SYRIZA and the end of modernisation in Greece

first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Two months after its electoral victory in January, it is obvious that the ‘first left-wing government’ seems to have become an expert in playing politics without putting forward any policies. Yet we have to be fair; not that the Greek government is not justified in wanting to put an end to austerity – or to demand World War II reparations from Germany. Austerity as a way of restructuring the economy has evidently failed and has to be abandoned. The problem is that the New Greek government hasn’t so far suggested any credible alternative model of growth and development and wasted precious time in symbolic gestures. It started re-appointing six hundred cleaners, then gave an unwarranted pay-rise to one of its main allies, the Electricity Union, and then reinstated electricity to poor families who hadn’t paid the bill. The symbolism of such gestures is obvious. But they haven’t done anything for the real economy to regain liquidity, job creation and investments. Nothing has been done for 1.2 million unemployed citizens of the private sector, which is the only productive industry in the country.The private sector doesn’t really exist for SYRIZA and its main problem remains the retirement age at 55 and the pay-rise of 100 euros per month to low income earners. This is also symbolic – because even for these increases they must borrow money, while tax evasion is still rampant and no other sources of income are visible.Until recently prominent members of the current government were the leaders of a ‘popular movement’ aptly called ‘I don’t pay, I don’t pay’, which convinced many people not to pay any taxes because, as they declared, after its election to power SYRIZA would have them abolished. This led to an enormous deficit again in the state revenues and led the same people who are now ministers for finance to utter despair. Meanwhile, no credible economic policy is nowhere in the horizon. The wunderkind of European finances, Mr Yanis Varoufakis, having succeeded in conducting 120 interviews within forty-five days, seems to have disappointed everybody except some desperate housewives in the streets of provincial towns. He gave some droll performances on the European stage, made the most sibylline pronouncements (creative uncertainty/vagueness for example which will be his legacy to economic thought forever) and was photographed in his modest abode of multi-million euros under the shadow of the Acropolis for a suburban French magazine, alienating everybody. Nobody wants to meet with him any more, with the exception of his fellow travellers from the fossilised American academia or Slavoj Zizek – but the last one does not really count.Of course, such colourful accidental ‘politicians’ add exoticism to the messy and somehow the non-existent political culture of Greece. The real problem was revealed by Mr Varoufakis himself when he stated in one of his long and self-indulgent interviews (about, of course, himself) that he was influenced by Paul Keating’s policies when he lived in Australia but not “by all of them”.Herein the crux of the matter can be found: the Greek economy is still in the state that the Australian economy was before the Hawke-Keating reforms of the ’80s and ’90s. The new Greek government refuses to accept the effects of interconnectedness between economies and deal with the impact of globalisation in a way that is both accommodating and innovative. As a small economy and market, Greece cannot sustain its financial system with its domestic income alone, which on the other hand is not enough to fund its enormous public sector; it needs investments from the outside world. Without a plan, SYRIZA isolates the country and imposes a barrier between them and its traditional allies and fellow investors.The situation is rapidly deteriorating and Mr Tsipras’ brother, who has been appointed to work as a special advisor to the foreign minister, was sent to Iran of all places to convince the mullahs to buy Greek bonds in the international stock exchange – to no avail. Russia is also explored: but the co-Orthodox country of Vladimir Putin simply stated that they don’t have much money and if they will lend any, it will be in roubles but had to be re-paid in euros or dollars. And asked, during the recent visit of the Greek PM, that Russian companies participate in the tendering process for privatisations. One could easily claim that Mr Tsipras didn’t visit Moscow as the Greek prime minister but as a member of the Greek Communist Youth, looking to Moscow for solutions to all problems of communism which does not exist anymore.Historically the Left was the main political structure that struggled to modernise the country, socially and economically. It was the first to accept the vision of a European Union and pressured for decades towards that direction. We must remember that Greece was not accepted to the EU for its thriving economy but for geo-political reasons, which had to do with the Cold War in the late 1970s, the consolidation of democracy and the symbolic construction of European identity. It had also to do with the threats against its national territory which can be dealt with only through strong and mutually beneficial alliances. However the political establishment of the country, although given ample mandate by the citizens, has frustrated all expectations for modernisation through participation to the union.Instead they chose to accommodate the traditional structure of power within the new institutional framework and totally neutralise its modernising potential. Unfortunately, six years of austerity were sacrificed for nothing; and SYRIZA in power showed immediately that it didn’t want any changes in the existing arrangement of power relations. Its collaboration with the ultra-nationalistic and racist party of Independent Greeks and the elevation to the presidency of the republic of the minister from the conservative party which is responsible for the financial collapse show that its only concern is how to rule and benefit from power and not to serve the citizens that elected them – or to make the famous ‘break with the past’, as the slogan goes.In order to cover its political and ideological confusion, it goes back to the weaponry that all governments have perfected in the past: it invents an external enemy. In the past it used to be the Americans; but now the Americans are supporting them, so they are useless.Mr Tsipras insists that the country is under attack and declares that it is not to be blackmailed. Meanwhile his government ‘warns’ that they are going to stop any repayments against their existing debts, which (they don’t seem to realise) would indicate that the country is bankrupt.If nothing changes, it seems that SYRIZA is gradually becoming another conservative party, with isolationist policies, nationalistic rhetoric, a ‘Mussolini-like’ populist ideology and an increasingly anti-European agenda. The vision of a United Europe has been squandered because of the opportunistic policies about money without ever considering the future of the country. Where do we want Greece to be in 50 years? Isolated and without allies, or part of a strong federation of independent nations? SYRIZA tried to play international diplomacy as if it was domestic politics – and it failed.Unfortunately the SYRIZA of 37 per cent, unlike the SYRIZA of the five per cent, becomes the most conservative reactionary political force, which under the melodramatic rubric of a humanitarian crisis hides the fact that it continues the same polices of the conservatives: we need subsidies to pay all those who voted for us.A new form of clientelism and nepotism has dawned. In two months the new power elite restores the shaken system of corruption and favouritism without even accepting criticism. The Left is above criticism because they do it for the benefit of the people …The political elite of the country remains a class of historical irresponsibility, despite its renewal with new faces. They imagine clandestine conspiracies, secret services, foreign powers, demonic possessions but never blame themselves for any problems, as if they never had any agency or the will to act. There is a very good but disregarded film by Ingmar Bergman; it is called The Serpent’s Egg (1975). It is about the Weimar Republic and what comes out of an autocratic and authoritarian regime – nothing more of course than another serpent. Not a pigeon or a nightingale but another poisonous snake. SYRIZA’s collaboration with a racist party, the Independent Greeks, simply confirms that its role is to safeguard under new management the centralised, clientelist and conservative system of governance introduced and consolidated by the Right.Far away from the visions of so many left-wing fighters and idealists in the recent past, the new coalition government distorts the ideals of two generations into a claustrophobic and isolationist dystopia, marking the end of a process that had started after World War II, equating modernisation to Europeanisation.* Vrasidas Karalis is Sir Nicholas Laurantus Professor and chair of the Modern Greek Department at the University of Sydney.last_img read more