Greek writer Sofia Tipaldou gives her reaction to Syriza's vote and those of the other political parties in last Sunday's elections
Ever since I was born, I remember Greece governed by the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) or New Democracy (ND), until 2012 when for the first time they governed together, for the country's sake. Now, a left party got elected for the first time since the fall of the military junta and there is no Papandreou heir in the parliament. Has Greece changed?
The political spectrum has been re-aligned with the entry of the new self-proclaimed center-left, catch-all party, The River (To Potami); the historical low percentage of Pasok following its internal division and the creation of Papandreou's Movement of Democratic Socialists (KIDISO); and the disappearance of Democratic Left (DHMAR). A general euphoria dominates the (left) press and the social media and optimism for Greece's future with Syriza is widespread within and without Greece. It seems that ND's fear-based pre-electoral campaign did not succeed this time, despite the messianic message that were depicting the end of times should Syriza win the election.
One word of caution. Syriza is not the same now as it was in 2012. It has undergone an internal transformation. The 2012 Syriza that had just risen from 5 per cent to 27 per cent of the vote, becoming the main opposition party changed in the following two years. The party moderated its anti-systemic rhetoric and formulated concrete and viable policies, including economic policy. During this time, Syriza also welcomed new members; some of which distinguished scientists that benefited the party; others stemming from the old Pasok and from Independent Greeks (ANEL), a move for which the party, and especially its leader, received considerable criticism from within and without Syriza.
Syriza is the big winner, with about 10 per cent increase in votes, but how much has Greek society really changed?
ND has lost the election, its internal dynamic has been broken, and its future perspectives seem to be deteriorating; but still almost one out of three Greeks voted it. And this, after two years of undemocratic policy reforms, brutal police repression of all kinds of public dissent, closing of state-owned national broadcaster ERT and plunging in the press freedom index (more than 50 places since 2009), rise of suicides, drug consumption, and immigration, deterioration of public health and education, dismantlement of middle class, to mention only a few examples.
The other newcomer of the 2012 elections,ANEL, a party of right-wing, ultranationalist, neo-liberal, and eurosceptic orientation, despite losing nearly half of its 2012 support, has made it to the Parliament, and—on top of this—it will be Syriza's partner in the government. This goes far beyond the wildest guesses of many analysts and has even been excluded by Syriza members pre-electorally, but it is a good example of Realpolitik and obviously Syriza's only chance, if it did not want to rerun the elections.
The traditional stubborn denial of Greek politicians to collaborate with others, especially in key-moments of history, brought about the awkward situation of having not only the first left government in Greece, but also the first left government that has to pact with a far right wing party. Syriza could only choose as a coalition partners the political parties that do not represent the old elite (ND and Pasok) or are not totalitarian (Golden Dawn). So, its options were three: ANEL, The River, and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). But, The River and ANEL deny to collaborate with each other, so a government with the support of both forces that could be considered more representative, is out of question. And the KKE which stands close to Syriza's objectives, especially to the far-left fraction within Syriza, categorically denies to ally with anyone since always.
Syriza preferred ANEL to The River based on the pro-EU federalism/against EU-federalism cleavage. The River, on the other side, that leans towards the left, considers Greece's membership in the Eurozone indispensable. Despite the fact thathe new Minister of Economy, Yanis Varoufakis, made clear before the election and soon after taking up the post that a Grexit is unthinkable, Syriza might wanted to have an Ace in the hole in light of the debt's renegotiation with the loaners. That may be an explanation why it proceeded to this unholy alliance with ANEL that made many furious and others sceptic with its viability.
Further right, the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn that entered the Parliament for the first time in 2012, is here to stay. With a fall of half a point in its electoral result, it seems to have stabilized its electoral base. Beyond doubt, the fragmentation of the political center has worked in favour of the Golden Dawn. ND, however far right it tried to become, with the introduction of far-right politicians in its cabinet (e.g. Adonis Georgiadis, Makis Boridis, Takis Baltakos), did not manage to attract the vote for the Golden Dawn; quite the opposite after failing to please even the ultranationalist part of the electorate (and despite the above-mentioned undemocratic measures) it seems that its voters leaked towards the Golden Dawn. Neither could ANEL attract the vote of this part of the electorate, which might be the good news in the light of a coalition with Syriza.
In sum, Greek society retains a strong conservative and nationalist current. What indeed seems to be changing in Greece is its distrust towards the EU, especially after having experienced the results of TROIKA-led austerity measures. This was central issue of this electoral campaign. In sum eurosceptic parties of the left and right—Syriza, the Communist Party (KKE), ANEL, and the Golden Dawn—make up for the 52,84 per cent of voters. On the pro-European side ND, Pasok, and The River account together for 38,54 per cent. Hostility to the EU was the big winner of the 2015 Greek elections, one of the facades of which is Golden Dawn's electoral stability, as it was in the 2014 European elections, while EU-bureaucrats are turning a blind eye.
Syriza has been able to capitalize on this mood and to hinder a further rise of the far right. For now.
The historical responsibility of Syriza is big, not only in terms of domestic policy, but also in the international domain and the leftist-leaning electorates of the whole Europe. The expectations are huge, the room for maneuvering limited.
Talking to fellow immigrant Greeks on the election eve, the expectations are this: Syriza does not let us down, at least not a lot. Being cautious that political reforms in a Eurozone country will be marginal, and will take time, our expectations are centered around social policies; regularization of migrant status and demolition of the disgraceful refugee camps, LGTB rights, control of corruption, abolition of obligatory army service, clearance of police from far right cores (one out of two policemen in Greece votes the Golden Dawn), freezing of armament expenses.
And mostly, Syriza should fight as much as it can, in order not to become another mainstream party, a new Pasok, full with richly-fed socialists who stand critical towards the people's protest, as it threatens their seats. Syriza should not turn its back on alternative movements and projects, like Skouries, Vio.Me, ERT Open.
This would be a good start!