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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 09 September 2017
OPINION 22 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 9 SEPTEMBER 2017 Syriza in power DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM 940 days and still no democratic structures in the birthplace of democracy VRASIDAS KARALIS The left wing party that rose spectacularly to power in Greece in 2015 has delivered none of the promise so many were hoping for. When it was elected we all felt relief. No more austerity, no more fiscal restrictions, no insecurity – these were the months of thinking magically. A new hope had emerged, promising policies different to the neoliberal market priorities and inviting the people to protect national sovereignty from being taken over by external forces. The magic was dispelled some weeks later leaving behind confusion, anger and embarrassment. Certainly, Syriza is not a black and white case: it emerged as a considerable political force when previous policies and institutional practices of the dominant political order reached their most disastrous dead-end, sometime in 2014. It offered optimism and promised change at the moment when the systemic parties were reacting with vulgar populism or alarmist rhetoric of gloom and doom. When Syriza was elected on 25 January 2015 everything looked promising and optimistic, not simply for Greece, but for the whole left-wing movement in Europe. Its election offered an example of how to rekindle interest in politics and how to mobilise citizens in active participation. Or at least, so it seemed in the beginning. Many intellectuals from all over Europe and the US, both liberal and Marxist, supported it because they found the arrogant way that the EU treated a whole country undemocratic and somehow colonialist. The Syriza affair was from its inception a highly imaginative case: it fulfilled an expectation and a premonition. Its main goal was to smash the EU bureaucracy and even proceed with the dissolution of the Eurozone, giving back to nation-states their splendid sovereignty, independence, and uniqueness. It was, however, conveniently overlooked that Syriza was the product of the corrupt political order which it supposedly came to abolish. A considerable 40 per cent of its elected members belonged to the traditional parties of power, both the socialist and conservative. Furthermore it never gained a convincing large majority and opted to share government with a fascist and ultra-nationalistic party; the Independent Greeks. In Australia that would mean a coalition between Pauline Hanson and Labor, or in Britain a government shared by UKIP and the Labour party. The strange bedfellows, a radical left and radical fascist party together, meant that power was inevitably going to be administered along bureaucratic lines, with party officials being the locomotive of history that Lenin wanted his Soviet Communist party to be. Despite the outlandish fairytales put forward by Slavoj Zizek (to whom we shall return) their coalition indicated that political governance would remain at the level of administrative bureaucracy and wouldn't touch the actual realm of politics, changing the relations between citizen and state, reinstating the authority of the people in the political sphere, or instituting checks and balances on the malfunctioning institutions. Syriza supporters conveniently forget that absolutely nothing was done to change the function of the state apparatus and their presence towards a civil society. With the exception of the same-sex legislation which passed with the support of all the parties other than their fascist partner, nothing else was done to open up the institutional structure of the state to the scrutiny or the control of citizens; nothing was done to enhance democracy to include the immigrants who have lived in the country since the 90s, nothing to protect minorities, confront racism, or finally redress economic injustices. On the contrary, with grand protagonists like Alexis Tsipras, Yanis Varoufakis, and other colourful individuals, politics became a theatrical performance, a collective spectacle which, like the huge rallies of the past, created an atmosphere of an imminent apocalyptic explosion; a Hollywood end of days biopic. Tsipras and his ministers suc- ceeded not only in neutralising social activism, but transformed citizens into passive viewers of a Star Wars extravaganza. Folk songs, political dithyrambs from the 70s and the ubiquitous Carmina Burana galvanised a spirit of resistance against Merkel and Germany, and then against the EU, and finally against everybody. The game theory to push the Troika to the corner and allow Greece to borrow money without ever being held accountable 'to use the funds with relative autonomy' as the flashy finance minister so euphemistically stated) started proving more and more precarious, as the Greek amateurs tried to play games with the very people who had perfected them in the past. Attempts to secure assistance from Russia, Iran, China, and Venezuela all failed, as it was also clear that the road to them was going through Berlin and Brussels. In their visit to Moscow in May 2015, some government members were also shocked to discover that Putin was not Brezhnev, and that Russia was not communist any more. And then came the James Bond story of the ludicrous Plan B, which would supposedly have bought money and time by stealing existing euros and issuing worthless IOUs, and which would implicitly lead back to drachma … Don Quixote and Baron Munchausen in one go … The growing rift culminated with the ridiculous and divisive referendum of July 2015 in which, in less than two weeks, the people were summoned to approve or disapprove two agreements which, on the ballot paper, were written in English. The referendum was a grand manipulative gesture to preempt internal party fights within the ruling coalition, as it was becoming obvious that the failure of the negotiating tactics could have led to an immense social meltdown. It also had nothing to do with austerity or imminent bankruptcy, but with the sudden realisation by the Syriza leadership that ultimately they didn't have the mandate to change the political, social, and economic orientation of the last 200 years. The European left, with Paul Mason as its cheerleader, produced a seductive heroic mythology about a David vs Goliath conflict. Mason's pretentious mockumentary This Is A Coup is the finest example of an outlandish orientalist fantasy. Its main protagonist was Mason's constipated Oxbridge accent roaming with a camera through the new Stalingrad, as he called the corridors of power in Athens, since such battlefields could not be found in Great Britain anymore. The Syriza affair was a parable of what the British left and The Guardian wanted to promote: political fables of ideological resistance and struggle in the era of rising neo-fascism. Fol- lowing the promotional slogan of Greek tourist organisations, Mason went to Greece to live his personal myth, imagined in the style of a revolutionary Mama Mia, without its happy ending. Meanwhile the refugee crisis broke out and it was also clear that the Greek government couldn't do much by themselves. I found myself on the island of Lesbos in June 2015 when thousands of refugees starting arriving. Despite the initial moving reception from the inhabitants, it was obvious that the number of people crossing the borders was far beyond any reasonable possibility to manage or even assist. I asked the local MP what would happen and he responded that the refugees will disappear soon, and everything will be great waiting for summer tourists. Of course the reality was dif- ferent but, but it was a solid indication of the lack of understanding of the magnitude of the problem government officials had when the influx of refugees began. Geopolitics, something that the party ideologues haven't predicted, struck. Under such serious circumstances, the circus of constant interviews and perpetual procrastination was becoming boring and tiresome. Mr Varoufakis' photographs in the life-style proletarian French magazine Paris Match were emblematic of the 'frugal life' he had proposed to the Greek people.
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