Monday, 25 January 2016

A year of the Greek left (Ένας χρόνος αριστερά)

A year ago to this day, SYRIZA was voted in as the government of Greece. Before Syriza, Greek politics was like a see-saw ride: green-blue, then green, and then blue again, and so on. Suddenly, Greece was flooded with the SYRIZA rainbow, whose 12-month 2-term office can be likened to a ride on a roller coaster. For most Greeks, 2015 will be remembered as a year of living a fairy tale in reverse: from happily ever after, Syriza now finds itself in the clutches of a wicked stepmother, unable to find any escape route.

«Η ελπίδα έρχεται»: Το πρώτο τηλεοπτικό σποτ του ΣΥΡΙΖΑSYRIZA's original campaign was based on Η ελπίδα έρχεται (Hope is coming), which gave it its first win in January 2015. During their first five months in power, SYRIZA failed in every respect to change the direction of politics in the country, breaking every single promise made during its election campaign. In trying and failing to negotiate a non-austerity deal for the Greek economy, SYRIZA led the nation to vote on an incomprehensible referendum question, where a NO (OXI) outcome won, but which was later reinterpreted by SYRIZA as a YES (to keep loans coming in). Despite the obvious incompetence of the government, it was voted in for a second term in a second general election in the same year. Global interest in Greek politics then waned, but the refugee crisis still keeps Greece in the front pages of the global press. 

Embedded image permalinkAlexis Tsipras' initial impact on Greek society led it to believe that things can change, and they can change easily. Very little did in fact change, and change continues to come with difficulty, much greater than before. The two-party system that SYRIZA supossedly broke down didn't actually die; the former party of promises (PASOK(, was simply replaced by its newer version (SYRIZA), while the popularity of the main conservative party (ND) diminished in the face of the challenges. The unchanged status quo of Greek politics hasn't gone by unnoticed by the EU: the Greek newspaper ToVima recently published an uncomfortably long list of family-related appointments made during Syriza's time to various state bodies. The EU says this has to stop, which the present Minister of Finance (Euclid Tsakalotos) agrees with - all the while that his Scottish wife has been an adviser to the Bank of Greece since 2011, in other words since SYRIZA's rise. 
The left means many different things, depending on how we choose to interpret it. For me, the Greek left has always been defined by the people who shout the loudest and stomp their feet the hardest, always in support of negating any proposal made by the governing side. They haven't changed their tune while in power either - they still shout and stomp louder than their opponents, to negate what the so-called left government is 'proposing': in essence, the present left government is simply obeying to the demands made by Greece's creditors. Not that former right-wing governments were really any better: their campaigns were also based on making promises that could not be fulfilled, but they were more willing to compromise. Greek society has learnt the hard way now: no money, no honey. Which direction you lean to makes no difference to that particular rule.

The Greek left had never governed in a legal sense (ie by being chosen democratically) before 2015, so the left's first year in power was experimental. The experiment was not a success story, but it wasn't a failure either. Everything that was supposed to go wrong with a left government didn't actually go wrong in Greece: Greece wasn't thrown out of the eurozone or the European Union and I personally highly doubt Greece would ever have been thrown out of either, no matter how close 'expert' analysts insist it was to this point. Very few analysts looked behind the numbers: the mentality of Greek people would never push them to leave by themselves, while the creditors silently admit to themselves that their European project will also explode if they do the throwing out. What happened instead was that the Greek left veered off course: it went 'right' in a feeble attempt to get to the centre. Tsipras attended the 2016 Davos leaders' meeting where he wsa "brushing shoulders with bankers and billionaires", a far cry from his leftist origins.

Greece is still very much a divided society. Exacerbated by the European mess as things currently stand, Greece is still battling between her two extremes, neither of which presents a feasible solution to any of the country's economic problems. But I still believe that having Tsipras/Syriza in power was a good thing for Greece. Just like the EU insisting that there is no other way to save Greece but by a Memorandum, all Greeks have to admit that the former political facade in Greece had to drop, and it was Syriza that helped to do this. That doesn't make Alexis Tsipras the best politician - as far as negotiation tactics are concerned, he tops the list for having the worst negotiation skills according to an article from Harvard Law School. When he eventually goes (like all politicians do), he will have left behind some kind of legacy, however superficial it may be. Syriza/Tsipras' reign hasn't been characterised by total failure. Without it/him, the same-sex cohabitation law, supported by the present leader of the opposition party, would never have passed into Greek law, which helped to bring Greece one step closer to what is considered equality in the Western world. It should also not be forgotten that Syriza's handling of the undocumented migrants and refugee crisis was more humane than the previous Greek governments, and perhaps any other Western nation in the world. A million or so people have crossed from Turkey to Greece in 2015, and it should not be forgotten that since September, every single day, more than one child, as well as one adult, on average, has been drowning in the Mediterranean sea, and no one is doing anything to stop this.

Dawn rises above the hills - Γλυκοχαράζει στα βουνά
the jasmine smells beautiful - μοσχοβολούν τα γιασεμιά
the air is filled with birdsong - ραγούδι αρχίζουν τα πουλιά
as the sea smiles widely - γελά η θάλασσα πλατιά
while we dream of owning property and tv sets - κι εμείς οικόπεδα και Ι.Χ
fridges, furnishings and automobiles - ψυγεία έπιπλα TV
and as we pay for our sot weed - κουτόχορτο με πληρωμή
right next door to us, life departs - και δίπλα φεύγει η ζωή
Ξυπνήστε! - Wake up! by Panos Tzavellas, 1975

EU-Greece-Acropolis1We constantly look to Western standards for justice and equality because we know deep down inside of us that our own Greek standards of justice and equality are deficient. So even though our feelings for Western style democracy are often ambivalent - at the same time that Western standards often present a sense of justice, fairness and good manners, they also contain elements of forced colonialism, and the superiority complex inherent in imperialism - we still feel the need to adopt the good sides of any foreign culture we come across. Unfortunately, Western culture has also been equated with consumerism, which leads to greed, an element of all societies, regardless of how fair or just they seem on the surface. Greed is partly to blame when we hear people (of any culture) lamenting the changes in society. They recall the 'better' times when there was more money in people's pockets, without remembering that there was less money in the treasury. Greed is to blame for the predicament that Greeks find themselves in. No matter which colour is governing, the result would have been the same. Syriza's naive politics are not to blame for the state of the Greek economy - I am certain that Greece would be in a similar situation now if the conservative coalition was governing, and social unrest would be much much worse than it already is.

Συνεχίζονται οι κινητοποιήσεις αγροτών - κτηνοτρόφων σε όλη την ΕλλάδαI blame it mainly on the weather. I've said before on my blog that winter brings out the greatest pessimism among Greeks. But as soon as the weather brightens up, everything looks more manageable. In summer, we are either too busy or too hot to worry about the government's plans for the country. strike. In the dearth of the present winter, Greek farmers are protesting with their tractors on the streets, threatening to cut Greece into four pieces by road blockages. Come summer, they'll be planting cotton and tobacco, selling it and making good money in one season. Scientists, doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, engineers and notaries also went on strike recently, a novelty for Greece since it's rare to see white collar workers demonstrating. But the higher taxes and lower pensions that they are striking about are the same kinds of reforms that a conservative government would have had to commit to. They are all complaining about the inevitable.

A selection of headlines from Greek websites today on the anniversary of a year of a leftist government in power (all sites are centre-right, except for 'avgi' which is left):
- The grapes of wrath (tovima)
- SYRIZA's celebrations a far cry from last year's grandiose election win (tovima)
- Tsipras: «We are proud of the struggles we have fought, we will continue» (tovima)
- Tsipras against ties, farmers and Kiriakos [the first name of the leader of the opposition] (iefimerida)
- Figaro on Tsipras: A year later, Greece is still out of order (iefimerida)
- Liberation: The candle for a year of Syriza looks more like dynamite (iefimerida)
- Everything is on the table: Political crash, elections and cabinet reshuffle (thetoc)
- Two worlds: The government is partying, while the streets are raging (thetoc)
- "The Syriza that changed (not)" (protagon)
- A year of Syriza: Could it have been different? (protagon)
- Al. Tsipras: "We will not become the hostages of blackmailers or vested interests" (avgi)
and one from the UK:
One year on, Syriza has sold its soul for power - Alexis Tsipras has embraced wholesale the austerity he once decried (TheGuardian)

Ο υπουργός οικονομικών στο μέγαρο Μαξίμου
(27 Μαρτίου 2015 - Nick Paleologos / SOOC)Few people keep in mind that we have to constantly reevaluate our present predicament to see a better future ahead. No matter how much Greece changes, as it is sure to do over the coming years, the changes need to bring about more confidence among the Greek people in terms of understanding the state of their country: they need to be more aware of the fact that the salvation of their country is in their hands alone. Only then can they convince others that they are worth investing in.

We aren't really on the way to reaching this point. The traditional Western view to reaching it would be something like 'a lot of hard work is required'. Not quite the case in Greece: How you turn round a country like Greece has to do with the mindset. You need to get rid of the middle-aged generation (40s-50s age group): they are the ones that now run the show, and try to ensure the rules don't change (no matter what political party is in charge), just so they can carry on as usual. Of course, we can get rid of them easily by promising them early retirement, but the real rulers of this country's economy have ruled that out. So we are stuck with them for the time being. Education might help: we could try teaching children how to think for themselves for a start. But we need new teachers to do that; they won't be retiring too soon, though. So we are well and truly stuck for the time being.

Greeks may sound like loud rabble-rousers, but Greece is a peace-loving country. Greeks do not desire to go to war. They rarely take part in other people's wars. We may have problems in Greece, but we don't meddle with others' problems, so we are well liked in that respect, which has led to Greece being regarded as a safe holiday destination. I've often heard it said that tourism won't save us - such naive words, in my humble opinion. That will keep the economy going just long enough to give people some respite from the misery of a depressing local economic climate, which is highly linked to the even more depressing global economic climate - Greece isn't alone: it's bad all over Europe, and beyond. Unless of course you're rich, and in this world, the rich can still hide behind their money, as I've often seen rich Greeks do.

So what is left of the Greek left? The political left is quite a different concept in Greece compared to the Western concept of what constitutes left. We are now seeing leftist movements rising in the UK and US. But they haven't been tried: the West was never communist. Nor was Greece. Perhaps this is why we are now reconsidering what constitutes fairness and justice in the world. And all this is happening while former European communist nations are leaning gung-ho to the extreme right. The world is in a mess, not just Greece.

An American friend emailed me just yesterday to ask me if there was any coverage of Bernie Sanders in Greece. "Can it possibly be that we, the duped American people, are finally going to stand up and make a real change?" she writes. "It seems a dream. I have asked myself why has Bernie waited for 30 years to run for the nomination? I guess the answer is that finally the winds of change are strong enough and we are mad enough to try to throw out the 1 percent's power and let the middle class people speak."
No, I told my friend, there is no coverage of Bernie here. I've heard about Bernie from another American friend - had she not told me about him, I would have been asking 'who's he?'. Neither so we get any coverage of his UK counterpart Jeremy Corbyn. I only know about Jeremy because I read The Guardian. I think this is because the Greek left has failed abysmally. Its right-turn shenangians have made it look a complete failure. Apart from voting in same-sex civil unions and allowing undocumented people into the country without repercussions (which makes them stranded in a country that can't offer them any meaningful help), it has gone back on every promise it made in the election campaign that helped it to gain power exactly a year ago today. If the left had been successful in any way for the Greek economy, we would be hearing all about the struggles of the leftist parties in other countries of the modern world in our Greek news sites. But the Greek left has failed - abysmally, as I note above. It celebrates its first anniversary in power today by taxing the average Greek citizen very unfairly (for 'growth' purposes), supporting the European bourgeoisie (to keep getting loans), and placing family and friends connected to the coalition government in positions of state power (nepotism). One year on, the average Greek citizen now thinks that the left was a fraud. That's probably why we hear nothing about Bernie Sanders in Greek news. We have lost faith in the left. And because we don't trust the right, either, we have lost faith in all politicians, and we just trust ourselves.

I'm not at all pessimistic about the future of Greece. It's tied with the current global trends. If things are going badly in general, then it won't be easy to start up all over again anywhere. Utopia does not exist. Greece is challenging to live in, that's for sure. But the more I understand my people, the easier I find it to live among them, and just lately, the easier they find it to put up with me. "Will you ever get sick of us?" my family recently asked me. No, I assured them. No one gets sick of Greece. Even if I decide to leave Greece, I'll never be sick of Greece. I'll always be trying to find ways to get back. Greece is stuck with me for the time being.

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