I was intrigued by a post published recently by academic Despina Alexiadou called Why is Tsipras loved so much in Brussels? She points out:
Officials in Brussels prefer Tsipras in government because they did not want him to be in opposition. Let me expand on that: New Democracy has already shown its pro-memorandum preferences by signing the agreement over the summer. Thus, if Tsipras moves forward with the reforms he has signed, Brussels expects very little resistance, at the political level, in the implementation of the memorandum. The same would not necessarily be true if Tsipras was in opposition.
Funny, because when I recently visited the country I spoke to lots of people who could not see any difference between Tsipras’ Syriza and an Evangelos Meimaraki-led New Democracy. Both, in their eyes, were ready to capitulate to the troika, so what was the point in picking over small differences?
One woman I spoke to, recorded here, told me: “This election doesn’t mean anything to me. Whether Tsipras and his party, or the other parties like his win, it doesn’t matter to me or my business because they are all the same. We vote for a deal with Germany and Europe and it doesn’t matter.”
Another man told me: “If I’m honest with this election, it means nothing to me, nothing changes. With Syriza and the Independent Greeks together again this should be an anti-memorandum party, but we will just have to see”.
However what Alexiadou says is very important, and it speaks to many of the criticisms that Tsipras receives from the left, particularly from ex-Syriza members: namely, that Tsipras and Syriza have proven themselves to be merely populist, not socialist.
In power, he’ll progress the reforms. From the sidelines, he’ll protest that the reforms are all wrong. The accusation, here, is that he’s something of a political chameleon.
One former Syriza member even told me that Tsipras’ agenda, first and foremost, is Tsipras himself. The populist rhetoric is his vehicle to drive that through.
Another former Syriza member, now Popular Unity member, Stathis Kouvelakis, told me at an event recently that “if Tsipras were to have done the decent thing after the September election, he would’ve resigned”.
That might sound unfair after an election win, but should be seen in the context of his personal ratings which have plummeted from 70% in March to 29.5% earlier in September. Under him, the fascist Golden Dawn party have returned on the political map, and let’s not forget that in the last election there were the highest number of abstentions in Greek parliamentary elections since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974.
“Greeks made sacrifices for an economy ruined over 36 years”
At the same event where I spoke to Stathis Kouvelakis, we heard from former Greek speaker of the Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou. In what can only be described as a brutal monologue, she listed the current woes (to say the least) that grip the Greek people. I will quote at length:
There have been gross misrepresentations of the Greek crisis in order to justify the crisis to the Greek youth and the next generations.
The Greek people were asked to make sacrifices for an economy ruined over 36 years by Pasok and New Democracy.
Unemployment stood at 9% in 2009, and it is 27% in 2015. 72% of the unemployment is among young women. There is a suicide epidemic in the country. 300,000 households are left without electricity, numerous deaths by suffocation have been recorded of young children and the elderly due to self-made heating appliances.
Half of the country’s children live below the poverty line, pupils faint while they are at school because they are hungry.
There is only one nurse to every four patients in hospitals.
44.8% of pensioners have pensions that are below the poverty line [below €665].
Hundreds of thousands of small and medium sized businesses have disappeared.
Hundreds of thousands of young people emigrate each year.
25% of the economy has shrunk since 2010.
We have seen unconstitutional and illegal activities take place and the willful transformation of private debt into public debt, affecting the Greek people who were then subsequently attacked.
French and German banks got rid of their Greek bonds before the massive haircut. And in that haircut, only Greek private banks were saved.
Every baby born in Greece was in debt to the tune of €32,500 before the third memorandum. Now, for every baby born there is €41,000 debt.
Indeed as another man put it to me while in Greece: “The troika treats us like shit”. It’s not hard to see why he thinks that. It wouldn’t do justice for Tsipras merely to say the road ahead will be tough. He should step aside and let someone more capable stand up for the Greek people against adversaries in the European Union.
Carl Packman, 15/10/2015