14 May 2012

Greek Marxists To Decide Europe's Fate

By Charles McPhedran
Greek neo-Marxist fringe party Syriza holds the key to forming a coalition where the major parties have failed. Their leader is young, charismatic - and now widely feared, writes Charles McPhedran
When Angela Merkel's government examines contemporary Europe these days, they worry about an uncomfortable parallel from German history: "By this point, advisors in the chancellor's office are reminded of the Weimar Republic when they see the pictures from Athens," reports German weekly Der Spiegel.

Greeks are today as angry at the austerity measures imposed by Brussels and the IMF as Germans were at the repayments that the Allies foisted upon them at the end of World War I, unnamed sources in the chancellor's office said.

Like in Greece today, those Weimar repayments on debts incurred during World War I worsened the effects of a global financial crisis — and helped parties blaming unemployment and debt on anti-German machinations by foreign governments, especially the Nazis.

"And just like during the 1920s in Germany, fringe parties on the left and right are benefiting," Der Spiegel said.

It hasn't yet reached crisis point in Greece. But late on Sunday night, Greek president Karolos Papoulias attempted frantically to put together a new government to avoid new elections next month, in which parties on the far left and right are likely to poll better than at last Sunday's elections, say surveys.

There had been no winner last week. PASOK and New Democracy, the socialist and conservative parties that had dominated Greek politics since the end of the military junta in 1974, were left with just over a third of the vote last Sunday — down from just under 80 per cent in 2009.

Neither of those parties — nor the neo-Marxist, anti-bailout Syriza, which came second — could form a coalition last week. Leaving Papoulias meeting with everyone in parliament, in a likely quixotic attempt to form a new government. Even fascist party New Dawn were asked to meet with Papoulias during his attempts to form a coalition à la carte on Sunday.

Those talks are to continue on Monday. Nevertheless, it was rumoured in Athens over the weekend that yesterday's attempts to form a coalition had failed before they began. Papoulias will today name 10 June as the date when the new poll will be held, according to information received by New Matilda.

If that indeed is the case, then Syriza will likely win June's poll, reported French business daily Les Echos on Sunday. "Syriza registered 20.2 support, ahead of conservative New Democracy, which has 18.1 per cent support, and socialist PASOK on 12.2," the paper wrote, citing Greek weekly To Vima.

Thus Syriza, formed in 2004 after Trotskyites and Maoists joined an earlier eurocommunist formation, is suddenly and stunningly the favourite to form Greek's next government.

"The party has captured the protest vote of many Greeks, who have seen their purchasing power and former standard of living fall by an unthinkable amount," writes Spanish online paper El Correo Digital.

As such, the party has picked up many of its voters from PASOK — which has been discredited by corruption scandals and its support for the "rescue plan" imposed on Greece by the Troika (the EU, European Central Bank and IMF).

The party pursued an anti-austerity, anti-Berlin strategy during the recent election campaign, says Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras campaigned on the need to drop the debt payments, wrote the paper last week. Tsipras also wants to put on more public servants and nationalise the country's banks.

However, the question of "how Hellas will pay the rents and pensions of its public servants if the international lenders stop providing their multi-billion assistance" remains a question that Tsipras can't — or won't — answer, says Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Indeed, the charisma of 37-year-old former anti-globalisation activist Tsipras explains a large part of the party's support, writes La Voz de Galicia. "Tsipras has various visages," writes an analyst in the Northern Spanish daily:

"At times, he talks like a communist, promoting the nationalisation of the means of production. At other times, he talks like a defender of human rights, like Martin Luther King, promising Greeks to deliver on his dream — that all Greek citizens enjoys equal rights."

Any victory by Tsipras in the elections anticipated for June would likely see the expulsion of Greece from the Eurozone — if Germany has its way.

In recent days, Berlin has selected an approach that is "all stick and little carrot", argues Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore. Berlin signalled last week that no matter which government is elected, Greece should live up to its international obligations, the Milan-based daily writes. Berlin's position is that there is no alternative. "If the assistance tap were to be turned off, the country would very soon collapse", Il Sole says.

Still, Berlin has appeared to be willing to push Greece out of the Eurozone. Statements by the president of the German reserve bank and German media debate in recent days indicate the idea is very much on the agenda.

It will experience less pushback than normal from ally France if it does. Legislative elections will deliver a parliamentary government next month. And after the victory of François Hollande last Sunday, the Élysée Palace is busy with its political transition.

Besides, Hollande does not yet have a firm position on Greece — and won't make up his mind until he has to, says French independent online daily Mediapart.

"We know very well that Greece is an important topic ... but until now, Hollande hasn't taken a position because it hasn't been necessary for him to do so," one of the new president's advisors tells the paper.

It may be the first position that Hollande has to come up with. The Greek tragedy is nearing its final act. With youth unemployment over 50 per cent, the country still practically bankrupt — despite a recent debt "haircut" — and the country's state and political system moribund, Hellas has become more than a political issue for Europe.

Instead, Greece has become a historically significant drama — and the set is in place for a tumultuous denouement.

Since publication Syriza has indicated they will pull out of coalition talks, bringing the country closer to new elections.

ABOUT BEST OF THE REST: It’s a big world out there and plenty of commentators and journalists are writing about it — but not always in English. And not surprisingly,ideas about big events of the day shift when you move away from the Anglosphere. Best of the Rest is a fortnightly NM feature by Berlin-based journalist Charles McPhedran. Charles reads the news in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese and reports on what the rest of the world is saying about the big stories.

Log in or register to post comments

Discuss this article

To control your subscriptions to discussions you participate in go to your Account Settings preferences and click the Subscriptions tab.

Enter your comments here

outrider
Posted Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 23:19

Outrider
Listening to Ken Henry on the 7:30 Report one must agree with him that the Eurozone cannot exist without closer integration. Recent upheavals make that unlikely.
The basic trouble with Greece that it cannot devalue in order to make imports prohibitively expensive and make exports (count tourism as an export) desirable to foreigners. Upheaval in leaving the euro, but better to take the one-off pain. What other solution is there?