Covering last January’s Greek elections for The Guardian, Maria Margaronis quoted a Syriza community project organiser saying: “It’s not that the people have hope, it’s that they hope to have hope.” Now, 6 months later, over 4,000,000 people, 49% of the population, don’t even have the stomach for a trip to the polling station.
After the July referendum, Alexis Tsipras went viral across Europe, feted as an international democratic sensation, “the bad boy of European politics”, the only man brave enough to stand up for Greeks against our capitalist German bullies. Copenhagen, Paris, Glasgow, Oxford, Seville, Granada and Berlin, were all among the many cities expressing solidarity with the left leader by supporting the big ‘’OXI’’, the “No” that would finally end austerity. Even celebrities got involved – Manu Chao, for example, uploaded a video to YouTube in which he sang, playing a guitar with “OXI” written on it (which conveniently appealed to the Greek public right before his concert in Athens). And when Greece finally voted “OXI”, Spain’s Podemos proudly announced that “Democracy” had won in Greece.
Sure, democracy won. But Manu Chao’s tour is over, Europe’s had its protests and now everyone’s moved on while the Greek people are stuck with a third memorandum for the next four years which they explicitly voted against. So what do we, the Greek people, do now?
We couldn’t vote for New Democracy- they can criticize Syriza all they like for what’s happened in the last 6 months, but the long-term damage was down to them and Pasok. Like Tsipras joked in the leader’s debate- you don’t drink 4 bottles of whisky and a shot, and then blame the shot for landing you in hospital.
I’m a half-Greek, half-English student. Had I been in Greece in January, I would have voted Syriza. Like most Greeks, I “hoped to have hope”. I would have voted for the man Peter Popham of The Independent described as “The 41-year-old former communist who came from nowhere to lead Greece’s left-wing radicals”. But I no longer see anything “radical” or new about Syriza. Firstly, Tsipras didn’t “come out of nowhere”; he’s been in politics for over ten years. But quite apart from the fact that he failed to deliver on his promise to rip the memorandum to shreds, he hasn’t done much else either. Greece’s rampant tax evasion is still alive and well – go to a café or a taverna and you have to argue with most managers to get a receipt. Bribes are still frequently the only way to ensure you get what you want, from driving licenses to life-saving operations. And ENFIA, the painful property tax levied even on the unemployed that was introduced by New Democracy, is still harming the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
The economy aside – after all, we are in a crisis – what about social change? What I admired most about Tsipras was his tireless campaigning to ensure stateless second generation immigrants would be granted citizenship, and his passion for the legalisation of gay marriage. Perhaps ANEL, the far-right ‘Independent ‘Greeks’ and Syriza’s coalition partner posed an ideological block to these reforms? Sure- But Syriza went into coalition with ANEL in January on the basis that they were both anti-memorandum. So why is it that now, when Syriza has accepted the third memorandum, that they’ve sided with ANEL again, and not with any of the centre-left parties more ideologically close to them like Pasok or Potami? Surely working with either of these two would have been better than having to work with the likes of Dimitris Kammenos, an ANEL MP, who was recently sacked due to his anti-Semitic twitter rants. It really is beyond me how Greece can remain more xenophobic, more homophobic and less liberal under the Coalition of the Radical-Left than Britain with the Tories running the show.
I sympathise with the political apathy demonstrated in these elections a great deal. All Greek politicians are beginning to sound the same. In the leaders’ debate shown on state television, New Democracy leader Meimarakis and Tsipras were even asked whether there would be any differences between their governments, given they would both have to implement austerity in accordance with the terms of the new harsh memorandum.
Politicians are too frightened to make us face facts about the future, so they avoid telling us what has to be done. Instead they constantly indulge in nationalistic rhetoric peppered with skewed historical “facts” worthy of Golden Dawn’s manifesto. Firebrand Zoe Konstantopoulou, now a member of the Popular Unity party, likened Brussels-imposed austerity to the 400 years of Greek enslavement by the Ottomans. In her anti-austerity narrative, the Germany that occupied Greece in WW2 is no different from Merkel’s government. And she’s not some nutter on the fringe of the political scene- just a hot second ago she was Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament- and she’s no exception either.
Politics is not like football: Syriza didn’t get my vote, but I obviously don’t want Tsipras to fail. On the contrary, I want him to succeed as desperately as I want Greece’s economy to stabilise. But we need to stop looking back and pointing the finger. Because there’s one party and one party only that does that best and that’s Greece’s answer to Hitler. Tsipras has to do more than promise us a bright future and tell the public what they want to hear. He has to deliver hard truths, and protect the poorest and the weakest who will be affected by them most.