Yesterday, SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) romped to victory in the Greek elections with 36% if the vote and 149 seats (just 2 short of an overall majority) but this is not the end of the battle for Greece and indeed, Europe’s progressive left.
Instead, this is the first real victory in a long time, possibly a turning point following decades of almost unbroken neoliberalism & corporatism and certainly something to be celebrated heartily – but the laurels won on Sunday must to be rested upon.
The first hurdle, already cleared was finding a coalition partner who arrived in the shape of ANEL (Independent Greeks) who are a relatively new, centre-right party who are committed to ending austerity and are distinctly Eurosceptic.
While a party with a right wing ideology might seem to be a strange choice of bedfellow, their commitment to ending austerity and bullish attitude towards Europe gels well with SYRIZA’s immediate aims and it’s possible that by allying with a non ‘radical left’ element SYRIZA’s government can achieve the support of more conservative Greeks and show that they are looking for consensus, rather than conflict.
Next comes the task of ramming through structural and cultural reforms to end the widespread tax evasion, corruption and nepotism which had characterized Greek politics and public life for so long and led to the crisis in the first place.
Then Alexis Tsipras and company have to go to the European Union with proposals to renegotiate Greece’s debt repayments, ideally writing off a significant chunk of the debt and come to a mutual arrangement with the EU .
Despite an impressive electoral mandate from their public, this is no small task while major players, especially Germany have intimated that Greece would have to abide by previous arrangements and that writing off any portion of their debt is not on the table.
SYRIZA have moderated their once dogmatic stance that Greece should leave the Eurozone, but if forced into a default by creditors unwilling to negotiate then a ‘Grexit’ could prove inevitable (although this must surely be a nuclear option for the EU as much as Greece.)
The Greek people may have voted against austerity but not necessarily against an exit from Europe and despite current reverses (SYRIZA’s victory, the rise of Podemos, Francois Hollande’s socialists solidifying their power in France) the dominant ideology in the EU is still austerity friendly, led by the European People’s Party and their associates in the Socialist & Liberal blocs.
The predictable difficulties in securing an amicable, let alone favourable settlement with the EU (especially with ANEL as coalition partners at home) could pose an impasse to the new Greek government but I’d prefer to hope that the tide is turning in Europe and the whole continent can start to see the economic crisis for the manufactured fallacy that it was and start putting people before the made up figures in the bank’s computers.
Secondly, SYRIZA must resist the dual temptations of succumbing to in-fighting – so often the bane of left-wing parties – or becoming a comfortable, complicit part of the establishment they were elected to reform.
All too often we have seen radical parties be brought down by the tendency of passionate reformers to disagree on little details and fall out, rather than sticking together to push through the common aims they can agree on.
Even more often, we have seen parties elected on a reform platform begin to like the idea of power more than they ever liked the idea of principles and very soon they start to drift towards both authoritarian and right wing policies. The fate of PASOK, who had been the Greek left’s main party for half a century and more should stand as a salutary lesson.
In any case, there are significant battles ahead and how SYRIZA rises to them will play a large part in how the progressive surge across the rest of Europe plays out over the next few years.
Another Europe IS possible, and SYRIZA have shown that old certainties can be rewritten. However, it’s going to be a hard road and those with a progressive/radical/left wing mindset across Europe are going to have to step up because the right wing, the vested interests and the banks are going to join forces to make sure that we all stay neatly in our divided little boxes.
A battle is won, but the war is only beginning and our battlefield remains as much the streets and social media as it is in the halls of the Hellenic (or any other) Parliament.
Let’s make it happen.