After five years of relentless austerity and the tragic price extolled on the people in its name, Greece has voted for an anti-austerity government.
In spite of a five-year long demonization of SYRIZA and of Alexis Tsipras personally by oligarch-owned tax-exempt media and senior members of Samaras’ government – which before the election, culminated in farcical threats about communist-era food and toilet-paper shortages in case SYRIZA prevailed – a party that identifies as Marxist and left-wing has won a national election.
SYRIZA finished two seats short of an absolute majority in parliament, in spite of the exclusion of 18-year-old voters, and of Greek migrants – hundreds of thousands of whom have left Greece during the crisis – from a postal vote.
What the win means in the short term, is that Greece can gradually reclaim its sovereignty by finally negotiating a generous debt haircut and by demanding that the EU does right on its own promises and treaties.
SYRIZA has called a spade a spade by stating the simple fact that Greece cannot pay its debts and that it is undergoing a humanitarian crisis wrought on the country by the EU’s refusal to rethink systemic problems within the currency union. SYRIZA has also made specific promises to the Greek people to alleviate the burden of budget cuts that have hit the poorer classes and to end the former government’s hand-outs to the rich.
There are several unanswered questions about how a SYRIZA government will go about debt negotiations inside a hard-core neoliberal EU, as well as about its coalition with ANEL, a right-wing nationalist party, with openly racist and extreme nationalist views.
The balance of such a coalition is uncertain and no one can predict what might constitute casus belli for the two parties, beyond economic policy.
It’s also not easy to understand how ANEL fits into the wider spectrum of the right in Greece. Comparisons to Golden Dawn and New Democracy are certainly off-the-mark but senior ANEL members have been widely mocked for their open homophobia, their religious views and even their belief in the existence of chemtrails. The Greek LGBT community should be rightfully discouraged by this alliance. Same for those who hoped SYRIZA would finally promote a separation of Church and State.
It’s also true however, that some of the worst attacks on human rights during the crisis have come from self-described centrists, who scattered between various parties as SYRIZA’s popularity rose. Tsipras might have made a big mistake by opening his cabinet to the Potami centrists. The Greek political centre is a tainted blend of old politicians, media personalities and people without any political or civil society background. Many centrists either enforced police state tactics during the past five years from positions of power or were largely silent in the name of a supposed need for cross-party consensus to back austerity. Whether SYRIZA will invoke similar excuses to allow ANEL to set the tone on human rights issues and immigration policy is largely in the hands of the country’s leftist forces in society, who now must apply pressure from the bottom up.
SYRIZA must also confront internal friction on issues like gay marriage and organized religion. It remains to be seen whether the more progressive voices within the party will prevail.
But anyone who has experienced the Greek crisis, anyone who has watched the economic and political train-wreck unfold for five slow years and witnessed its effect on their friends, family and on their towns and communities has every reason to feel relieved today.
We no longer have to watch government talking-heads parrot the austerity line, while referring to their unjust policies as “the Greek people’s sacrifices.” After five years, and in fact 40 post-junta years of governments that catered to corrupt elites, tore our constitution to shreds and set off a fire-sale of natural resources, Greeks can finally say that this destructive course has been reversed.
What tomorrow brings is anyone’s guess: it might go left or it might veer off to the right.
But today, we hope.
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