Illustration by Manos Symeonakis
Alexis Tsipras told delegates at SYRIZA’s founding congress on Wednesday that it is time for the leftists to rid Greece of its “aged powers,” namely New Democracy and PASOK. But to do so, SYRIZA can’t rely just on being younger than them.
SYRIZA was founded as the Coalition of the Radical Left in 2004 thanks to a cooperation between several leftist parties, most notably Synaspismos. As is to be expected of youth, SYRIZA spent its formative years not really knowing what it wanted to be – a sounding board for leftist intellectuals, a springboard for political activists or a launch pad for the left to come to power. SYRIZA members had this existential question answered for them last summer thanks to the party’s impressive showing in the June elections, when it garnered almost 27 percent of the vote and won 72 seats in Parliament.
Since then Tsipras, just 38, has been on a mission to mould SYRIZA into a party of government rather than a collection of leftist factions happy with life on the opposition benches. The conference is due to end with almost all the factions voting themselves into oblivion and SYRIZA becoming a single unit. Over the last year, though, Tsipras’s has been far from a steady hand at the helm. He was veered from an anti-austerity platform last summer to the attempt at reconciliation with Greece’s lenders and center ground voters earlier this year. He toned down his rhetoric after the elections, then ramped it up as Cyprus was being bailed out, before settling for a holding pattern ahead of this week’s congress.
Illustration by Manos Symeonakis
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras is to attend the funeral of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez but this will not be his most significant political statement of the week or month. That came when he delivered a speech on Wednesday night at an event in Athens held to mark 15 years since the death of New Democracy founder and late Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis.
In many European countries, a political leader from one ideological camp paying respects to the memory of a politician from the other side of the spectrum might not be particularly noteworthy. Tsipras’s address, though, broke several taboos in Greece.
Karamanlis has widely been acknowledged for his statesmanship in leading Greece from the pain of the dictatorship to the prosperity of European Union membership. But his prominent role during a turbulent period in Greek politics before the rise of the junta meant that many on the left had trouble accepting him as the national father figure (“ethnarhis”) others portrayed him to be. On the flip side, the Greek left has traditionally remained entrenched and introspective, largely as a result of the scars inflicted by civil war, persecution and the colonel’s regime. Even since the restoration of democracy in 1974, the left has rarely accepted any practical cooperation or ideological cross-pollination with the country’s right.
Posted in Greece, Greek politics
Tagged Alexis Tsipras, Antonis Samaras, Civil War, Constantine Karamanlis, Democracy, Greece, Greek left, Greek politics, Hugo Chavez, Left, New Democracy, SYRIZA
Soon after being propelled to international fame for publishing the Lagarde list and facing prosecution for it, journalist Costas Vaxevanis wrote in an opinion piece that “democracy is like a bicycle.” As Greek MPs debated the merits of which politician to probe in connection with the handling of the depositors list for 14 hours on Thursday, democracy began to look more like a unicycle, ridden by a giant clown.
There have been many jaw-dropping moments in Parliament since this crisis began. For instance, who can forget becoming part of a parallel universe as the world waited for George Papandreou to receive a vote of confidence in late 2011 just so he could resign a few days later? Votes on midterm fiscal plans, bailout packages and new austerity measures – Greece has seen it all over the past few years. But none of those moments could match the sheer futile hysteria of Thursday’s debate.
Greece has been the centre of the world’s attention, again, over the past couple of weeks. The June 17 elections and their fallout has attracted interest from around the globe and I was lucky enough to be asked to write some articles about all this for The Guardian and Businessweek. I provide links to these stories below in the hope they will act as an election diary, of sorts (I was never very good at keeping diaries).
Wednesday, June 13
Greece faces an agonising election choice (The Guardian)
The fear factor in Greek elections (Businessweek)
Monday, June 17
The Greek election may yet prove a victory for SYRIZA (The Guardian)
For Greek politicians, election doesn’t make governing any easier (Businessweek)
Tuesday, June 18
Greece’s anti-bailout brigade is here to stay (Businessweek)
Wednesday, June 19
Greece nears a coalition that seeks space to fix the economy (Businessweek)
Thursday, June 20
Tourism in Greece may rebound with new government (Businessweek)
Friday, June 21
Greece vs Germany, the real fireworks come after the soccer match (Businessweek)
Sunday, June 24
Finance minister of Greece: the world’s worst job? (Businessweek)
It’s not often that the losing party in an election can declare that “a new day is dawning.” Yet, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras felt that his party’s phenomenal rise, which narrowly lacked the momentum to carry the leftists to first place in Sunday’s Greek elections, justified a feeling of optimism.
“The future does not belong to the terrorised but those who bring hope,” he told supporters at a small post-election rally in central Athens on Sunday night.
Tsipras is right to feel emboldened by his party’s upward trajectory from 4.6 percent in the 2009 election to almost 27 percent in yesterday’s vote but the immediate future belongs to those who pledge something much less ambitious than hope. Sunday’s result, which saw New Democracy’s conservatives gain 29.6 percent, provides a mandate for those who pledge plain old stability.
Trying to predict how Greeks will vote on June 17 in the midst of the turmoil created by the country’s grueling economic crisis and the disorientating political transition is a thankless task, but the latest Public Issue poll for Kathimerini indicates we might get a clear result.
More so than at any other point over the last few weeks, Public Issue suggests that SYRIZA has built a commanding — although not decisive or unassailable — lead over New Democracy. The survey shows a rise of 1.5 percent for the leftists since last week, so they now stand at 31.5 percent. New Democracy suffered a marginal decline and sits at 25.5 percent.
They are followed by a struggling PASOK on 13.5 percent, a resurgent Democratic Left (DIMAR) on 7.5 percent, a static Communist Party (KKE) on 5.5 percent, the declining Independent Greeks on 5.5 percent and a shrinking Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) on 4.5 percent. The liberal alliance of Dimiourgia Xana (Recreate Greece) and Drasi falls short of entering Parliament with 2.5 percent.