“Hope begins today” was the message that the current Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sent to the Greek people when his Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party won the national elections held a year ago, on January 25th 2015.
Syriza’s meteoric rise to power from a small, loose association of leftists representing a plethora of left-wing ideological orientations (eurocommunists, anarcho-communists, Trotskyists, former pro-Soviet communists, and crypto-social democrats) that barely had 5% of the popular vote ten years ago will surely preoccupy political analysts and historians for a long time to come.
For now, the far more interesting issue is how quickly Syriza’s message for hope has turned to despair. Indeed, the country is at present in the grips of massive protests against the Syriza-led government’s plan for pension reform and its continuation with harsh austerity measures and additional tax increases when the economy remains in a coma and an ever-increasing percentage of Greek people have seen their living standards decline to 1960s levels.
So what went wrong for the Syriza gang of confused radicals and second and third class intellectuals that mostly made up the movement’s ranks prior to its coming to power?
The answer is pretty much everything.
For starters, Syriza’s inexperience of the real world of politics became apparent from the moment it took control of the reins of power.
Alexis Tsipras was a provincially minded and unsophisticated figure on the Greek political scene who failed to comprehend the difference between being the leader of a party in power and being the leader of an opposition party. His handling of the negotiation tactics with Greece’s official creditors were disastrous for the country, although it was his colorful and controversial (now ex) Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis who was in charge of all formal (re)negotiation discussions.
However, it is clear that Varoufakis had convinced Tsipras of the merit of the strategy the Syriza-led government was going to adopt towards the so-called troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank, so it is Tsipras himself who must be held responsible for the catastrophic outcome of the (re)negotiation talks with the troika.
Syriza’s dismal lack of political experience and leadership skills is also reflected in the fact that the party had never developed an alternative plan for the country’s crisis, confining itself to a critique of austerity and adopting in the process a useless and possibly defunct “social democratic” approach which envisioned Europe changing its mind on the Greek debt problem on moral and economic grounds.
The end result of Syriza’s strategy was total capitulation to Greece’s international creditors, i.e., to the infamous troika on all fronts. Tsipras became yet another obedient Greek Prime Minister to the euromasters, signing in August 2015 a new bailout agreement and enforcing bigger doses of the same medicine that had put the Greek economy in coma and converted the country into a German protectorate.
Indicative of Syriza’s pathetic political somersaults, Tsipras even turned his back on the outcome of the July 5th referendum when an incredible 63% of those who voted said “oxi” to austerity.
But this is not all. While in power, the Syriza crowd has followed in the footsteps of all previous Greek governments regarding the unprofessional practices of giving relatives and friends government and/or public sector jobs, thereby blocking the prospect of changing even in the least Greek political culture.
Yet, even this development is not surprising. This writer was observing as early as 2013 that “indications that today’s Greek Left is either aware of the importance of political culture or willing to step up to the plate over this issue are hardly encouraging. While the right is destroying the entire public sector under the pretext that it is corrupt and inefficient, the left confines itself to an old-fashioned political rhetoric, signaling to voters that when it comes to power, it will restore the old order. Indeed, the fear of many on the left is that Syriza may become a “new PASOK,” especially after so many former PASOK apparatchiks have rushed to join its ranks after having dutifully served in the destruction of the socialist vision in Greece and the conversion of the nation into a banana republic.”
The specific piece of writing went on to add this: “Greece faces a rough ride ahead. Changing the political culture – the civil culture – implies a new public philosophy, i.e., a new political and ethical imagination where, first and foremost, rights are accompanied by obligations and a deep sense of responsibility toward the common good. For contemporary Greece, changing the civil culture may require nothing less than the radical reinvention of politics as a vehicle toward the good and just life. Is today’s Greek Left up to that task? Time will tell very soon.”
Unfortunately, things have turned out under a Syriza government according to many people’s worst fears. Not only hasn’t Tsipras and his crowd tackled the fundamental issues confronting Greece, but his government has gone on to imitate PASOK on so many issues (from Andreas Papandreou’s own betrayal of promises to Greek voters over NATO, the EU, American bases in Greece and the social reorganization of the economy to practicing cronyism and nepotism) that it is little wonder why hope has turned to despair in less than a year after Syriza’s rise to power. And if the ongoing protests and demonstrations against the Syriza-led government tell us something, it is most likely that the current government has lost its political legitimacy in record time.
But no one should be surprised if Alexis Tsipras turns around one more time, putting the radical mask back on in the ongoing negotiations with the creditors in an attempt to calm public anger towards his government.