Politics

Learning from the Greeks

It’s over – after weeks of intense campaigning Syriza scored a victory, winning the Greek legislative elections last Sunday. Alexis Tsipras garnered 36.3% of the vote and 149 seats in Parliament, just shy of an absolute majority (151 of a total 300). Bankers, technocrats from the Troïka (European Commission, ECB and IMF), the Right and a portion of Europe’s Social Democrats tried their hand at fear mongering of a Grexit (Greece exiting the Eurozone with all of the dangerous side effects that would go along with it), Greek bankruptcy, or even the demise of the EU.

Today, they will all have to grapple with reality: Syriza won the elections; and the sovereign Greek people decided. Now, it is finally time to start thinking about the political future of the European Union. And, yes, that will mean policy that consists of more than just a general accounting plan. And, yes, that will mean finally accepting that Europeans are not against the idea of Europe. They are simply sick and tired of a Europe that is imposed on them, a Europe of austerity and deregulation of what little is left of their welfare state. Throughout the campaign, to the neo-liberal “there is no alternative,” Syriza responded “yes there is!” The Greek people wanted to believe in that. How dare European leaders – like Merkel and Schäuble from Germany – tell the Greek people what they should think or what the consequences of their vote might be before elections in their own country? This neo-colonialism through debt and money that we have witnessed over the course of recent months is frankly unbearable.

The right-wing Greek party of Samaras, with its motto of “New Democracy or chaos” (for chaos, read Syriza), was clearly ludicrous. Five years of Troïka imposed austerity have driven the country to an economic and social catastrophe: the country is already in chaos. Greek public services have been almost entirely dismantled. Tens of thousands of civil servants have been let go and major public companies have been sold off to multinationals. The 240 billion Euros made available by the European Union and the IMF went to pay off holders of Greek sovereign debt. By comparison, Greek citizens never saw a cent. In this context, voters were very sensible in voting in a majority for Syriza rather than for Golden Dawn (the Nazi party), which picked up 6.28% of votes. This leaves Syriza and Alexis Tsipras an immense responsibility and they are “condemned to succeed,” to say the least. To sum up, Syriza’s victory is good news for the Greeks and for the E.U. as a whole.

That sentiment is increasingly shared and much has been said and written about Syriza’s victory. Nonetheless, in some instances it reeks of political profiteering and jumping on the bandwagon. One specifically nauseating case of that came in the form of Marine Le Pen and the National Front, which congratulated Alexis Tsipras on his victory, whilst maintaining links to Greece’s Golden Dawn.

However, let us focus on the left of the European political scene. The great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote in Open Veins of Latin America that European leftist parties needed to stop looking at the Latin American continent as a major in vivo laboratory for their ideological fantasies, a pseudo giant subconscious of their own desires. The peoples and the social, economic, historical, and geographical realities in which they exist were far too different. While lessons could be learnt and partnerships maintained, the continued grafting of European schools of thought onto Latin American “sisters” had to stop.

The same holds true for Greece. Syriza’s victory is good news for the redirection that Europe needs. However this does not mean that other leftist parties in France should automatically forge alliances with Syriza. That would simply be committing the same error of Franco-centrism that is so intolerable to other countries. Paris has a tendency – all the more so considering recent events – to think it is the centre of the world. This would be further indication that the French left considers Europe “a bigger version of France” rather than trying to rise to the real challenges of the continent as a whole and to do the complexity of the issues justice, rather than taking mere political stances (the moral crisis that the left is currently grappling with is in large part due to its inability to correctly conceive of Europe). This would mean not delving into the fundamental question of what is really at the root of the immense crisis that French political parties are currently experiencing. The ideological colonialism and paternalism of a part of the French left towards Syriza are no more respectful of the Greek people than the economic colonialism of the “Right’.

It must be kept in mind that Syriza is currently negotiating a coalition deal with a small sovereign-rightist party AN.EL of Panos Kammenos. The party was established in February, 2012 when it broke off from New Democracy, the party of out-going Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s. This makes comparison with France difficult if not impossible: Jean-Luc Mélenchon would be livid! It would be like Front de Gauche entering a coalition with Nicolas Dupont-Aignant’s Debout la République. The Greek proportional system is completely different from the French 5th Republic and its majority system, which requires pre-election coalitions that are often difficult for voters to understand.

Whatever the case may be, political ecology is a system of thought that is extremely demanding and that constantly seeks to understand the complexity of the world to bring harmony between humanity and its environment. It has no time for the ideological fantasies of Syriza’s victory as a way to settling scores with the French Socialist Party. Greek ecologists have a duty to immediately begin working with Syriza to integrate the need for the ecological transition into the government policy, and that is what they are doing.

As European ecologists, we have duty to support them in this and to promote our alternative model throughout Europe. We will do this today with Syriza now and tomorrow with Podemos based on how it progresses in the future, etc. We have the responsibility and the historic chance to take part in giving Europe a new direction. However, we should not take the Greek results as a way to resolve our national electoral challenges. That would be an insult to the intelligence of citizens, who have shown that they are able to stand up in the millions to defend what is important, but that are more than weary of the quibbling of national politicians. Syriza’s victory does not mean that French Greens will not have to fully rethink their strategy, their autonomy and their raison d’être, in order to give more importance to an evaluation of electoral coalitions. Let us take a lesson from the Greeks, but let us also leave them to govern in peace.

 

This is an amended version of an article posted on the French website Mediapart.

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