New York Protocol,  came to an end: a commitment to a framework of international protection which obliged the Western World to remember what happened in the past to those populations that were regarded as redundant, so that history does not repeat itself.

By no means is the existing framework of international protection an anthem an ideal solution  to the open borders. On the contrary, it excludes the “irregular” immigrants, and by this exclusion, it forces them to confront the consequences of decoupling immigration policy from labour policy, from as far back as the beginning of 2000, leaving  immigrants exposed to the “parallel legality” of mass arrests, refoulements and refugee camps. However, even if it excluded, even if it restricted someone with familiar obstacles when applying for and receiving asylum, this framework covered at least the refugees. Today this protection, and all the historical burden of the World War II behind it, have been canceled. This cancellation was celebrated by the Greek government as a “step forward” and a “diplomatic success”; the same cancellation that the Head of the British department of Amnesty International has hailed as a “dark day for the Geneva Convention, Europe and the mankind,” while UNICEF added that from now on minor refugees and immigrants will be returned to Turkey, where they will face an uncertain future.
 
No reason: the Pre-announced End to the International Protection

The cancellation of the Geneva Convention is a historical change, a change to a continuity. What I mean to say is that it is not the current “objective” of the refugee “crisis” that annuls the protection of refugees in practice, but the effort of the European states to shake off its “burden” over the years. This effort goes back more than a decade, when the present flows, as well as the economic crisis with which they intersect, could not be possibly have been predicted. 

In March 2003, Tony Blair presented the European partners with a plan for  “improving the management of the refugee flows,” based on two axes: improvement of the protection that refugees receive in countries neighbouring to their country of origin (in any case away from prospering Europe...) and setting up asylum request centres outside the European Union. The project would be financed by the European Commission from July 2003 and its pilot implementation was planned to take place secretly in Croatia, which back then was not a member of the “European family.”

On the same wavelength, out of the 4 billion euros that the EU allocated during the period 2007-2013 to the immigration and refugee policy, about half of it (1,82 billion) was directed to border controls, whereas just 17% went to the support of the asylum procedures. In September 2014, at a time when the bloodshed in Syria had already uprooted millions of people, the British NGO Oxfam maintained that “the rich countries have committed themselves to offer safe haven to 37.432 people, which is 1% out of the 3 million refugees in the neighbouring countries”. In October 2014, when Italy terminated the Mare Nostrum operation, thanks to which more than 150.000 people had been rescued at sea within a year, the Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano stated that the aim of the government was to “entrust the examination of the asylum seekers to outposts of the EU in Africa, where they would assess who is entitled asylum status and who is not.” The Spanish Prime Minister shared the same objective, that is to “externalise” the responsibility for the refugees, seeking ways of rejecting the asylum requests, if possible, before they enter the country by crossing the Moroccan borders.

Last summer indications showed that something was about to change, with a provision that 160.000 refugees from Greece and Italy would be relocated to other EU countries. Out of 160.000 refugees, however, only 937 people were included in this programme.
 
The End of the Illusion: the Greek Government played a Key Role to putting an End to the Geneva Convention

Let us go back to the EU-Turkey Agreement. A key to the suspension of the right to receive asylum, Liberation points out, is the recognition of Turkey as a safe third country. This is the legal framework, the European Commission has come up with since Wednesday: if someone applies for asylum in Greece, their file will be examined at a certain hot-spot and if it turns out that they came in Greece through Turkey, a safe third country, their request will be rejected. According to euro2day.gr, this was a request on the part of the Greek Prime Minister: “we call EASO and the European Commission,” it is stated in the relevant document, “to contribute by submitting reports that confirm that Turkey, as a first country of asylum and as a third country, is safe,” as if the government is clueless of the issues of security in our neighbouring country. As if anyone would be persuaded by the very same chorus we listen to repeatedly after every failure, as we have done already in this case: “if only you knew how much worse things would have been otherwise...”
 
The Refugee Crisis is Neither Exceptional nor Temporary
All those who scarcely followed the developments of the refugee issue should know that the refugee “crisis,” which was supposed to be solved by the Agreement, is nothing more than the predictable impasse of a European policy focused on managing/ preventing the “unwanted” strangers – an impasse against the equally foreseeable consequences of the lingering bloodshed in the Middle East.

As far as Greece is concerned, the duration and the dimension of the “crisis” could have been predicted from at least mid-2014: the humanitarian crisis in the islands of the North Eastern Aegean Sea and the urgent needs for accommodation and medical treatment, which were brought to light by the hunger strike of the Syrian people in December 2014, had signified the issue. Nevertheless, the EU as well as the Greek governments dealt with it as if it was a temporary phenomenon.

In view of the worsening crisis, which is any case difficult to handle by means of a ruined state apparatus, the present government took some initiative contrary to the misanthropic policy of New Democracy such as prohibiting the refoulements and by abolishing the detention centres. In its second term of office, however, at best it took responsibilities by receiving refugees aiming (in vain) at a certain debt relief, exploiting instrumentally and shortsightedly the humanitarian offer of millions of people all over the country. In the worst case, by denouncing the people who showed their solidarity as “ignorant,” “idealists” or even instigators of illegal actions, the Greek government adjusted to other versions of the European anti-refugee policy: it accepted the militarisation (fences, Frontex, NATO), vehemently argued for the position that “Turkey should receive all the refugees,” and finally opened up the refugee camps, foreshadowing mass refoulements of the “irregular” immigrants. To cut a long story short, not only did it not open the borders, as it was provocatively accused by the right-wing parties, but has already counted more than 300 drowned refugees in the Greek seas.

At the same time, it took no action in order to activate the European Directive 2001/55/EC, for which Syiriza pressed so hard when it was member of the opposition. The Greek Government refused to involve the army to aid with accommodation and feeding efforts, before it finally delegated the whole management of the refugee issue to it. It never occurred to the Greek government to plan ahead for refugee settlements, although the sealing of the Western Balkans’ Route was foreshadowed in several formal documents as far back as October 2015, alluding to the confinement of tens of thousands refugees in the country. Having started from the right position, that the refugee issue is not a national one, but rather a European issue, the government did not think that it should come up with a national plan, apart from fulfilling last minute needs, which were to be covered by the NGOs, as Y. Mouzalas admitted in an interview he gave to SKAI TV. In an effort to balance its role as a guardian and a policeman, the Greek government embraced the assessment that short and long term national planning would weaken the negotiating position of the country against the EU, if it would not be regarded as a signal to the people's smugglers.  Just like that, the deliberate inability of the state apparatus was promoted whereas the negotiating “tool” of the country was exhausted at protecting the national sovereignty of the Aegean Sea, before the well-known eccentricities of the ministers fighting for Macedonia take place.
 
And now what? (Without illusions)

At the moment the number of refugees in Greece amounts to 46.000. While the Agreement with Turkey is waiting be approved by the Greek parliament, according to the Greek government, Idomeni and the islands are going to be evacuated promptly and the people will be directed to the reception centres. Up to this moment, there is no guarantee about the conditions as well as the stay of the refugees in the country.

While the Greek government is committed only by an agreement that abolishes the right to asylum in a safe country and New Democracy pushes for a fiercer implementation of it, it is urgent that this agreement is put to question. First of all, it should not be ratified by the Greek Parliament. Secondly, the spatial segregation of the refugees should be questioned by the very Greek society; the refugees should come to the cities and to the neighborhoods. The accommodation centres do not constitute a solution for a population, which due to the closed borders has no other possibility than to stay in the country. The fulfillment of the needs of the refugees by NGOs is equally precarious; this condition, which has been encouraged by the European Committee by financing humanitarian organisations instead of the government, consolidates that the state withdraws from critical functions that are addressed to the whole of the Greek society, as well as the refugees. The policy of the intentional inability, as a means of pressure towards the EU, jeopardises people's lives and should be abandoned. In view of a historical regression, the solidarity movement should not be taken for granted; for the time being, however, it is our only counterweight to horror.

Translated by Anastasia Lambropoulou

First published in Greek on k-lab, 21.3.2016.
 

 

Rekindling Hope: SYRIZA's Challenges and Prospects

Michalis Spourdalakis

Before turning to the main theme of this article it would be very useful to come to terms with at least the following preliminary observations:[Greek farmers protesting against planned pension system reforms.]Greek farmers protesting against planned pension system reforms.

The left in government and especially the radical left in government has never been the subject of easy discussion among leftists. As the project of social transformation was never a peaceful stroll in the park, the debates on the question of in and/or out of government, let alone those about political power, have been very heated. In fact, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that these debates are as old as the left itself. Before, during, and after coming into office, leftist theorists and practitioners have been involved in fierce discussions and heated arguments, often leading to organizational splits and fragmentation. The intense polemical nature of these debates has very rarely led to useful, positive, and practical conclusions for the left.

In addition, these debates, which characterize not only the ʻold leftʼ, often tend to be ahistorical in the sense that they engage in, or are even based on, comparisons with situations whose objective and subjective conditions were or are quite different. It is thus not surprising that there are a number of attempts to compare SYRIZA's socio-political experiment with that of the Workersʼ Party (PT) in Brazil or of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Even if one is obliged to do so, one has to bear in mind that we are then comparing political experiences arising in quite different social formations, different continents, and of course with different geopolitical and institutional constraints. At the same time, one should realise that we are talking about different parties with different social bases, histories, and socio-political traditions within which they operate. Therefore if these comparisons are to help provide a framework for more effective socialist strategy, their relevance should be understood with the appropriate degree of abstraction without viewing them as providing concrete recipes to be applied directly.

Finally, before we look at the Greek case, we need, given the developments of the last few months, to come to terms with the notion of ʻdefeatʼ. Since the left is committed to the subaltern social strata, to the under-class, and to all oppressed people, and is guided by a vision of human emancipation, defeats are perforce a recurrent experience. In fact, historically, at least since 1848, it seems that retreats and defeats can be seen as one of the constituent components of the left's identity. Therefore a defeat, such as that experienced by the SYRIZA government last summer should not lead to defeatism, to individual retreat and withdrawal, or even worse to panic. On the contrary, we should confront the left's defeats as useful developments and as prime opportunities to identify and understand mistakes and shortcomings. In this sense, there are no absolute defeats or absolute victories. After a major political development for the left such as a defeat and, even more, a victory, the left's strategy should not lead to calm reassurance. In the last analysis, as the left's history is one of a long series of defeats and victories, we must realise that no attempt at radically transforming society has ever been anything but a painful marathon with numerous retreats, defeats, diversions, and short-term disappointments.

SYRIZA's Defeat?

When Alexis Tsipras conceded to the blackmail of the so-called ʻinstitutionsʼ on 12 July 2015, he did what any sensible and committed trade unionist, negotiating on the basis of an overwhelming (61 per cent) strike vote and confronted with the vindictive response of a management threatening to close down the business, would have done. Logic prevailed and the SYRIZA government retreated. Under the circumstances, retreat is a key word; it was the only way to avoid the disastrous social, economic and political consequences.

No one in his or her right mind could claim that this setback, or more accurately defeat, was the result of treason and/or subversion from within. This dramatic retreat, especially after the impressive result of the referendum, should be taken as the basis for creatively rethinking how to continue to serve what SYRIZA has long committed itself to – the ʻstrategic goal of social transformationʼ. This strategic goal, despite superficial analyses, remains the main goal of SYRIZA, as Tsipras stated clearly in his address to the last session of the party's Central Committee (30 July 2015).

In this respect, there are some very important questions that need to be addressed. What led the promising radicalism of the SYRIZA government to such a dead end? Why did it not have a realistic and effective government plan in the event the negotiations failed? Why did it not recognize the uncompromising stubbornness and even vindictiveness of the country's lenders? Without answers to these questions it will be impossible to draw up a solid new strategy, given the new conditions and constraints that the new agreement imposes on the country.

To address these questions one has to go back to the 2012 election when what has been called the ʻmiraculous rise of SYRIZAʼ became more than a realistic prospect. More concretely, following the election that brought it into prominence, it seems that the party gradually drifted away from the strategy that had made it into a key player at the centre of the country's political scene. This development had given hope not only to those Greeks suffering from the effects of the memoranda but also to the concerned, democratic, and progressive citizens who had doubts about the social, political, cultural, and even ecological future of societies under the aggressive hegemony of neoliberal austerity in Europe and elsewhere.

SYRIZA's (forgotten?) Strategy

The success of SYRIZA – to which of course specific political and social conjunctural conditions contributed – was the outcome of its unique political strategy in the Greek political arena. Its strategy had five principal elements. The first and basic element was its involvement in the social sphere, embedded as its activists were in the multifaceted social movements without engaging in the vanguardist practices that usually prevail in the Leninist tradition and in fact in the post-Junta practices of the political system. The second element was its commitment to participating in the institutions of political and social representation in a way that prevented it from being subsumed by the bureaucratic constraints of those institutions. The third was the establishment of a programme based on this experience in the social field as well as in these institutions. The fourth was its call for the unity of the entire left tradition. Indeed, SYRIZA managed to become the common organization of all the traditions of the left: from the historic left (from the old social democratic tradition to all versions of communism, such as Maoism, Trotskyism, etc.) to all the specific concerns of the radical social movements. However, it was the fifth and final element of SYRIZA's strategy that proved most significant in distinguishing it from other left organizations, and which proved most decisive in its success. This was its explicit intention to come to power.

These distinct elements of the party's strategy, in a dialectical relationship with one another, proved very functional and effective. This was the case both at the social level by representing the social alliance of social strata that the austerity policies had created (between the working-class, precarious, unemployed, and the old and new middle class), as well as at the political level as an answer to the statism of the cartel-like party system. At least in retrospect, one needs to realise that this strategy, which started to emerge as early as 2004-2005 and became much clearer during the 2008 youth uprising, was not only the result of political planning but also evolved out of the contradictory pressures of limited electoral tactics. However, it must be stressed that it was underpinned by a federated pluralist organizational structure and a party culture that imitated the model of the mass party of the Leninist tradition although certainly not in substance.

So successful was SYRIZA's strategy that in the 2012 elections it became the leading opposition party. The handwriting was on the wall. No particularly astute political analysis was needed to recognize that this was no flash in the pan, and that SYRIZA would soon enter government.

Negligence

The quick and unexpected emergence of this success in 2012 was probably what led much of the party's leadership to believe that effective politics would from then on be an easy affair, not requiring much further party development. They did not bother with consolidating or even fine-tuning the strategy that had brought about this success, in such a way as to facilitate the dissemination and deepening of this strategy among broader layers of society as well as among the party rank and file. Instead, the leadership adopted more conventional tactics, which in practice meant a rush to move toward power by all means available. Thus, gradually SYRIZA became not just parliamentarist but also governmentalist even before it came into office.

This was partly justified by its commitment to prevent the social calamity created by the aggressive austerity policies imposed by previous governments. However, now joined or at least supported by political figures with roots in a wide range of old and new political parties ranging from right-wing to centre-left modernizers, the leadership became alienated from SYRIZA's radical physiognomy as a party. This drifting away from what had previously characterized SYRIZA revealed the existence of a number of tacit perceptions and analyses that were to become real problems after its much-celebrated electoral victory in January 2015. The rush to power not only bypassed a number of democratic procedures that were needed for the building of its party organization, especially after the fourfold increase in membership, but also resulted in a number of politically naïve mistakes, which would come all too quickly to the fore.

Without going into great detail, in addition to the unquestionably very hostile environment inside the country organized by the media, the opposition parties, and the oligarchs, these naïve ideas are in my opinion to blame for the dead end in which the SYRIZA government found itself when it was forced into last summer's dramatic retreat, which led to the adoption of the new Memorandum.

These naïve ideas, perceptions, and practices can be seen both on the internal front and in the international sphere. Although all of these had already been part of the party's baggage, there is no doubt that they became dysfunctional after the party leadership moved into office and adopted at the same time a very instrumentalist conception of power. On the one hand, its rhetoric to the contrary, the SYRIZA leadership now seemed to limit its conception of political change to governmental change (for example, no immediate plan for transforming the media, at best a formalization of its support for the social movements, a kind of polite, neutral, and slowly emerging response to the bureaucracy's undermining of government policies). On the other hand, key figures in the government felt it was necessary to appease the old establishment and the bourgeoisie. To this end, the so-called technocrats or experts who clearly have close relations with the old corrupt personnel and networks were recruited by the SYRIZA government into the state.

But behind this naïve and instrumentalist orientation to taking state power, one can detect similar problems in SYRIZA's party programme. Although the detailed programme was the product of enormous political and even scientific energy, it was never concretized to become a real operational plan. This was in some sense the side effect of the expectation that the change of government would be smooth and that the administration of the state by the radical left would not require any particular caution, let alone preparation.

Even on the internal party front, this naïve neglect has proven very damaging. The limited educational and informational work done within the party led to further problems. The membership was left uninformed and unsupported and thus frequently fell into in the hands of propagandists both within and outside the party. One of the notions created was that all those who proposed a vague plan B (mainly the Left Platform) were identical with the radical wing of Syriza. Arguments around the party's strategy were often reduced to the simplistic euro vs. drachma dilemma.

Another naïve assumption motivated the tactic of most radical cadres (whose grouping came later to be known as the Group of 53), who more than anyone else were the key to the development of SYRIZA, to negotiate a modus vivendi with the part of the leadership that was in a rush to enter the government. It was an arrangement that, in addition to consuming the capacities of these cadres, did not even result in establishing certain rules for party building. In fact, the party organization fell increasingly into the hands of self-appointed leaders of small or larger networks and sub-groups within the party.

Such problems also characterized all wings of the party in terms of the international context and environment. It was assumed that what were called ʻtough and honest negotiationsʼ would be sufficient to convince the ʻinstitutionsʼ, as if the outcome of these exchanges were a matter of rational, well documented, and well researched scientific arguments and not of naked power interests. In addition, the idea that one radical government alone, even if the prospect of others like it were emerging on Europe's periphery, could change the EU or ignore the structural reproductive commitment of the most aggressive capitalist interests, proved to be another naïveté.

Given all this, the classic question of ʻwhat is to be doneʼ, or better ʻwhat can be doneʼ, becomes more urgent than ever. The point of departure for answering it, given the features of SYRIZA's victory (lack of enthusiasm and shrunken turnout) and the tight constraints of the ʻAgreementʼ, which make ʻpolitical time extremely compressedʼ, should be a deep understanding of the party's strategy, especially during the five-year period that preceded the 2012 election. The road map for drafting a new strategy under the new conditions created by the government's retreat needs one clear sign post: to become SYRIZA again. This means nothing other than continuing to govern without being eroded by governmentalism and continuing to solidify the party's relation to its social base without being paralysed by parliamentarism.

Prospects

In the new post-Referendum, post-Memorandum and post-September 2015 victory conjuncture, given the economic and institutional constraints, SYRIZA should craft or even better re-draft its strategy based on its successful march toward government. Some key presuppositions of these prospects should be:

1. SYRIZA should stay in government. The administration of state resources is key not only for managing the ʻAgreementʼ with the country's debtors in the most democratic and humane fashion possible, but also as a vehicle to organize political and social initiatives that can work under the radar of the Memorandum's constraints – as a ʻparallel programmeʼ – as well as a framework conducive to the long overdue task of party building.

2. SYRIZA should minimise the consequences of the rupture. After the creation of Popular Unity by the Left Platform and in response to the simplistic and emotional polemics coming from the ʻother leftʼ (Antarsia and the Communist Party of Greece) and the anarchists, SYRIZA is in danger of falling into the trap of unhelpful exchanges. This could prove counterproductive in any effort to plan and implement a ʻparallelʼ and class-based programme that will transcend the social and political cleavages that developed around the Memorandum, turning them into creative pressures on the government along anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal, and eventually anti-capitalist lines.

3. SYRIZA should completely change its method of recruitment into the state. So far, and as a result of the government's instrumentalist understanding of state power, people from the old political, technocratic, and academic scene have quite often been recruited to the cabinet and more broadly to positions that depend on political appointments. Since part of SYRIZA's support came from the huge anti-establishment, anti-corruption popular sentiment, the presence or the re-emergence of such people in key positions strains the people's trust in the government as representing a political and ethical countercurrent. This does not mean that all new recruits should be in full agreement with the government; rather, the rising opportunism should be counteracted by the SYRIZA government's generosity toward party cadres who have expressed their scepticism of the party's strategy after last summer's retreat.

4. In addition to the creative social and political organizing that must be based on the party's experience in the social arena, a new strategic orientation should be formulated: Given SYRIZA's failed strategy vis-à-vis the ʻinstitutionsʼ, it needs to reconsider its commitment to the Eurozone, even though under the current economic, political, and cultural circumstances, both the party and society are far from prepared to realistically assume a rejectionist position toward the latter, especially given the balance of power in Europe.

5. All the previous points are essentially proposals to deal with the defeat and to correct the mistakes and omissions that many radicals in and around SYRIZA have identified. However, the morale of the social base can be raised and consolidated only when a new goal is put forward and directly related to social developments. In this context, SYRIZA will have to have a clear and systematic commitment to actively return to the social field. This will be the key to rekindling hope. This hope naturally has to do with the reconnection and the mobilization of the party's social base and thus the reclaiming of its radical left identity. Without the effective creation of a new vision around which to mobilize, such as the improvement of social conditions through debt reduction, it will be very difficult to consolidate the social alliance of the working-class, the unemployed, pensioners, and the dramatically squeezed lower middle class who have supported SYRIZA massively.

These ideas, and probably many others, will need to be put forward in a very concrete fashion. They must all aim at dealing with the disappointment from the defeat and at recovering the morale and the trust of the social base, which invested its hopes in SYRIZA. These are not at all novel as they come straight from the very strategy that made the party of Greek radical leftists an inspiration not only to the country's citizens but to radical and democratic citizens worldwide. In the last analysis, one can see them as interpreting what Tsipras not long ago made ingeniously clear at a meeting of the party's Political Secretariat: “It is not a revolutionary act to escape from reality or to construct a fictional one. What is revolutionary is to find ways even when they do not exist.”

In response to those who think it unlikely that anything like this can now be initiated because the party is far from being in a condition to sustain it, one can argue that political parties are voluntarist institutions par excellence. This is particularly true of left parties, especially young ones like SYRIZA with weak internal bureaucracies. To put it differently, the necessity for renewed party building and organizational development is a prerequisite to reconnecting with the strategy that propelled SYRIZA into the government and to regaining the ground lost since the defeat. Without this, the precious political capital created by the Greek people's democratic and anti-austerity struggles will be squandered.

Republished from "The Bullet - Socialist Project", E-Bulletin No. 1213, January 27, 2016

Michalis Spourdalakis, a founding member of Syriza, is one of Greece's foremost political scientists and currently Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Politics, University of Athens.

Ηomosexual relationships are legally recognize in Greece


With 194 votes in favor the Greek parliament has finally given the green light for homosexual couples to enter into a civil union partnership.

Following a marathon debate, the body of the Greek parliament affirmed the relevant decree making it a formal law of the state.

This vote is undoubtedly a historic moment for the country as for the first time in the history of the nation, homosexual relationships are legally recognized.

Τhe Greek MP, Vasiliki Katrivanou: «Today is the day of the voting concerning the extended civil partnership for homosexual and heterosexual couples. Even though it consists of an elementary act and an basic right that has been continuously delayed, it is still at the same time a cross-section for human rights and equality before the law in our country. It is a reward for the social fights the LGBT society has gone through – a triumph against homophobia and obscurantism. I felt honestly touched hen a lesbian friend and activist told me two days ago, «It is an unbelievable feeling, even though you are already aware of it, you suddenly feel that you are an existing person, that you are visible, publicly recognised. I view myself differently because of the civil partnership. I view myself positively and not through all the negative social stereotypes. The extended civil partnership is a crucial step. However its importance will be judged from what is to come: whether we will move on soon to the next steps, such as civil marriage and legal recognition of gender identity for transgender people or not. We should fight for these rights, starting from tomorrow.»

The Essential Values

-The Promotion of private independence, namely respect of the private will of the parties. The parties may regulate their estate relations, but according to the principles of equality and solidarity, maintaining a greater degree of autonomy as this relates to their their assets, if they wish, even on hereditary issues. However, if they do not choose to do so, they retain full rights, proprietary and on inheritance.

-The need for protection of family relations and the consolidation of the principle of equality in interpersonal relations of the parties. The new law understands both parties as equal, but does not overlook the social reality that requires the protective intervention of the legislator. As a result, certain critical issues are regulated by mandatory rules. For instance, parties can not renounce participation in acquisitions, are entitled to claim a diet after the dissolution of the pact , etc.

– The new law seeks a balance between private autonomy and the need to protect family relations, based on principles of equality and solidarity. The law is in fact a contract, however there is a family relationship created between those who enter into it.

-The pact recognizes to the parties involved, rights which they did not previously have, so as to ensure the enjoyment of family life and respect for the principles of equality regardless of sexual orientation. As noted by the European Court of Human Rights, in the majority of the member states of the Council of Europe, people who enter a civil partnership obtain status similar to that of married couples and gain access to a variety of rights.

Organizations comment on the voting of the law:

George Kourogiorgos, Colour youth: «Today is a landmark day for the LGBTQ community in Greece. It may have taken longer than expected, but this is in any case the first important step to claiming equality in our country. As in the case of a baby, from the moment that we have been able to rely on our feet and take the first step, we commit that we are not going to stop here, but will continue to make steady progress. Let’s all together celebrate this victory, the result of long and systematic efforts. However, let us reevaluate our so far efforts and on the basis of the experience gained, let’s redesign our subsequent goals. The next step? But of course the legal recognition of gender identity! Specifically, we expect the pre-legislative Committee that will  draft the law for the institutional recognition of gender identity to resume its sessions. We aim at an institutional recognition of gender identity without conditions and accessible to all ages … «

Stella Belia, Rainbow Families: Without undermining the voting of the Bill as it provides a solution for key problems for many, ourselves as  lgbtq + parents are left with a bitter after taste… We remain hopeful that even at the last minute,  the Minister of Justice will be fair with our children and will not continue to deprive them of one of their  two parents,  by including the amendment proposed by the Ombudsman and submitted to the committee by Potami (and the Democratic Alliance?) for the parental responsibility and guardianship.  The first excuse of  the Secretary General – as heard on Parliament TV-for this very timid stance «was not in consultation and were not placed thereon by those who participated in this» we are not convinced as the suggestion of counsel – and ours – took place in the context of this consultation. The second excuse,  that whatever  has anything to do with children requires careful study and not individualized actions – position and stance with which we do not disagree with -apart from one point: from the first moment we were invited to discuss – almost eight months ago-we raised the issue of parental responsibility and have been campaigning on the subject for years. How much time does the Ministry and the political leadership need to review and study the matter?

Thanos Vlachogiannis, OLKE: Today is a historic day for the LGBTI society in Greece, a historic day for human rights. From today we are one step closer to full equality. It is a day that proves to all of us that many things can change in this country, provided that we all believe in change and try our best. The civil partnership pact, resolves many problems that same sex couples faced until today, it does however also shield them against social injustice and makes it smoother in the long term for them to be accepted as part of our society by those that have until now rejected them. With the experience gained with the process for the adoption of the Pact, we move stronger and bolder to the next step which is the legal recognition of civil marriage. From  tomorrow, I expect to see in the streets more same-sex couples go hand-in-hand, I am sure that as of today they regained a large part of their lost confidence.

First published, in Greek and English, on Antivirus Magazine, 23.12.2015.

 

Once upon a time there was Eurocommunism

Interview with  Giannis Balabanidis to  Rethinking Greece and GrèceHebdo

The ongoing financial crisis has highlighted different aspects of how Greece is engaged in various European dilemmas and how political developments in the country are interwoven with Europe’s contrasts. In this context, tracing the history of left wing political forces in Greece and their access to power involves a reexamination of the history of eurocommunism, since 
SYRIZA and other European radical left parties draw their legacy from this ideological tradition. At the same time, eurocommunism has also influenced Social-democratic parties and policies.
Panteion University researcher 
Giannis Balabanidis’ new book on Eurocommunism (just published in Greek by Polis editions) studies the history of Eurocommunism and the "long" decade of the 70's, exploring at the same time the dilemmas and prospects of progressive political forces both in Greece and in Europe. Giannis Balabanidis spoke to GrèceHebdo and Rethinking Greece*:

Your book is an exploration of the forgotten history of Eurocommunism. What made you choose such a topic?
My starting point was the “
KKE Interior” communist party (1968-1987), a paradoxical case: a small party with a wide ideological appeal; a communist party that was at the same time a reformist, moderate, pro-European party, bearing the message of an advanced political liberalism. Soon I realized that this small party was part of a much broader political movement, namely Eurocommunism, which at the time (early 70´s) included the Italian Communist Party (PCI) of Enrico Berlinguer, the French Communist Party (PCF) of Georges Marchais and the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) of Santiago Carrillo. A movement that has been a major attempt to renovate the communist project in order to adapt it to the Western liberal democracies and to part with the less and less attractive soviet model. Despite its contradictions and regressions, this renewal was successful, before its demise, just before 1989. Its heritage however has been essential for the European left.

Τhe cover of the book

What are the elements that bring SYRIZA as a party of the radical left close to the case of Eurocommunism?
The legacy I refer to applies to the case of SYRIZA in two ways. First, in terms of political kinship: the Greek Eurocommunism party,
KKE Interior” is the ancestor of SYRIZA. Second, as a renewed strategic proposal. The great innovation of Eurocommunism has been the attempt to transform the radicalism of "Global 1968", the political agenda of social movements focusing on the idea of a new utopia in the West, into a program for gradual social transformation through “structural reforms”, following the democratic conquest of power. This eurocommunist synthesis - "party of struggle and government party” - was the key for communist parties to evolve from “pariahs” to legitimate players in the national political scene.

We could draw parallels between this “forgotten history” of Eurocommunism of the 70s and the current political situation: the crisis and the austerity policies have lead to the emergence of a new radicalism in Europe, which favors radical Left parties - SYRIZA here being an exceptional but not unique case. The post-communist Left, which after 1989 was limited to a protest and "anti-systemic" profile, is now facing these old questions and seeks answers from its manifold and often conflicting heritage.

The logo of KKE interior

Once in power, can SYRIZA retain its radical left identity or will it be forced to turn into a social democratic party?
Eurocommunists have constantly oscillated between two divergent strategies: governance based on gradual reforms / breaking with the capitalist system. Far from attempting a direct historical analogy, a similar ambivalence may be observed during the government period of SYRIZA. The radical populist strategy that brought a party of 4-5% in power marked the first phase, haunted by the temptation of the "big rupture" with austerity, international lenders, the EU - culminating with the referendum of July 2015. But the moment of the rupture never came. SYRIZA has accepted the constraints of a conservative Europe, choosing the fight within the EU instead of a national retreat. In its second governing phase, SYRIZA is in search of a progressive public policy agenda and "anti-austerity" allies among the socialists of France, Italy, etc. Will SYRIZA then turn into a Social Democratic Party, parting with the radical Left? The question remains to be answered.

In your opinion, is there a promising future for social democracy or is it just a political force in decline?
Although its political appeal is currently quite low, social democracy remains a power with deep historical roots and governmental vocation, an indispensable component of European politics. Following a period of great popularity of Blairism and “third way” politics, social democracy seems to be reduced to an emaciated political mechanism. On the other hand, the radical Left in Europe has been strengthened since it constitutes a voice of protest against austerity policies. But although the radical Left exerts a considerable electoral pressure to socialist parties, it remains for the time being a minority force, without direct access to power.

In any case, it can be noted that the (non-linear) emergence of a radical left in Greece, but also in Spain, France, Germany or the Netherlands, seems to trigger shifts within the socialist parties. Could we perhaps seek similarities to what happened during the 70s when the emergence of Eurocomunism provoked a radicalization of the Mediterranean socialist parties of Mitterrand and González? Look at what happened recently in Portugal, where socialists needed the radical Left’s cooperation to return to power, under the banner of an anti-austerity plan too! Are we witnessing the emergence of a “plural left” (socialists, communists, greens) at a European level? That’s a hypothesis that remains to be confirmed or not.

Poster for the 1st Congress of  “Rigas Feraios”,
he youth organization of KKE interior

"Modernization" and “europeanisation”, central concepts in Greek political discourse especially during the Metapolitefsi period (i.e. after the 1967-74 dictatorship), are now met with the concept of "reforms", emphatically used in the political discourse of centrist political parties (Potami, PASOK). Can we rethink the Greek case as an opportunity to reconceptualize political radicalism and progressive reforms?
The "Modernization" and "europeanization” requests are intertwined with the history of the Greek state since its birth. And there is a corresponding unresolved duality in the Greek psyche, much more complex and contradictory than the supposed dualism between a progressive "Western" and a backward "East" aspect. Nevertheless, as many Modern Greek history scholars have shown, Greece has managed, even at the last moment, to follow the major strategic choices of the West, albeit with some delay, hence the perennial request for a “catch-up”.

"Modernization" in the Greek political discourse of the 1980s-1990s and more recently the call for "Reforms" are “floating signifiers”. Because what really matters is what kind of political forces will provide them with political substance and direction. Historically, the Left in Greece, despite its far-reaching efforts (e.g. with 
United Democratic Left during the 1950s-60s and KKE Interior during the 1970s and 80s) didn’t manage to rise to the occasion. The eurocommunist parties in general tried to incorporate modernization requests coming from the movements of 1968 and the new social trends (to the extent that some scholars have characterized them as “parties of modernization”). A case in point: a hegemonic moment for Italy’s PCI was its strong defense of the right to divorce in the referendum of 1974.

What kind of radical social demands are formulated in today's Greece? The right to citizenship for second generation immigrants and the right for civil partnership for homosexual couples are important cultural and institutional modernization demands. Thus there is a certain scope for progressive reforms beyond the MoU’s budgetary compulsions. But how can reforms really meet with left radicalism, under the conditions of the current Syriza alliance with the deeply conservative party of Independent Greeks? That's the question!

Enrico Berlinguer, general secretary of the Italian Commounist Party (PCI)
speaks  to the workers of FIAT, 1980 (source:
www.ricostruirepc.it)

 
Can we (re)think Greece within the comparative framework of Southern Europe? Do you think that the history of Eurocommunism can contribute to this end?
Paraphrasing
 Antonio Gramsci I would say that the history of Eurocommunism is the history of Europe from a certain point of view - and within this framework, the history of Greece. This is the major virtue of the comparative method, the fact that it allows us to escape the occasionally parochial national perspective.

The economic crisis, which manifested itself in a sweeping way in our country, triggered a process of individual and collective reflection. Why did we get here? What went wrong and how could we fix it? The answers proposed often remain trapped in an ethnocentric perspective. However, the facts constantly contradict all those interpretations attributing the crisis solely to Greek pathologies, as well as those who opted for national solutions (and ruptures) to problems that can only be handled at European level. So I believe that this comparative methodology could be an antidote to a certain intellectual self-reference that affects us all.


*Rethinking Greece Editors: Nikolas Nenedakis, Athina Rossoglou

An extended version of this interview has been published in Greek in "Εποχή" weekly newspaper
(Γ. Μπαλαμπανίδης: Η μεγάλη ευρωκομμουνιστική σύνθεση, 6.12.2015)


Republished from greeknewsagenda.gr

 
  • Published in POLITICS

Notes on the leftist governmental politics

 Polymeris Voglis
 
1. For the past six years the Memoranda have functioned as “structures of destruction” geared toward dismantling the political forces operating in Greece by forcing parties to abandon their constituencies and their commitments. Following the fall of PASOK and New Democracy, the Left’s turn came to yield (a kind of “Procrustes bed”) to the demands of the creditors and to suffer the consequences: the disappointment of voters, criticism from high-ranking cadres, and finally, the split of SYRIZA. The country’s political system is disintegrating as new parties are created, motley coalitions are made and new dividing lines are drawn. In order to maintain political power in the context of constant political instability, one resorts to political maneuvers and to finding ways to outdo his opponents. Tactics, however, often undermine strategy. The main questions at hand concern what we want Greek society to be like in ten years and how we can get there. As long as the strategic goal remains ambiguous, necessary steps in that direction remain speculative or even unknown. As a result, differences among political parties become negligible.

2. For years, SYRIZA’s position remained that Greece should remain a member of the European Union and that the Eurozone would never be abandoned, even as the primary question in Greek politics and the dominant distinction among parties revolved around the acceptance of the Memorandum or its rejection. The SYRIZA government’s failure to abrogate austerity policies from within the Eurozone has exposed the contradiction at the heart of the party’s line. Six months of strenuous negotiations have shown that “no to austerity-yes to Euro” is no longer a viable plan or promise. Seen from that viewpoint, the July 13 agreement was the best the government could achieve while remaining in the Eurozone. A section of the Left insists that Greece should leave the EU and return to the drachma as a prerequisite to a better future. However, there is no “national solution” to the problems that Greece (or any other country for that matter) faces and the isolation that would inevitably follow a Grexit cannot be the only proposal the Left has to offer. In the era of globalization, borders become more and more porous at every level and challenges require collaboration. The current refugee crisis is a case in point. Europe is the framework for building coalitions, finding solutions and shaping the future of Greece.

3. The new agreement curtails the scope of a Left government. The question remains, is there room for a leftist policy within the confines of the Memorandum? The main objective of a Left government today must be the restitution of social justice: the fight against rising social inequalities in Greece born of austerity and neoliberal policies. It goes without saying that the July 13 agreement makes no attempt to redress the social ills generated by austerity policies. A government of the Left could and should renegotiate parts of the agreement or implement an additional program that addresses the needs of workers and of the unemployed and that protects the most vulnerable social groups.  The measures taken in light of the humanitarian crisis last March would be an apposite start. At the same time, a set of necessary reforms should be introduced; some of them are already part of the new agreement. Reforms against tax evasion, against the privileges of the oligarchs and against corruption are necessary and it is in the power of a Left government to carry them out.

4. Thus far, the major shortcoming of the SYRIZA government has been in governing. The long negotiations with the creditors had a paralytic effect on the government, even as far as issues unconnected to the economy were concerned. Ideas did not translate into policies, necessary reforms in the state and in the public sector were not implemented, there was no “wind of change” in education or in labor, and often, inexperience was coupled with incompetence. After the agreement was signed and the party had split, skepticism and disappointment took over. If SYRIZA wins the coming elections, the new government should be diligent in pushing for the changes that Greek society desperately needs. On the other hand, it is up to society to support necessary changes and to tackle the social injustice perpetuated by the creditor’s demands in the new agreement. In short, in the coming years a SYRIZA government should establish a new relationship with its social base. The new government should push for reforms grounded in the feedback it received from that base: from people and groups willing to take part in the shaping and implementation policies that improve the everyday life of the majority and change the society.        

PolymerisVoglis is  an Associate Professor of Modern History, University of Thessaly. He is the author of "Becoming a Subject. Political Prisoners during the Greek Civil War, 1945-1950", New York : Berghahn Books, New York : Berghahn Books, 2002.

 

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

SYRIZA, from the historic victory to the humiliating capitulation and the political crisis

 Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos
 
No pain, no gain.  Following the relevant endorsement by the national assemblies of Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Austria and Latvia, the European Commission and ESM announced the approval of the 2-year loan of €86bl to Greece. This came just a few days after the parliament approved the third MoU tabled by a left-wing government supported by bourgeois parties and dominant media, following once again an urgent, self-humiliating parliamentary process under the Eurogroup's pending decision.
 
Yet another general election which is around the corner and the party congress which was decided by the Central Committee but yet to be confirmed, are both likely to be nothing more than a process to reaffirm Prime Minister Tsipras' dominance in the party and the political system.  If someone was to claim back in early July that we would reach this point, he would have been accused of being out of touch with reality. Still, here we are now.
 
All of us who found ourselves fighting for SYRIZA over the last eleven years and particularly over the last seven years of the crisis-attack, all of us who supported the case of Europe's first post-WWII left-wing government, all of us who believed that such a government, even a moderate left-wing government, could actually survive in the neo-liberal darkness of the EU, can today claim we are in the middle of a crushing defeat. This defeat which should be discussed and registered as a political defeat, not as a moral betrayal, i.e. the government's forced capitulation is our collective failure; it represents an ominous sign of imperialist obtrusion beyond any democratic framework.  There are a number of objective and subjective reasons for this failure - and as far as the latter are concerned, there are individuals throughout the government and party hierarchy and throughout SYRIZA's ideological and political spectrum, who share, even if not equally, the responsibility.
 
The situation is already clear: the trauma and the consequences of this defeat, sealed by the third MoU, will leave an indelible trace. SYRIZA will never be the same - and this particular 'ending' is already a key factor of the unfolding political crisis.  The current crisis, as a continuation of the representation crisis back in 2007, has already got an impact on all manifestations of left-wing political forces in Europe in the political and social race of the third MoU era which has just begun.  And it is too early to say how the crisis could be resolved, let alone be optimistic about its outcome.  Nonetheless, we do need to urgently come up with some "working hypotheses" as regards the next steps so that we can defend the working class and youth against the third MoU, keep the clash that the recent referendum demonstrated, alive - so that the pro-NO Left can consider what the victorious Left will be like in the new era.
 
The referendum
 

The obvious starting point of any kind of evaluation and planning is the victorious outcome of a clash of social classes that took international proportions on 5 July, which just within a week was turned upside down reducing itself to the government's humiliating settlement with the Troika.  All of us who fought in this battle, know that  in political terms time has never felt denser, that our clash has never been that genuine or existential, that our joy for this shared victory has never been greater. But at the same time we know that the leadership and planning deficit has never been that crucial for a class clash of such a scale: let me just remind you that up to the Wednesday before the referendum we didn’t know if there was going to be a referendum at all; up to Thursday we were listening to ministers and MPs assuring the electorate that there was going to be a deal (some of them went as far as suggesting a YES vote); for a whole week we witnessed State broadcaster ERT neutrality while the bourgeois media were plotting, and our people were being blackmailed at their workplace and at the ATM queues without us being able to defend them.  The government rightly condemned the EU coup against it; those days felt like we were members of the Popular Unity merely handing out leaflets while Allende was under threat.
 
This is a key point we should consider:  the referendum, i.e. that citizens’ involvement was a spontaneous, almost instinctive choice of the government in an attempt to halt the downward spiral of the negotiation – a kind of survival spasm just before drowning; a turning point in the course of continuous compromise with a few quelling peaks that the deal was “a matter of days” (that lasted four months…) and of tactics  put in place in 20 February that left no room for the masses to play a role and inevitably no role for the SYRIZA party.
 
 
From (ultra) continuity of the State to class capitulation
 
But if money and people’s support are the sources of power in our societies today, the Government suspended its key advantage for five months, by not lining up the masses; instead it called people in the frontline when its tactics had already failed under a crashing balance of power, when its “red lines” had already faded in the “47 page proposal” which in itself was difficult to defend because of lack of power.  This phase was concluded with the masses once again on the sidelines of the Government’s planning, with the resigned interpretation of the referendum mandate and the meeting of the council of political party leaders, far from any party procedure. 
 
Of course the responsibility of these choices is different for each of those involved and it can be clearly attributed to certain known individuals. At the same time SYRIZA’s founding documents had foreseen that the negotiations would not be a friendly discussion amongst partners.  This kind of non-participatory model of governance with the party fully subjected to the government was not everyone’s preferred option.  Still, left-wing evaluation cannot be limited to specific moments in time or particular individuals; it should depend on wider processes and, ultimately, on a class struggle level.  What I mean is that instead of talking about “treason” and “traitors” at highest leadership level, it would be far more constructive to argue that the Greek bourgeois class fought an existential battle in support of YES against a solid international block, by activating mechanisms and alliances in order to support the equally existential objective of staying in the Eurozone.  On the other hand and to the extent that the blackmailing “MoU or disorderly default and Grexit” was a genuine and reliable one, the Government should have prepared for revolutionary conditions. In an attempt to avoid such conditions, the government’s plan was therefore limited to shifting the confrontation from a level of economic and political power in Greece and in the EU to a level of “national salvation” and of “a common European sense”.  This is why government policy was ultimately reduced to an attempt to avoid the worst by going for the least dreadful option.  
 
This shift and therefore the backing out from the clash, led to (a) the programmatic ambiguities and the nationalist-populist rhetoric during the campaigning ahead of the 25 January general election, (b) the choices of Pavlopoulos for the Presidency of the Republic, and of ANEL and DIMAR politicians for key ministries, as well as the appointment of “technical experts” of the establishment in key positions in the government and wider public sector, and (c) celebrating the “victory” of the 20 February deal despite the fact that the government committed both to repay “in full and on time” an unsustainable debt and to refrain from any “unilateral changes of policies and structural reforms that would have an adverse effect on fiscal objectives, recovery of the economy and financial stability as per the institutions’ evaluation”.
 
The political crisis
Outlining the background of the capitulation of 12 July and the vote of the third MoU on 14 August, is important because it allows us to go a step further from a discussion about plans and planning which dominates the public speech of the Left; it helps us understand that any “plan” requires a subject – a subject that SYRIZA failed to determine while in opposition.  A subject that would have a clear grasp of the limits and the potential of the circumstances, that would understand that there is no room for a middle road in the midst of a crisis and a fierce class struggle with no return and that would be able to help design the tactics and the strategy needed, instead of substituting one with the other.
 
It is not at all certain that this hypothesis would have lead SYRIZA to January election victory – nor that it would have allowed SYRIZA to balance the pressure of a totalitarian EU which, apart from its internal rivalries, stands united on the basis of class rationalism and extreme austerity.  Nonetheless it is absolutely certain that if the SYRIZA strategy was not so bluntly focused on parliament, had SYRIZA made sure that there was more to planning and decision making than the superficial technical discussion about the national currency, had SYRIZA proceeded to unilateral action in the banking system to face capital outflow and in the taxation system to raise the funds needed for a comprehensive policy that would support the social groups it represented, had it not left the streets, had SYRIZA really believed in what it preached regarding the EU and the euro – if, in an nutshell, SYRIZA had fought the battle on a real level of power instead of arguing in favour of an imaginary world of a solution mutually beneficial for wolves and sheep alike, things would have been different today.  In the place of those “what ifs”, we have got a government that sadly looks more and more like the late DIMAR; and a party that is at the verge of an irrevocable split.  The third MoU is designed with such precision that SYRIZA strangles with its own two hands all the social groups it has represented since 2010, one by one – and it does so in a framework of strict monitoring that leaves little room for maneuvering.  And this is all taking place despite the fact that everyone acknowledges that the programme is far from feasible and while Grexit will keep hanging over our heads both as a means to discipline the government - and thus speeding up its pro-MoU mutation… – and as the possible end destination of this new course.
 
Limits, needs and possibilities
Today there is little room for optimism for a number of reasons:  the fact that certain parts of the society have been familiarised with the MoU reality; the strong belief that this government did at least give a fight, the Prime Minister’s dominance in SYRIZA and in the political system; the fact that even radical currents are trapped in a real impasse (as well as the aggressive justification of the MoU as a road with no alternative by a part of the government and the party that pushes things to the edge with some help from the Troika and the Greek bourgeois). As a result the trauma in the party’s body that supported the December protests, the protests in the squares and the battle of the MoU, will take a lot of time and a lot of effort to heal – if it is possible to heal at all.  But if this is true, then it is also true that the dense political time calls for regrouping as soon as possible.  
 
Obviously, if SYRIZA turns into DIMAR, if, in other words, SYRIZA internalises the outcome of a coup as its own programme, if SYRIZA goes from “no sacrifice for the euro” to “staying in power, MoU and the euro at all costs”, then SYRIZA will die out in the mid-term.  It is also clear that SYRIZA can no longer /promise an “even tougher negotiation”, in a European Union which has proven to be hostile to any idea of popular sovereignty.  So in order to maintain the representation it has built over these years, particularly in the face of the very real neo-Nazi threat, SYRIZA needs to clash with the MoUs, the Greek bourgeois and the EU.  It requires something that didn’t happen when the balance of power was more favourable: nationalisation of the banks under social control, heavy taxation of capitals, ensuring political and practical solidarity by the community that recognised the 12th of July as a coup, the internationalisation of the struggle against the EU, the protests.  Undoubtedly, the pro-No Left would rather face a pro-MoU SYRIZA-lead government than the rabble that preyed upon the power until last January.  But equally the pro-No Left should undoubtedly see far beyond this, towards a new path through the development of the necessary subject and plan.  Up until now, this plan was cracked up to serve the needs of inner-Left and inner-SYRIZA rift instead of it being thoroughly worked out either in technical terms (i.e. ATM operation, changing contracts’ currency, handling inflation and necessary imports), or most importantly in political and social terms.  This should be the mission of a united pro-NO Left that respects diverse routes and subjective views while ensuring the conditions for a joint struggle and for the maximum effectiveness possible.  As the last democratic alternative is wiped out by the Troika’s blackmail, as the fight is now for the basic necessities (water supply, power supply, housing, democracy), our joint struggle will be an existential one:  we have to prepare for it as soon as possible, but, most importantly, we have to win.


Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos is a member of the editorial board of RedNotebook and AnalyzeGreece!

 

Pantelis Boukalas: Memoranda. The weapons that backfired

Pantelis Boukalas

The bitter history of Greece’s bailout agreements, which were introduced in a bid to regulate – and even manipulate – the country’s politics (and by extension its economy) is in fact reminiscent of similar kinds of agreements imposed in other states: Sooner or later, and regardless of any resistance based on the popular will, opposition parties that come to power due to their anti-bailout rhetoric give in.

That is not because the opposition is not in the right, nor because its economic plans are less sophisticated and productive than those laid out by creditors. Rather, it is because the opposition is weaker and is knocking on strangers’ doors out of need. Its economic needs makes the opposition vulnerable and powerless in the face of the creditors’ ultimatums.

Now it has seen its heavy weaponry slipping away and into the hands of lenders. It was widely held – among government and opposition officials, as well as pundits – that the prospects of a Grexit served as a major weapon in the hands of Greece. All the aforementioned believed that the weapon’s mere existence would be enough to curb the European’s intransigence. Perhaps that was true, if partly, in 2012 – but not in 2015. In the three years that passed, eurozone and European Union states (and some non-EU countries) prepared themselves for the consequences of a Grexit.

At the same time, Greece was chewing on the laurels of a victory that never came. And when the gun backfired and after we were informed (mainly thanks to a slate of contradictory statements by Greece’s former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis) of one, and then two, and then three different contingency plans, then we switched back to immature partisan mode. And then, what would have been necessary (i.e. the preparation of several contingency plans so that the country would be protected in the eventuality of a euro exit) was denounced as treason.

A second weapon that backfired was the general faith in the ethical and political weight of popular mandate in terms of both in the January 25 elections and the bailout referendum. Greece’s European partners responded by saying that the will of the Greek people is more than offset by the will of another 18 nations (which however never held their own plebiscites on the Greek issue). Against this argument, the Greek government – which was rich in voluntarism yet poor in preparation – responded with the usual claim about the need to respect democracy in the place where it was born. That mantra was indicative of its confusion.

The government made a big mistake in taking for granted that the EU operates along democratic lines. Here’s a goal to aspire to.

Pantelis Boukalas is a journalist and author

First published in Greek on the newspaper "Kathimerini" (18.8.2015). Published in English on the English edition of "Kathimerini" (18.8.2015)
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