As political animals, we have of course been keeping a close eye on the election which took place here last weekend and whilst it was fairly clear from the off that SYRIZA would be the largest party, very few commentators were predicting the size of their win.
Lassithi, which is the area where we live in Crete, returned one of the highest votes for SYRIZA anywhere in Greece and PASOK, the sister party to Labour in the UK, for whom previously Crete had been a stronghold, were virtually wiped out. Are there lessons here for Labour perhaps?
One thing is for sure, the new Government under charismatic Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, has ‘hit the ground running’. The first thing that the atheist Tsipras did was to tell the Archbishop in Athens that he would not be sworn in to his new Office using the Bible and, the Archbish to his credit agreed that, as an honourable man, it was a reasonable thing to do! Then after seeing the President, he visited a memorial to nearly 200 communist partizans, executed by the Nazis in 1944 – another hugely symbolic act.
It was aimed particularly at the Germans of course but as things have panned out, also at the Russians with whom a number of the leading lights in SYRIZA (being ex-communists themselves) have close associations.
SYRIZA fell two seats short of a majority in the Greek Parliament and immediately entered a coalition with a small right of centre, anti austerity party with whom they agree on very little else other than the fact that austerity must end! Most commentators here are interpreting this to mean that re-negotiating the debt repayments is the single most important issue facing the country and whilst other bedfellows might have been more comfortable, a statement needed to be made to the Troika,
So, what with new Finance Minister making a cogent case for re-focusing the debt issue and Greece objecting strongly to further EU sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine,
particularly as the new Government was not consulted, it would appear that perhaps the negotiating tactic being adopted here is to play off the Russia against the EU, who have made encouraging noises about supporting the Greek economy – after all they want a warm water Mediterranean port, it would appear!
We are hugely impressed at how the new Government have initially at least, seemingly managed to wrong foot Europe’s political elite, particularly on the economic issue.
There appears to be not a single respected economist who believes that the Troika’s plan to restructure Greek debt could ever have worked and yet Merkel et all seem to have adopted the Iron Lady’s mantra of T.I.N.A. (there is no alternative).
Over the last four years, the percentage of debt to GDP in Greece has increased from about 125% to 175%. Virtually none of the bailout money has gone into the Greek economy. It appears that it has simply been recycled around the international banking system and re-named as Greek debt. Although there has been some improvement in the economy here recently, this is really hugely misleading. True, there is now a small surplus but this is on the back of an economy that has shrunk by 25%; unemployment above 20%, and youth unemployment still above 50%.
It is no wonder the Greeks revolted and voted for hope. Their children are emigrating in their thousands, there are few jobs and people are scraping by as best they can. SYRIZA’s campaign slogan ‘Η ελπίδα έρχεται’ (Hope is coming) resonates with the demand for change here.
It remains to be seen whether they will be able to reform the political and governmental structures to break the power of the political and economic elite which have ruled the country since the falls of the Colonels in 1974 and find a way to force those who evade paying tax – not just the rich – to fund the brave new world which they envisage but let us hope they can, both for the sake of the Greek people but also for Europe generally.
They have announced that ongoing privatisations forced on Greece by the Troika such as the largest energy company and the port of Piraeus, will stop immediately (the latter much to annoyance of the Chinese apparently, who were wanting to buy it – since when did they privatise their ports, I wonder) and have reversed the abolition of the minimum wage in the private sector – another Troika requirement.
The Germans in particular do have a colossal cheek. They need to remember their own history and what happened when they were forced to pay reparations after WW1 which the economy could not sustain. They should also recall that in 1953, after WW2, they successfully negotiated a substantial reduction in their debt which laid the foundation for the so-called German economic miracle and more especially they might choose to repay the ‘loan’ forced on Greece in 1943 by the Nazis – a ‘loan’ which has never been repaid.
In any event, it seems that all may not be as we have been led to believe
SYRIZA should be given a chance but signs coming from the European political and economic elite are not good. Arrogant pontification might sum it up. The original plan has been shown for what it always was – not really anything to do with helping Greece but a prop to support the euro and the under-capitalised and over-stretched European banks. This has largely been achieved by effectively ‘lending’ the Greek bailout money to these undemocratic institutions who care nothing about the social hardships created here. Worse, the economic crisis affecting the Banks in 2012 has now been papered over, so Greece can be allowed to go broke and exit the euro. So, all the pain here would have been for nothing. Had Greece left the euro then, the debt would have effectively been wiped out or at least would have been no greater now than it was then.
Frankly, the whole saga is a disgrace and one which tacitly the political establishment in the UK seems to go along with. Well, the outcome could just be that Podemos in Spain and radical left-wing parties elsewhere will find that their message of hope rings bells with those who were not responsible for ‘The Crisis’ but who have been forced to pay the price.
As a recent ‘Guardian’ article pointed out, it may need a home-grown party in the UK to shake the current cosy political elite out of their slumber but all the signs are there that Labour could capitalise on the willingness of the electorate to accept alternative policies if it were bold enough to take the plunge.
We shall see!
PS If you cannot open the above links directly, right click and open in a new window!