By Dimitrios Moschos and Evangelos Astyrakakis, members of the Coordination Committee of Neoi Prasinoi
Can the radical left gain power in Greece? Can it sustain that power long enough to alter the paradigm applied in Greece? Why is this particular election of such great importance for Europe? Can the Greens play a part in it? Though times are volatile, one thing is certain: The results will mark the destiny of the southeast part of Europe and with it, the Euro.
An all too familiar story
It’s been a long journey since that tiny Greek island of Kastelorizo with beaconing sunlight traveled around the globe and through the spines of our European family. Papandreou gave his best performance as a calm manager of a shipwrecked business, announcing the end of plasmatic prosperity for Greece and the start of a whole new chapter. It was the time for decisions and decisions were made at a stunningly rapid pace for any western democracy to cope with. The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK – the social democrats) took power with the promise that there is money to spend. A blatant lie it seems, as it has been revealed by the media that Papandreou was in full awareness of the dreadful situation of state finances to such extend that he had already established contact with the IMF.
At the historic vote for the first so-called memorandum for Greece, New Democracy party (ND.-conservatives) voted furiously against it in a desperate effort to gather its forces for the elections to come. A great way to mislead the voting population into voting for them when Papandreou was ousted. Nevertheless, it must be duly noted that although the democracies of the south have been in a terrible shape long before the crisis, the decisive strike did not come from the inside. With appointed Prime Ministers both in Italy and Greece, democratic legitimacy became a short and unpleasant joke. Our European partners had a decisive say in this temporary pause of democracy and this has stained the European dream decisively.
During the last national elections a coalition government was formed in an effort to lever the weight of the extensive and widespread adaptation of the state as the memorandum required. New Democracy and PASOK everlasting rivals in the political history of Greece, along with a smaller centre-left party joined forces to govern this land out of the maze they had created themselves. History repeated itself as a farce when New Democracy pushed forward the second memorandum. This time it was smoother as shock waves had ran through all of the spectrum of society and reflexes were down. Besides, other than ”Aganaktismenoi” -the Greek version of Indignados- the society could not respond to so many breaches of the social fabric at the same time. However, political choices bare a cost. PASOK, a government partner and a ruling party for about 20 years has shrunk to the point of barely entering the parliament. During the last European elections, it was SYRIZA and ND who fought for primacy but it was a long lost battle for ND.
A game of cards
When Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called for early elections for the President of the Hellenic Republic in December, it was clear he was willing to play a zero sum game. Since the President is voted by the Members of the Parliament and not the general public, the game was meant to be fiercely partisan. As a result, the parliament split with a simplistic dilemma of pro-memorandum and anti-memorandum factions. As George W. Bush once famously said ”you are either with us or against us”. ND and PASOK sought to convince the independent MPs to join their cause promising much more than they could realistically offer. However as the stakes got higher, it was quite clear that the key to success was the former government partner, Dimokratiki Aristera (DIMAR – centre-left). Such was the pressure applied that the PM, a conservative politician of the popular right, promised to DIMAR to fulfill and old demand of the Left: An electoral system of strict proportionality that would allow for the representation of all political spectrums of society, abandoning the 50 seats bonus (out of a total of 300) granted to any party taking the lead in national elections. The stakes were terribly high for DIMAR, as the public opinion polls indicated a free fall of their percentages, decisively ruling out any possibility for re-election. However, the momentum of SYRIZA proved to be a game changer and DIMAR was dazzled by it.
On the 29th of December, the magic number of 180 MPs voting for Mr. Stavros Dimas was not acquired and so the elections were announced Mr. Stavros Dimas, a respected politician and a former Minister, Environment Commissioner at the European Commission and current Vice-President of Nea Dimokratia, was by no means an inadequate candidate to become President of the Republic. It was evident that the thirst for elections and power was greater and more appealing to the opposition. DIMAR went public in its negotiations with SYRIZA, asking for guaranteed re-election for DIMAR’s President Fotis Kouvelis without exposure to popular vote. However, a favor for a favor doesn’t always work in politics and judging by the results of their negotiations, they asked too much in return. SYRIZA and DIMAR went separate ways, with SYRIZA welcoming Oikologoi Prasinoi/Ecologist Greens (the member-party of the European Greens in Greece) to its ranks and DIMAR announcing a centre-left coalition with PRASINOI, a brake-away faction of the Ecologists Greens. A few days later, Mr. Papandreou announced the creation of a new party under his lead called KI.DI.SO (Movement of Democrat Socialists), which along with POTAMI and PASOK now compete for the voters of the centre-left.
The Greens and the moment
In Greece there is only one member of the European Green party and that is Oikologoi Prasinoi/Ecologist Greens. However, the green political space has been shattered with two brake-away factions of the Ecologist Greens having formed the parties of PRASINOI and Evropi Oikologia. Such is the confusion among the green voters that parties of other political families have taken advantage of this by attempting to appear as Greens themselves. Potami is a typical example of such a case with its party leader Stavros Theodorakis splashing it in the news as an alternative political space of direct democracy and green ideals. It is no secret however that Potami mainly consists of Social Democrats and former PASOK supporters, while it is still filling its ranks with brake-aways of other parties, never failing to remind everyone that this party is its leader.
After the total crash of all the above Green parties in the last European elections, it was clear that divided we shall not stand. However this was not an option for some. Introspection and corruption in Ecologist Greens as well as personal ambition at other Green parties did not allow for the green political space to flourish again. It was a failure that political ecology would pay in the longrun. However, it was a bumpy ride with Ecologist Greens attempting to self-cleanse of intruders with no political relation to the green ideals whatsoever up to the party’s conference this November. Another failure, or at least a partial one since the same mechanisms and schemes prevailed despite the intense efforts of some. Nevertheless, this did not stop the party from having contacts with other political parties such as SYRIZA and DIMAR.
A few days after the announcement of elections, the electoral Conference of the Ecologist Greens confirmed the coalition with SYRIZA, with proposals for a wider green coalition taking minimal votes. Everyone was pleased: the Ecologist Greens got to have realistic possibilities of election and SYRIZA got the European profile it so desperately needed to address the voters of the centre. Or is it otherwise? The devil, as they say, is in the details. With the pressure of the coming elections and with SYRIZA stalling the negotiations to the very last moment before the electoral Conference of the Ecologist Greens, the deal struck was so vague in terms of political value that anyone from PASOK to SYRIZA and even beyond could have agreed. This was the result of SYRIZA attempting to reconcile so many different views from the inside of the party while at the same time attracting the Greens with their European shinny profile. Not only this however. Oikologoi Prasinoi proved to be lesser than the circumstances, hopping on a wagon of possible election on whatever terms.
The Ecologist Greens have taken a path that many greens in Greece cannot follow. Not because of joining SYRIZA but because of the non political way it was done, paving the way for a non political presence in the not-so-distant future. At the same time, Evropi Oikologia joined Potami and PRASINOI went to a coalition with DIMAR. However, one must wonder whether the Ecologist Greens will be able to make a difference in case any of the proposed Green candidates with SYRIZA gains a seat in the Parliament. The answer comes unhindered: with no real political agreement between the Radical Left and the Greens, the elected green MPs will find themselves unable to act, braking away or entirely and completely assimilated by the Radical Left. For some, this is not such a terrible outcome, since SYRIZA itself is a collection of different factions of feminist, left and green orientation among others. The question is, if that was enough why bother having a Green Party in the first place?
The final act
SYRIZA is most certainly the winning bet in the coming elections, with hopes by some that no coalition will be needed to form a government. The problem is that SYRIZA needs to be in coalition, not just to form a government but in order to balance the internal opposition of the party. Besides, it is openly declared by some in SYRIZA that leaving the Eurozone or even the EU may be an option. Moreover, the strategic approach of SYRIZA for quite sometime now towards the national elections was to assimilate all neighboring political families. The truth of the matter is that a grand coalition of forces is usually a balancing act that can prove very useful when taking long-term decisions. However, if SYRIZA does not gather the necessary percentage to govern on its own there is no other appealing political force left to make a coalition with. The danger of crossing that fine line of ”no pro-memorandum politicians in our ranks” with a possible coalition with Potami or other social democratic political forces would probably lead to great internal turnmoil, not to mention a coalition with the Independent Greeks (an anti-immigrant centre-right party) who did not vote for the memorandums. The possibility of repeating the elections in March is eminent and no one can tell what the final outcome will be. However SYRIZA has seized the moment and an air of change is already blowing around Greece.
In the prospect of SYRIZA forming a government one cannot but wonder what this will mean for the rest of Europe and the country itself. It will most certainly prove the definite surge of the left in the Mediterranean, along with PODEMOS and other movements. Will it lead Greece to a GREXIT? It isn’t likely. Even now, prominent party members refer to a ”governmental SYRIZA” and this is indeed a very accurate observation. It has already started with SYRIZA preparing for internal restructuring, softening its tough radical positions on the crisis among others. Given that SYRIZA has all too often opted for demagogic practices to gather momentum, this rationalization will only bring fall to its percentages. However, it is to be expected by newly elected governments to lose on the electoral momentum after they get elected. The difficulty for Greece and Europe is not to be found in the first semester of SYRIZA in government but right after.
Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party of Greece is also building momentum. Perhaps this will not materialize in these elections but it matters not. A failure of the Radical Left to provide the ravaged society with the necessary answers on the one hand, and to fulfill its rather unrealistic promises on the other, will leave Democracy easy pray to the Nazis. The possibility of the trials against prominent party members of Golden Dawn being inconclusive is too terrible to imagine combined with a failure of the Radical Left. The real stake for Greece and thus for Europe is not whether there will be a GREXIT or not, whether debt will be partially deleted or not, whether the paradigm will change or not. The real danger lies in the not-too-distant possibility of Golden Dawn gaining power in Greece. Our European partners must bare this too in mind at the negotiations table, together with the certainty that an ousting of any member of the Eurozone will mean the end of it all. SYRIZA cannot be allowed to fail.