Feb 26 2015

How can the radical left and far-right work together in Greece?

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By Eleni Xiarchogiannopoulou

The victory of the radically left Syriza in the Greek election is a historical moment for the country. It is the first time since the modern Greek state was founded in 1832 that a left-wing party will govern. It’s also the first time that traditional political families will not participate in the government.

But Syriza secured only 149 out of the 151 seats it needed to win an absolute majority in parliament and has decided to form a government with Independent Greeks. This is a right-wing party that believes in nationalism and strict immigration controls. It came in sixth place in the election with 4.75% of the vote and 13 parliamentary seats.

While the partnership might seem an unlikely one, the potential for a coalition bringing together Syriza and Independent Greeks has been cultivated ever since the latter was established in 2012 in reaction to the terms set for the Greek bailout.

In fact, the coalition is consistent with Syriza’s pre-election commitment to ally only with anti-austerity political parties. With the Greek Communist Party refusing to cooperate and the centrist Potami unclear about its position on austerity, Independent Greeks has emerged as the most sensible choice.

And indeed, the manifesto put forward by Independent Greeks is not incompatible with Syriza’s Thessaloniki Programme. The party favours also debt relief, austerity easing and the restoration of salaries and pensions to pre-2009 levels. It wants to restore Labour relations, alleviate poverty and punish those responsible for the crisis. Like Syriza, it also believes in constitutional reform to repair the political system.

Fragile friendship

All that said, there are disparities between Syriza and Independent Greeks that could shake the coalition. The smaller coalition partner wants the European bailout programme to be unilaterally denounced, while Syriza’s Thessaloniki Programme includes renegotiating with the EU over the Greek debt. The course of these negotiations and the compromise to be reached are fundamental to the economic future of the country, the longevity of the coalition and possibly the unity of Syriza itself.

Then there are the deep ideological disparities that separate the two parties. The manifesto of Independent Greeks declares their commitment to the values of the Greek Orthodox Church, the defence of the Greek nation and the protection of the family. Not surprisingly, it was pushing for and eventually gained control of the Ministry of defence as the government line-up was announced. Syriza, in contrast, is committed to the separation of the state from the church and believes in cutting arms spending.

New prime minister Alexis Tsipras is also committed to an inclusive immigration policy – a stance that doesn’t chime particularly well with its choice of coalition partner. Panos Kammenos, leader of Independent Greeks, has made xenophobic and racist comments about immigrants and ethnic minorities in the past.

Perhaps even more importantly for their working relationship, there are disparities in terms of social ethics. Kammenos’s party was formed by a number of breakaway members of New Democracy, a party that appeals to traditional voters. Along with PASOK, it has shaped and perpetuated the forces of clientelism and patronage that drive Greek politics.

According to a recent study by Transparency International, the majority of Greeks believe that bribery and “string-pulling” are acceptable parts of getting along and have little faith in the idea of justice towards fellow citizens.

Alexis Tsipras with Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos, another emerging party on the left of Europe. EPA

Like other left-wing groups in Europe, Syriza is expected to have little tolerance for this kind of thinking. The Thessaloniki Programme involves transforming Greek politics by curtailing parliamentary immunity. It also includes introducing institutions based on direct democracy and self-organisation, such as a people’s legislative initiative, a people’s veto and a people’s initiative to call a referendum.

Syriza MPs already contribute 20% of their monthly salary to fund Solidarity for All, an umbrella organisation that provides logistical support to grassroot actions that help vulnerable people.

We can work it out

Despite these stark differences, it would be premature and fatalistic to say that the coalition between Syriza and Independent Greeks cannot last. Syriza is aware that this is a historical moment and is committed to succeeding.

If the coalition manages to end austerity without damaging the European profile of the country, then Independent Greeks will be the only right-wing party to have contributed to the Greek revival.

Failure would plunge the country deeper into crisis and austerity. It would probably annihilate Independent Greeks and the left as a political force – not just in Greece but in other countries too – for many years to come. The stakes are high. Tsipras has already adopted a more conciliatory discourse. He also made an experienced journalist and member of Independent Greeks responsible for the coalition communicative strategy, in an effort to ensure the it will speak with one voice

Success also depends on how the left in Europe reacts. This could significantly influence the dynamics of negotiations and potentially recalibrate the process of European integration. If the left can rise in other member states, Syriza’s chances of success are increased. In the meantime, the party needs to smooth out its differences with Independent Greeks – or at least work out how to keep them contained – to get this coalition up and running.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Eleni Xiarchogiannopoulou (PhD Exeter) is a Post-doctoral fellow at Université Libre de Bruxelles and a Scientific Collaborator in Governance at the International Centre for Research on the Economy and the Environment.

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Feb 20 2015

Greek elections 2015: the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?

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By Sotirios Zartaloudis

SYRIZA’s recent electoral victory attracted global attention. This commentary will try to explain SYRIZA’s surprise move to form a coalition government with the far-right party ANEL arguing that both parties share a worldview that explains their co-operation.  Continue reading

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Feb 19 2015

Syriza’s choice: the coalition government in Greece from a different perspective

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By Rosa Vasilaki

Rosa-Vasilaki3

Three weeks in office the coalition government in Greece appears to be dominating the headlines across Europe. No other government was asked to prove itself so early – practically from day one – and no other government enjoyed such impressive levels of public support and trust, as the recent polls demonstrate. This does not mean that Greeks have turned Marxists over night, but if anything, it reveals the immense level of discontent with the austerity policies followed by the previous government along with a certain willingness to try what a Left governance may look like. Naturally, economic matters have been the centre of attention pre and post elections, however, there are political as well as symbolic developments stemming from the nature of the coalition government, which have so far been overlooked. Continue reading

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Feb 19 2015

Greece’s U-turn in negotiations signifies a new era in Syriza’s internal politics

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By Eleni Xiarchogiannopoulou

Ever since Syriza came in power the interplay between the intergovernmentalist and supranationalist dimensions of EU politics is present. For the European Commission the rise of Syriza represented an opportunity to regain the political influence it had lost since the beginning of the crisis. On the day of the elections and in line with the spirit of Syriza’s pro-growth/anti-austerity discourse, the Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Pierre Moscovici stated that the Commission wants Greece to be able to pay its debt and ‘to stay on its feet, creating jobs and growth, reducing inequality’. Continue reading

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Feb 18 2015

The winds are changing: a new left populism for Europe

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By Marina Prentoulis and Lasse Thomassen

The unprecedented presence of international media, solidarity delegations and representatives of socialist and leftish parties in Athens signalled that Syriza’s triumph was something more than just another electoral victory.


Alexis Tsipras and Pablo Iglesias. Demotix/Czuko Williams. Some rights reserved.

A spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of populism. This time it is not the far right populism of Haider, Le Pen and Farage, but a new left populism challenging not just the parties of the right but also the social-democratic parties and the traditional parties on the left.

While the victory of Syriza has turned everybody’s attention to Greece these days, the new radical populist left is on the rise elsewhere as well, above all in Spain with local and national elections coming up in 2015. Even beyond the radical left, social-democrats have started to be more outspoken against European austerity and neoliberal policies.

It seems that the policies they had supported so far have brought them at odds with their own people and this realization starts slowly to sink in. Are we then witnessing the birth of a new populist discourse in Europe? Are the winds changing for the peoples of Europe?

The unprecedented presence of international media, solidarity delegations and representatives of socialist and leftish parties in Athens before and during the election signalled that Syriza’s triumph was something more than just another electoral victory. While trying to explain Syriza’s victory as a peculiarly Greekphenomenon, European elites fear that their peoples too could be contaminated by the Greek disease. For radical left parties and groups across Europe, the victory was a signal of hope.

Three days before the election, on 22 January, a big Syriza rally in Athens was addressed not only by the leader, Alexis Tsipras, but also by the leader of the Spanish Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias. Both represent a new discourse putting democracy, participation and the rights of the people at the centre of their rhetoric.

They speak neither in the name of invisible market forces nor in the name of particular classes. They do not claim to represent only particular groups – the unemployed, students, workers, women, and so on – instead they speak in the name of the people. This is what makes them populist, and this is what infuriates other parties, both right and left.

Time and again, Syriza and Podemos are accused of being populist. Here ‘populist’ is used in the pejorative sense: as irresponsible pandering to the irrational masses. For the parties of the right as well as the social-democrats, the left-wing populists promise the people the impossible: that the people, and not the market, could be in charge.

For the old parties on the traditional left, the populist talk of the people obscures what really matters: class struggle. For them the claim is pure nonsense: class enemies cannot, and should not, be united under the banner of a united people. For the mainstream parties, the claim to speak for the people is preposterous. And yet, the right wing, the social-democrats and the traditional left, all lose voters to these new players.

And populist they are, these new players. They are the political forces that in Greece and Spain draw a dividing line between the people and the system. Thereby they create an antagonistic frontier: you are either with us (part of the people) or you are against us (part of ‘the caste’ in Spain, those serving the ‘Troika’ in Greece).

The antagonistic frontier is constantly repeated in every political confrontation in both Greece and Spain, and it cuts across the borders of the two countries. It is no coincidence that the conservative Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras rallied his Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy in support of his electoral campaign. And Pablo Iglesias has not been slow to announce that Rajoy is next.

What we have in the national contexts of Greece and Spain, then, is the construction of an antagonistic frontier dividing the people from the system. It is what the right wing populist parties have been doing for decades, but it is now done from the left. Syriza and Podemos have managed to put together a chain of equivalence of a wide variety of interests and identities: from old Trotskyists to disaffected voters in the middle, from old workers to students, and so on.

Two things unite these different groups. First of all, they are united by their common opposition to the system. They may be so for different reasons, but they are all opposed to the system or some aspect of it – political corruption, neoliberal austerity policies, and so forth. They are also united by some hope that ‘things could be different’, a hope that is often crystallised in the identification with a young and charismatic leader (think of Tsipras or Iglesias). These are the key ingredients in a (left) populist movement: the antagonistic frontier between the system and the people, the articulation of a chain of equivalence (a broad front), and the role of the leader in galvanising the hope that things could be different.

What the Greek elections showed is that what is happening is not restricted to Greece or Spain or any other individual European nation-state. The Syriza win has ignited a spark of inspiration across Europe, and this is absolutely important if this sort of left populism is to be effective. On one level, any ‘people’s government’ in one country will need external popular support in order to withstand the attack of the old forces, either on a national or a transnational level. On another level, any real change at the level of European institutions will only be possible through a cross-national movement. It is one thing to make decisions about national debt in one country, but another to influence the structures within which those decisions are made.

European media and politicians descended on Greece during the elections. After the election result, the established European right has been quick to dismiss Syriza as hopeless dreamers. The European left, on the other hand, seems suddenly reinvigorated. And not just the usual suspects such as Podemos and Izquierda Unida in Spain, but also social-democrats – from Martin Schulz through Ken Livingstone to Peter Hain. They all want a share in Syriza’s success. That may be with their own national electoral interests in mind, but it is interesting how they all invoke Syriza’s anti-austerity stance.

The social-democratic parties occupy perhaps the most uncomfortable position in this process of articulating something new: some want to cross the line and regain something of their socialist principles and role as champions of the people’s cause. But it may already be too late. The new left populist discourse already has its own momentum and its own particular identity. The challenge is to move beyond particular national peoples and uniting all of them in a pan-European left populist movement.

This piece originally appeared on the Open Democracy.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of Greece@LSE  nor of the London School of Economics.


Marina Prentoulis is a Lecturer in Media and Politics at the University of East Anglia, UK. She is currently working on social movements in Europe.

Lasse Thomassen is Senior Lecturer in the School of Politics & International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London. He is the co-editor of Radical Democracy: Politics Between Abundance and Lack(2005) and the author of articles on, among other things, representation, radical democracy and post-structuralism.

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Feb 16 2015

How the Eurozone crisis changed Syriza and how the party can change the Eurozone crisis

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DSC_01063-223x300By George Kyris

For years, conventional wisdom has said that the role of the EU in national elections is rather insignificant. Even European Parliament elections are often regarded as ‘second order’, where voters use the ballot box in order to express their grievances towards governing parties and the way they manage national issues. This lack of a proper debate on EU issues is not too surprising if we take into account how detached European citizens often feel from what goes on in ‘Brussels’. It is for that reason that last Sunday’s elections in Greece, marked by the major role of the EU and the remarkable victory of Syriza, become rather historic. Continue reading

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Feb 12 2015

Syriza’s Internal opposition may risk Greece’s future into the Eurozone

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By Eleni Xiarchogiannopoulou

After a series of informal bilateral meetings, the feverous negotiations about the Greek debt at yesterday’s informal Eurogroup were not fruitful. To the surprise and beguilement of all Eurogroup members Yannis Varoufakis, the Greek Minister of Finance, in the end refused to sign a common statement despite the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis had already agreed on. 

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Feb 12 2015

Who wanted what? An aftermath of the Public debate on Greek Elections

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By Vasileios Bougioukos and Bernard H Casey

The debate on the Greek elections organized by the Hellenic Observatory on 4th February, offered some interesting food for thought. What struck us was a casual comment by Dionyssis Dimitrakopoulos at the beginning of the talk, namely that SYRIZA had scored well amongst most social groups but rather less well amongst pensioners. After all, these people had suffered pretty draconian cuts, with the 2010 Memorandum and its successors reducing pensioners’ incomes – in some cases by up to 40%– and making benefits harder to claim. Later Daphne Halikiopoulou presented results from exit polls showing support for the parties by different categories of the population. But whilst she talked about public sector workers, private sector workers and unemployed people, she showed no results for pensioners. We decided to look at the data in more detail. We used data from Kapa Research[1] and performed our own analysis. The voting behaviour depicted by these data could offer useful insights into who voted which way and to suggest why and what this could mean. Continue reading

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Feb 5 2015

The going gets tough…

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By Vassilis Monastiriotis

ECB’s decision, to suspend the waiver for the acceptance of Greek bonds as loan collaterals, came as a shock to Greece but was rather expected by the markets (although this does not preclude a strong ‘market reaction’). The decision per se does not have immediately dire consequences for the Greek economy. It raises the cost of borrowing for Greek banks (from 0.05% to 1.5%) but it doesn’t stop their access to liquidity, as this will continue to be provided by the Bank of Greece through the ELA mechanism. The decision is moreover rather sensible from the point of view of Central Bank finance, as Greece indeed cannot be assumed to be in an adjustment programme given the recent pronouncements of the Greek government (recall that the ECB accepted Greek bonds as collaterals, which are not credit-worthy in a market-rating sense, solely on the basis of the implicit guarantee by the Eurogroup that Greece’s solvency is guaranteed as long as the country remains in an adjustment programme). Continue reading

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Feb 4 2015

The benign somersault

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by Vassilis Monastiriotis

In the few days since the formation of the new government in Greece, a lot of water has flown under the political bridge of the Greek-Eurozone relations. Much has happened, however, also in relation to the policy announcements coming out from the Greek government. As the policies are being specified more clearly, they also seem to be changing – and a few ‘policy shifts’ emerge. A few examples: Continue reading

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