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

Μacedonia: Down with the King, Long leave the Revolution

Interview with Jasmina Golubovska
 
In the past couple of days, we have had mass protests in Skopje and all the Republic of Macedonia. What are the main reasons for these protests?
The reasons are very simple and date as far as from 2009 and the first civil resistance towards criminal or suspicious behavior of the governing coalition partners VMRO-DPMNE (which declares itself as Demo-Christian right wing party) and DUI (which declares itself as democratic party of the citizens belonging to the Albanian community) yet, both are ethno-centric parties of the two predominant ethnic groups within the country. Their coalition lasts for over 10 years in perfect harmony, although they declare difference in political ideology. The similarity between the two parties can be found only in their so-called representatives in the electorate, which are based on ethnic belonging of the voters. Their governance together has been problematic, highly suspicious and based on ethno-political mobilization and nationalism as driving force of the party members. Therefore, one needs to wonder upon the real intentions of being in politics. Well, the time has come to reveal their masks of being coalition-partners in crime and corruption deals, hiding behind their national-romanticism campaigns, owning half of the country, brought censorship and limited civil rights gradually since 2006 when they came in power.
 
Which is the main aim and the main demands?
The aim is simple. We’ve been on the streets as members of civil society since 2009. Many things happened in the course of these 7 years, many people got arrested, including journalists, media owners, political opponents etc., nothing has changed. Only the political crisis has only deepened, having in mind last year’s wire-tapping scandal revealing all of their crimes. They brought exploitation of the workers by reducing workers’ rights for attracting investors (in reality money laundering and provisions in pockets) murders and bullies, motivated to abuse the people for personal gain and power. After the latest attempt of their puppet President of State Ivanov to abolish all crimes based only on allegations and all possible prosecution of crimes in future, done by the Special Prosecutor Office we’ve taken the streets once more, hoping to last until the demands are met. Nothing more, nothing less… Since the movement #Protestiram is every person who protests against the government as criminal organization, we agreed on the following minimum demands:
  Refraction of the fake President decision to abolish all crimes done by current and past, holding or held High public function in executive, judicial or legislative branch; and his immediate resignation as second demand; third, Opinion of the Constitutional Court about the submitted Initiative allegedly against the new institution, Special Prosecutor Office, signed and voted in Parliament by more than 90 MPs as poltical agreement to investigate all alleged crimes. The Initiative was submitted by the current Public Prosecutor who is the extended hand of the VMRO-DPMNE party in controlling the judicial system. We as citizens would like the Special Prosecutor Office to also have opportunity to investigate and prosecute the crimes on independence court since this one is obviously run by the two coalition partners in government.
Therefore the forth demand is Special department in the Criminal Court working only on the cases where there are evidence of possible abuse of power by politicians and where their party members were/are involved. The fifth demand is for their party member and President of the Assembly, to retract the decision for elections on the 05th, June where only DUI and VMRO-DPMNE will be the only contestants; number 6 goes to our involvement in current or future negotiations about our lives and future here; all negotiations to be held in Macedonia, not some European capitol where we are excluded; finally, forming of Transition government which will reform the system according to priorities and well-being of all people in the country. Since yesterday a new demand, very general one: Stop arresting our friends and comrades in battle, since you have no space in the prisons to arrest us all J.

How would you describe the social, political and ideological profile of the protests and the people who protest?
…Very colorful, as the revolution which got a new identity and name of being colorful revolution. The social, political and ideological diversity among people who are part of this resistance is amazing and invigorating. This is especially important for part of the people who’ve past most of their time protesting on the streets when people were too scared to even discuss possible crimes in the government or security and privacy bridges of citizens. We are very happy that our people are finally awaken and taken the streets, as they belong to us including the public institutions and public space as a whole. 

What is #Protestiram and which is its role in the mobilization?
The movement #Protestiram came out of last year’s arrests and clash with police on the 05th of May due to revolt we had when we heard that the cover up of the murder of Martin Neshkovski in 2011 by the government top officials is true. The information was reveled in the wire-tapped materials. Then we agreed, #Protestiram is every person who protests against the government as criminal organization. Yes, the students were the driving force, however, one needs to recall on the last 7 years of various Initiatives, demonstration and protests which led to the current developments.  What are, according to your opinion, the prospects and the future of this movement? Well, we are all #Protestiram, even the people who still cannot speak of the oppression, among their party members or employees in public institutions, therefore, future looks bright and colorful J.
 
Jasmina Golubovska is a human being, worker and activist, and sometimes (if lucky) Jedi.
 
Jasmina Golubovska was interviewed by Stratis Bournazos, 26.4.2016. The interview will be published in Greek on «Enthemata» of the newspaper «Avgi» (30.4.2106).




 

 

A colorful revolution in Macedonia?

Interview with Gabriela Andreevska
 
In the past couple of days, we have had mass protests in Skopje and all the Republic of Macedonia. What are the main reasons for these protests? The main aim and the main demands?
The protests were sparked off by the decision of the President of the Republic of Macedonia to grant amnesty to all the prosecuted politicians, many among whom charged with heavy crimes. There were politicians from the ruling party and the main opposition, so the President claims he did it to “solve the deep political crisis” in the country. Of course, the citizens know he did it mostly so as to protect the criminals from the ruling right-wing party – VMRO-DPMNE.
However, it would be wrong to say that this was the main reason for the protests – in point of fact, this was the final straw in a series of events leading up to the mass protests currently taking place throughout Macedonia. Thus, it would be more appropriate to say that the main reason for the protests is us saying NO to life in a criminal, authoritarian, elitist system of injustice. The main reason is our vociferous demand and continued fight for a socially just and equal society, where people will be treated with dignity regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation or lack thereof. The main reason I would say is our belief that such a society is indeed possible – but it must be upon us to create it, that is why the people are there on the streets protesting. It is the continued awakening of the consciousness, there is no “international saviour” that will do it for us (and we already saw just how much the EU cares for human rights in the system crisis also referred to as “refugee” crisis) so it is ironic to expect a panacea from the international community.
And even if the international community had interests to “force democratic order” upon the Republic of Macedonia, it would be precisely that – “forcing it”. So what is happening instead is a civic awakening, mobilisation of people that are becoming increasingly enraged and more importantly – aware that it must be us the ones to speak up and fight. Reclaiming the streets, reclaiming what is ours. Reclaiming what has been plundered by the corrupt ruling elite. Reclaiming justice, freedom, equality, universal sisterhood and brotherhood. And in a social context of almost utter control of the media., where else can we voice these demands if not on the streets? This is why people are on the streets protesting.
 
How would you describe the social, political and ideological profile of the protests and the people who protest?
Some have started referring to the current protests as “The Colourful Revolution”. As many others, I do not know if it is a revolution, but it is indeed “colourful”. There is a plethora of people from diverse cultural and social backgrounds, yet they are united in that they all are sick and tired of the current regime and are seeking a better alternative. There are some divergences of course as to what exactly this better alternative would be, but we do agree that it must be grounded in principles of equality and justice. There are protesters completely unaffiliated with any NGO or political party, there is the NGO sector, there are representatives from political parties, a variety of ethnicities – ethnic Macedonians, ethnic Albanians, Ethnic Vlachs, Christians, Muslims, atheists, agnostics etc. But then again, it is this sheer diversity of profiles that adds vivid and flamboyant colours to the protests – may the new system of social justice be one where we thrive in diversity and mutual respect for this diversity.
 
Is there any connection with other demonstrations in the past, for example the student occupation the first months of 2015 or the demonstrations of May 2015? Do you think that people are inspired from movements in other countries, like Nuit Debout (or Indignados)?
The current protests are certainly a continuation of the 2015 protests and the protests and struggle years and years before. Decades before. Centuries before. In Macedonia and beyond its borders. The struggle is long and ongoing and I don’t expect that a “quick fix” would magically appear overnight, even if the entirety of Macedonia takes to the streets to protest against the regime. It is just a small fraction of a global struggle against a destructive, disintegrating, neo-liberal system way beyond the borders of Macedonia, which has to be transitioned to a socially just, equal and sustainable system throughout the world, not just in one given country.
Let’s not kid ourselves – this radical change cannot and will not happen overnight. And I don’t know if I will even live long enough to witness it – but I can certainly contribute with every fibre of my being to pave the way toward it. Step by step. Little by little. In that sense, in view of the global nature of the current system that we strive to eradicate, witnessing the emergence and reinforcement of movements as Nuit Debout or Indignados is certainly inspiring, but also the wonderful left culture in Greece, which I have personally drawn a lot of inspiration from. Even more inspiring is when we support each other, beyond nations and borders showing solidarity and unity in our joint fight against the same exploitative neo-liberal system – so for example you see people from Macedonia supporting the protests in Greece or people from Greece supporting the protests in Macedonia. That is what I call inspiring.
 
What is #Protestiram and which is its role in the mobilization?
#Protestiram (or #Iprotest in English) is a movement by the citizens and for the citizens. It is not a political party, it is not an NGO, It is me, it is you, it is all of us. As such, as a citizens’ movement, it has had a very powerful role of mobilisation. There have been people severely disillusioned not just by the ruling party, but also by the opposition parties, NGOs and establishment politics and organisations in general.  Real change can only occur if the protests remain independent and led by the people and for the people, not by any establishment political party. This is exactly the current unifying aspect of #Protestiram – it transcends establishment organisation - it belongs to all of us, the angry, the oppressed, the change-seekers, the idealists and doers, the people that have taken to the streets wanting to create change.

What are, according to your opinion, the prospects and the future of this movement?
It has been growing and it has yet to grow. The real revolution would not be overthrowing the current ruling party and replacing it with a left party or a “milder” government, but rather, reinforcing a movement like this where we fight for long-term social justice and long-term structural societal change. For the movement to impact such structural changes,  it must adopt a much stronger anti-neoliberal narrative way beyond the borders of Macedonia. It must question every single thing we do so that we keep on reforming the global exploitation system. This includes showing all-encompassing international solidarity not just with the oppressed people in Macedonia, but with all oppressed fellow fighters throughout the world, whether the NuitDebout in France, Indignados in Spain, the neighbours from Greece or the refugee sisters and brothers from Congo, Syria, Afghanistan etc. And I believe that slowly, but steadily it is already happening. And that is the only true revolution and future prospects I would see in this movement; not just overthrowing a dictatorial regime.

Gabriela Andreevska is a social activist, mostly involved in grassroots initiatives for social justice, human rights, gender quality, freedom of movement, and sustainable development. She has been involved in the refugee crisis as a humanitarian and political activist. She is a member of the Left Movement "Solidarnost".

Gabriela Andreevska was interviewed by Stratis Bournazos, 26.4.2016. The interview will be published in Greek on "Enthemata" of the newspaper "Avgi" (30.4.2106)


 

Welcome to “Mirmigi”!


Mirmigi started to operate in 2012 by people active in various social and political movements. Most of them were engaged in other regional initiatives such as the conquest of the market of Kypseli and most of them were residents of the 6th district of the city of Athens.

Every day, we experience the abandonment and poverty in our neighborhood, Kypseli. More and more of us are experiencing difficulty to get by, to live with dignity and secure our daily necessities. More and more families, neighbors, friends, relatives are being driven to hopelessness, deprivation, poverty and alienation. We are neighbors and we believe that all of us together, united and in solidarity, we can effectively overcome the huge problems of the economic crisis that has been imposed on us. For this reason we formed the Solidarity Network of the 6th District, “to Mirmigi” (the Ant). Our network operates on two principles:

Solidarity derives from all towards to all people with no discriminations or exclusions. It is our weapon against their crisis. Together we claim our right to dignity.

Decisions are made directly by the same people who are actively involved in this endeavor, in the basis of self-management.The coordinating body of Mirmigi arranges its meetings on a weekly basis and it is based on the principle of equality. The meetings are open to everyone. This body decides on the special meeting which takes place every last Sunday of the month. The Mirmingi is self-organized and self-managed. Everyone who wishes to be a part of the venture is welcome.

Our space is located at the cross of Eptanisou and Tenedou St, in the area of Kipseli. We regularly organize movie screenings, parties and gatherings, discussions and other cultural events. We collect food through the donations made from the people of the neighborhood or the Mirmingi friends from all over the world. The food we gather is given out to people who are in need. We also gather clothes, shoes, blankets, bed sheets etc. for our free, permanent bazaar, toys and children’s books, as well as medicines for the supply of social pharmacies and healthcare centers. What is more, we provide legal support for families heavily in debt, consulting by social workers and psychologists, lessons for children in primary school. Since April 2013, we have been organizing on a monthly basis a Market without Intermediaries event which has open food market in our neighborhood, offering low-price and high-quality products sold directly by producers and collectivities from all over Greece. With the food we collect we already support more than 500 families.

Mirmigi has three food and clothing distribution shifts: Monday 18.00-20.00, Wednesday 10.00-12.00 and Thursday 18.00-20.00. Every Tuesday the meeting of the coordinating body takes place. In addition, every Wednesday and Saturday we hand out flyers outside the supermarkets of the neighborhood and ask for the neighbors’ contribution by buying something for our weekly food distribution.

In July 2013 we had one of the most moving moments for Mirmigi when a targeted fascist arson attack took place in our space and the neighborhood reacted and mobilized directly by extinguishing the fire and participating in a mass antifascist march of Mirmigi. Additionally, another precious moment which highlights the importance and the recognition of Mirmigi was when the municipality authorities asked the police to stop the operation of the Market without Intermediaries. Mirmigi managed in the next few hours to gather thousands of signatures from people opposed to this unfair act.

The “Mirmingi” is not a framework of the government, neither is it subsidized by the government. Rather, it is supported solely by the efforts and the solidarity of all those supporting the network. The bags containing food or the clothes come a long way before they get to the hands of the people supported. For our efforts to have continuity and stability we need the involvement of everybody in the neighborhood who can help in any way. Let’s meet.



Mirmigi, Solidarity Network of the 6th Community of Athens: Eptanisou and Tenedou St, Kipseli, Athens

 

The SYRIZA Split and Popular Unity (LAE)

From the Referendum to the split  of Syriza and the creation of Popular Unity (LAE): Α critical presentation

Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos

Following 5 July referendum the two parties that fiercely campaigned for a NO vote and won it were fraught with splits: both SYRIZA and ANTARSYA are different parties to those that stood for election in January. However, SYRIZA’s sheer size, its position within the political system and  its stance of violent confrontation – no longer with the EU but with much of the Greek Left itself – make its own split and partial liquidation a key determinant in the coming elections. Two inter-related yet distinct processes contributed to this split and liquidation.

The first and arguably most significant of these processes, is the split of the Left Platform (LP), the main opposition within SYRIZA, and the consequent formation of Popular Unity (PU), now running for election behind Panayiotis Lafazanis.  The LP was constituted by former KKE members (also known as the Left Current) and other smaller groups – primarily anti-capitalist/Trotskyist organisations (known as the Red Network). The LP now forms the bulwark PU, in the company of groups that split from ANTARSYA (ARAN, ARAS) and former SYRIZA MPs running as independents (such as the former President of the Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou). The party has also received the support of the Left Radical Initiative (LRI) – an ad hoc formation of members of the ‘53+ Initiative’, the left Eurocommunist tendency of SYRIZA, some of whom remained in SYRIZA, while others left without joining PU.  

The formation of PU
The formation of PU was announced a day after the government’s resignation and the consequent call to snap elections. It should be stressed that the call to elections was the initiative of Alexis Tsipras and not of the party, none of which organs were consulted. Furthermore, it was a decision that disregarded and nullified SYRIZA’s Central Committee’s decision to hold a party conference before the elections. Thus, on 21 August, Panayiotis Lafazanis, one of the most prominent party officials of SYNASPISMOS – eventually of SYRIZA –, the leader of the LP, and a minister in the SYRIZA-ANEL government, announced that 25 MPs of the LP would be leaving SYRIZA.  The LP’s three representatives (including the ‘moderate’ Alekos Kalyvis) in the party’s Political Secretariat also left on the same day, while 53 members of the LP resigned from SYRIZA’s Central Committee shortly afterwards.

However, the liquidation of SYRIZA should not be ascribed simply to the departure of those party officials who went on to form LU. Indeed, the departure of officials and members who had belonged to the majority faction of the party and who had supported Tsipras since his early days as a leader of SYRIZA, brought about an equally damaging blow. These departures stimulated a domino effect, leading to the resignation of the party secretary, Tasos Koronakis, of the majority of the Youth Branch (a gesture accompanied by a call not to vote for SYRIZA), and of dozens of Central Committee and Provincial Committee members across the country. Following the same vein, many MPs announced that they would not run for re-election. Many of these party officials once formed Tsipras’s (very) close circle, while others represented the very groups that had founded SYRIZA – among them the 17 prominent members of KOE –a group with links to Maoism- who have been part of the party’s opposition in the past year.

Thus it appears that contrary to the party’s public statements, the SYRIZA “bleed”, that tipped the internal balance of power in favour of Tsipras’s loyal supporters, was not solely attributable to the LP. The de facto split of both the former majority and the former minority suggests an overall liquidation of the party, given the former majority had been a heterogeneous group whose cohesion was guaranteed only by its unified opposition to the LP.

Were this split and liquidation unavoidable?
Were this split and liquidation unavoidable? What is the political potential of PU now, less than a week before the general election? And what is the political map of the Left now that internal battles have torn down the euphoria brought about by the January elections?

Let us bring some facts to the table. On 10 July, three MPs and two out of the three LP members of the Political Secretariat of SYRIZA (with the exception of Alekos Kalyvis) asked Tsipras to respond to the ‘Institutions’’ blackmail surrounding a third austerity package with an ultimatum: ‘a new program with no further austerity measures that guarantees liquidity and the write-off of the debt or Greece will leave the Eurozone and will stop paying the unfair and unsustainable debt’. After that and until the parliamentary vote for the third austerity package on the 14 July, 25 MPs close to the Left Platform, together with the President of the Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, voted against the proposed austerity measures, even as they pledged support for the government.

Dissenters were not only to be found among MPs or among members of the LP. On 15 July, 109 out of 201 members of SYRIZA’s Central Committee, demanded the rejection of the third austerity package and an emergency gathering of the Committee, which had been largely inactive throughout the seven months of SYRIZA’s government. At the same time, PMs from the ‘53+ Initiative’, a constitutive tendency of Tsipras’s majority, together with MPs without party tendency affiliations, occasionally chose to abstain in certain parliamentary votes.

The crisis within the party gradually spread to the government. On 17 July, a cabinet reshuffle left Panayiotis Lafazanis, Dimitris Stratoulis, Kostas Isychos, and Nadia Valavani (an independent working along with the LP who had resigned a few days earlier) without portfolios: retribution for their votes against the austerity measures required for the conclusion of the new Memorandum. After the government’s expulsion of those dissenters, an agreement could be concluded.

Despite this escalation of tensions both within the party and within the government against the backdrop of the looming third Memorandum, SYRIZA’s Central Committee did not meet until 30 July: seventeen days after the conclusion of the Memorandum agreement.  In order to avoid a split (or for others, in order to postpone it to a more auspicious time) the Central Committee avoided making any decisive statements on the third austerity package. The decision was backed by the LP in a period in which SYRIZA’s tendencies had taken to functioning as ‘cartels’ – a modus operandi inherited from SYNASPISMOS.  Thus, Tsipras’s majority proposed holding a party conference in September 2015, with the new party delegates and before general elections took place. The LP tried to push through a party conference with the same delegates as the previous one, which had taken place in July 2012, so that the Party could have a binding decision on the subject of the third austerity package before the relevant vote in the Parliament. Two weeks later, on the 14 August, the third Memorandum was voted in with 222 out of 300 MPs – a quote bought with the support of SYRIZA, ND, PASOK, and To Potami. However,  44 SYRIZA MPs voted against the party’s whip -- voting “no” or abstaining.

On 20 August, once the LP had pointed out that a party conference following the third Memorandum agreement would be entirely pointless,  Alexis Tsipras announced the resignation of the government and called snap elections, circumventing the Central Committee’s decision to hold a party conference before the next election. That was the beginning of the end of SYRIZA as we knew it. 

***

Who is to blame for the breakup?
For about a month and a half, Syriza turned into a blame-game playing field. Who is to blame for the breakup? Is it the party's leadership that “betrayed the Greek people's NO at the referendum, by signing an onerous 3rd Memorandum”? Or is it the Left Platform, for “being a party within the party for a long time, and finally overthrowing the first government of the Left in Europe since WWII”? Was the breakup unavoidable, given the profound divergence of viewpoints – especially as regards the Eurozone and the Memorandum – held by the party’s constituent tendencies? Is it fair to say that Alexis Tsipras' personal decision to call elections, ignoring all party procedures was, at the very least, a catalyst?

The Left Platform has every right to claim that it was alone in insisting on the need to prepare for the possibility of a Grexit. After all, it was Syriza's intention from its founding Conference (2013) that the forecasted negotiation not be a friendly chat with good-willing partners, but rather a head-on confrontation that would leave all eventualities open; Syriza summarised its policy with the motto “No sacrifice for the Euro, no delusion for the Drachma”. This stance seemed already relinquished by 20 February, when the Greek government’s agreement with the Troika included a promise to repay Greece’s non-sustainable debt in full and on time, together with the waiving of state rights to any unilateral action regarding the labour market and the banking system.  For this, Tsipras fell under heavy criticism from the Left Platform. In this context, SYRIZA’s main problem was not the Left Platform’s antagonistic strategy towards the leadership, but rather the acceptance of a 3rd Memorandum as an unavoidable choice – a gesture that drastically compromised the leadership’s reputation. To add to that,  the abolition of all democratic procedures within the party and, ultimately, the deconstruction of the party itself – given all its organs and departments were running on “safe mode” during the most critical and eventful period (from January onwards) – essentially yielded a left revival of the TINA doctrine, as many government officials reassured their European partners that they will faithfully implement a Memorandum that even the IMF finds to be at fault. The wave of resignations from SYRIZA was made up by forces much broader than today’s Left Platform. The combination of the acceptance of the 3rd Memorandum (in stark contrast to the party's policy) only one week after the resounding NO of the referendum, together with the suspension of all collective party procedures that culminated in the cancellation of an agreed Convention, proved to be explosive (though underestimated by the leadership), leading hundreds of cadres and members to resign, and many of those who stayed were left indefinitely paralysed, uncertain of what to do next.

Yet, none of the above is meant to suggest that the Left Platform is beyond reproach. In my opinion, the most serious point of critique is this: the Left Platform invests more effort in denouncing the Memorandum and in capitalising on the (well-deserved) anger at Syriza's mutation, than in a concrete alternative plan for overcoming the crisis, which will be fiercely fought by the capitalist class in both Greece and Europe. So, while Syriza leaves a window open for post-electoral cooperation with Pasok, Potami, and even ND, so as to form a coalition government that will be able to implement 56% of the Memorandum within 2015, as the 14 August agreement dictates, and while, among the forces of the Left that have a good chance to make it to Parliament in this coming election, Popular Unity seems to be the party whose program comes closest to representing the 62% of the people who voted NO, dismissing the threat that this would mean an automatic Grexit. The question seems inescapable: why, only ten days before the election, do polls show that Popular Unity will probably win less than 5-6% of the vote? How do we explain this discrepancy?

To begin with, at least for now, Popular Unity is more interested in wielding discontent for Syriza's defeat in its favour  than it is in explaining it convincingly, for example by referring to the partners' extortions, China and Russia's unwillingness to support Greece outside the Eurozone, etc. Popular Unity seems to interpret Syriza's capitulation not as defeat, but as treason – as if decisive support for a Grexit were in itself enough to turn things around. Reducing politics to the question of currency is the reason why Popular Unity seems disconnected from important struggles such as the movement against gold mining in Chalkidiki, or seems to have restricted appeal to large segments of youth, despite its efforts to approach them. What is also remarkable is that, here as well, democratic and pluralistic processes in instituting and running the new formation are underemined in favour of a hyper-centralisation that the leadership tries to justify on the grounds of the pressing timeframe to the election. 

There are of course other reasons why Popular Unity lags far behind the referendum's 62%: that NO was a phenomenon that stood and still stands in excess of party frameworks or loyalites, which makes searching for an “authentic political exponent” a futile task. What's more, widespread disappointment at the left government's capitulation and the 3rd Memorandum falls on everyone: mutatis mutandis, the collapse of actually existing socialism in 1989-1991 did not just bring the end of its proponents but also consigned its most insightful critics to near-triviality. In Greece around that same time, the breakup of the Communist Party that let thousands of its members to resign, did not bring any electoral success to the New Left Current (NAR) which received a mere 0.9% of the vote in the following election. 

While it is undoubtedly too early for anyone to predict the outcome of the tendencies presented here, it is certain that both a real political front capable of harnessing the heritage of the referendum's NO and a European anticapitalist left that – urgently necessary in the deepening capitalist crisis –, have to take into account the words of the French economist Michel Husson: “There is no easy way out of the dramatic situation in which Greece is today locked. Euro exit, now, for Greece, would perhaps be less costly than the application of the third memorandum, still more monstrous than the previous ones. But this is not a royal road, and this should be said, honestly. Then, there is the risk of making it the solution to all the problems of the Greek economy, whether they concern the productive structures or the power of the oligarchy. Euro exit is almost always presented as a sort of magic wand” [1].

Popular Unity could really contribute to deterring the “Italisation” of the Greek Left (i.e. its disintegration and vapourisation after governing experience) –that is, if it does not try to imitate the famous Italian magician, Houdini.

NOTES
[1]       Michel Husson, “The good drachma? A modest contribution to the debate“, International Viewpoint, 27 August 2015, http://hussonet.free.fr/drachmuk.pdf

Translated by Dimitris Ioannou and Ntina Tzouvala

 
  • Published in POLITICS

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
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