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Opinion

January 31, 2015

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The Syriza shock

The European project is in shock. Syriza’s victory in Greece on January 25, 2015 has been termed by many European leaders as the most devastating blow to the European Union.
The newly established left-wing party was able to gain 149 out of 300 parliamentary seats, fetching over 36 percent of votes within just three years of its establishment. However, Syriza’s formation as a political platform commenced in 2004 with preparation by 13 diverse Left, green and radical groups.
The joint forces of the Left were able to win over 42 percent of the popular vote, including over five percent for the Greek Communist Party KKE, which was not part of Syriza.
For the ‘Troika’ of the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF, the most frightening promise of Syriza’s 40-point election manifesto was: “Audit of the public debt and renegotiation of interest due and suspension of payments until the economy has revived and growth and employment returns”. The formation of the cabinet after the election victory indicates the desire of Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras to fulfil this promise as soon as possible.
Tsipras took oath as the youngest ever prime minister of Greece at the age of 40 within 24 hours of victory in a simple ceremony expressing the urgency of acting upon the promises. Syriza wants to renegotiate Greece’s 240bn euro (179bn pounds; $270bn) bailout by international lenders. Tsipras has lined up a formidable 40-strong cabinet of academics, human rights advocates, mavericks and visionaries to participate in Europe’s first anti-austerity government.
Giorgos Stathakis, a political economics professor, took over the development portfolio, a super-ministry that includes oversight of tourism, transport and shipping, the country’s biggest industries.
Panagiotis Kouroublis, who is blind, was made health minister – becoming the first Greek politician with a disability to hold public office.
Euclid Tsakalotos, a

British-trained economist who rose out of the anti-globalisation movement, became deputy minister in charge of international economic relations.
Panagiotis Lafazanis, a Marxist who heads Syriza’s far-left faction, was made head of the super-ministry incorporating energy, industry and environmental affairs. He has openly opposed any concessions being made with Greece’s creditors when stalled negotiations over completing the country’s current bailout program resume.
Rallies across Greece after the election results – in town squares, factories and universities – were thoughtful and inspirational. The working class believes the election slogan of Syriza: ‘hope begins today’. The results are clear – this is nothing short of an overwhelming expression of the people’s will for change, by and for the people.
The most important points of the most radical manifesto in the recent history of Europe by a party that won the most popular support in a short time are: ‘Raise income tax to 75 percent for all incomes over 500,000 euros; change the election laws to a proportional system; prohibit speculative financial derivatives; abolish financial privileges for the church; drastically reduce military expenditure; raise minimum salary from the present 450 euros to 750 euros per month”.
It also aims at the nationalisation of banks, nationalisation of ex-public (service and utilities) companies in strategic sectors for the growth of the country (railroads, airports, mail, water); nationalisation of private hospitals; elimination of private participation in the national health system; preference for renewable energy and defence of the environment; equal salaries for men and women; and constitutional reforms to guarantee separation of church and state and protection of the right to education, healthcare and the environment.
Syriza proved that left-wing ideas can win popular support if they are linked to mass movements with unity of progressive forces on one major platform.
It also promised the abolition of privileges for parliamentary deputies, removal of special juridical protection for ministers and permission for the courts to proceed against members of the government.
The Greek economic crisis of the last few years could not be averted even with a bailout package by the ‘Troika’ of over 240 billion euros in return for privatisation of major ports, airports and railways. It led to great social pressures on the masses with unemployment rising to over 25 percent. The austerity measures meant a cut in living standards previously unseen in the whole history of Greece.
Unemployment had soared to over 26 percent from a pre-crisis level of only seven percent. The policies of austerity had wrecked the Greek economy. Public spending was slashed and pensions fell by 25 percent. Greece lost a fifth of its economic output. Poverty surged from 23 percent before the economic crash to 40 percent.
There was a general feeling of helplessness. Many people fled to the countryside to find food or else emigrated abroad, while others found an even more tragic way out. The suicide rate has risen to such an extent that the newspapers no longer bother to report any but the most dramatic cases.
The immigrant community, including many Pakistani workers, felt the most heat resulting in many workers coming back home with empty pockets after a growing wave of racist attacks. Syriza’s promise of facilitating the reunion of immigrant families won the support of most migrant communities in Greece.
On the international front, Syriza promises the withdrawal of Greek troops from Afghanistan and the Balkans, abolition of military cooperation with Israel and support for creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
The election victory of the left-wing Syriza coalition in Greece has spurred widespread comment and discussion. On the Right, some commentators warn of imminent catastrophe while others urge negotiations. On the Left, some hail it as huge step for anti-capitalism; some see it as positive but have certain concerns.
Unsurprisingly, most of Syriza’s election points could be found within the platform of most contemporary parties of the Left – rejecting austerity, opposing privatisation, a crack down on tax dodging, against corporate domination of politics and the corruption that comes with it. However, it is Syriza that won the day.
None of this is at all surprising – for two reasons. First, the Left across Europe, probably across the world, has changed significantly in the past twenty years. It is no longer acceptable to ignore the interlocking struggles against different forms of oppression. Since 9/11 and the Iraq war, it has been impossible to avoid accepting anti-imperialist arguments. Since the financial crash, you can’t really be progressive and ignore the struggle against neoliberalism.
As the climate has changed, few reject the basic premises of environmentalism any more. In other words, where the reference points for the Left were once where various groupings stood on particular bits of the history of the Soviet Union, a new generation has emerged where the relevant questions are very different. The cracks of the past have started to heal in the heat of history.
Syriza’s ‘Coalition of Left, Movements and Ecology’ says its priorities will be to cancel austerity and renegotiate the country’s “unsustainable” 320bn euro debt load. It has already raised the issue of the historic debt of over $200 billion, losses that occurred during the Nazi invasion of Greece during the Second World War. European leaders are rightly worried by this left-wing challenge right in their own heartland. Greece is considered to be another Venezuela in the making. It is Athens today; with the rise of another radical party Podemos in Spain, it could be Madrid next. Podemos means, ‘yes we can’. That was the main theme of Syriza during the month-long election campaign. And they did.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @Farooqtariq3

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