By Ioannis Nioutsikos:
The result of the Greek elections on 15 January 2015 represents a milestone for Greek politics. The left-wing party of Syriza [Coalition of the Radical Left] emerged as the clear winner from the elections, receiving 36.34% of the votes and won 149 of the parliament seats, just two short of an absolute majority. This is the very first time in Greek political history that the Left has managed to gain the people’s support and transform it into a successful electoral result. The previous time that it flirted with power was during the Second World War, by carrying the bulk of the resistance against the occupiers. The victory of Syriza, in addition to rejuvenating the political life in Greece, can also reanimate the spirit of European integration.
The Syriza administration takes over a country in a dire condition. The bailout programs, with the austerity measures they imposed, ravaged the Greek economy and eliminated any possibility of allowing the country to stand on its own feet. Between 2008 and 2013, the Greek GDP shrunk by 30%, while the country’s debt remains un-payable, its banks insolvent and the private sector asphyxiated. The everyday life of the people is grim after the sharp cuts in social security, health care and pensions. Unemployment remains in 25.8% and more than 50% of the youth are without a job. It seems that the purpose of the bailout measures was not the recovery of the country’s economy, but rather its punishment, in order to be used as an example for the rest of the Eurozone.
In fact, while Greece was the extreme case, this harsh treatment extended to the other countries hit by the economic crisis, collectively known under the derogative term PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain). The deeply flawed notion that the European North was inhabited by ants while the South by lazy grasshoppers, concealed the real cause of the Eurozone crisis, which was the structural flaws at its very core. Furthermore, it transformed European politics from a role model of co-operation into a zero-sum game, where the others should be blamed for someone’s own hardships. The result was the strengthening of Euro-skepticism and its political expressions throughout the continent. Finally, the support of the European elites for technocrat governments, such as in the case of Greece and Italy, and the terrorizing of the electoral body, wounded democracy.
Despite the belief in Europe, Syriza is not a Euro-skeptical, neither a populist party. The rejection of the ‘there is no alternative’ perception of the austerity measures should not be synonymous with euro-skepticism. On the contrary, it is the dogmatic advocacy of austerity that eroded the founding values of European integration, such as democracy, co-operation and the welfare state. Neither does dismissing austerity mean that Greece should default on its obligations. Indeed, the President of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, described his intentions in an open letter to the German newspaper Handelsblatt. In that, he described the bailout packages as ‘fiscal waterboarding’ that plunges the country deeper into recession. He also declared his commitment to negotiate a viable solution that will allow the country to grow economically without ‘the bloodletting of German and Greek taxpayers’.
It is hard to predict what the rise of Syriza will bring to European politics. What is certain though, is that it demonstrates a firm rejection of the austerity policies that not only plunged Greece and the other countries deeper into recession, but also cracked the foundations of European integration. The re-emergence of the Left in European politics can only have a positive meaning: to remind that the European integration started as a venture to bring democracy, co-operation and prosperity among the people’s of Europe.
Ioannis Nioutsikos is a PhD Candidate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. His thesis examines the resistance organisation of EAM-ELAS as a case study of guerrilla warfare. Follow him on Twitter @YNioutsikos