By Sanjana Ahuja:
“Let us not be deceived: we are today in the midst of a cold war.”
These words by Bernard Baruch, in 1947, were said in light of the growing tensions between the USA and USSR, as they both sought to promote their respective economic and political structures. 68 years later, as Greece heads towards a snap general election, these same words are becoming increasingly relevant.
Since the Greek Parliament failed to elect a new leader by 29 December 2014, the constitution provides that early general elections must be held in the nation. The two parties vying for the top spot are the New Democracy party headed by Antonis Samarus and Syriza headed by Alexis Tsipras. The reason that this election is creating headlines all over the world is the revolution of sorts that will take place if Syriza gets to control the reins at Athens.
Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left, better known as Syriza, came into being in 2004 but only gained substantial political ground in the May 2012 elections, where it became the main opposition party. In the words of John Milios, who is the party’s chief economist, Syriza aims to fight against the currently dominating structures of neo-liberalism and end, once and for all, the catastrophic austerity in Greece. The Greek economy is up to its neck in debt, with unemployment, youth migration and tax raises wrecking havoc on the middle class. Syriza’s agenda aims to take on all these problems head on by implementing welfare measures – free healthcare, creation of new jobs, food stamps, free electricity, rent for the homeless, and restoration of the minimum wage to 750 Euros a month. “We do not want anybody in Greece to work under conditions that resemble slave labour which austerity has created,” John Milios said in an interview with BBC. “We have young Greeks working for two to three euros per hour in many sectors of the economy.” Milios also suggested that about 50% of Greece’s debt should be written off.
In the elections to the European Parliament in May 2014, Syriza stood first, defeating New Democracy by an approximate 1.2%. This was enough for the Greece’s ruling party to understand that turbulent times were approaching.
Though Syriza’s reformatory and radical economic agenda is appealing to the frustrated Greeks, investors are rattled with the thought of a leftist party coming to power in a country which was at the heart of the Euro-crisis,, with stocks already falling since the declaration of the snap polls. The only reason Greece did not tip over the edge during it’s financial fiasco was because of support from the EU and the IMF – both not happy with these anti-austerity waves in the nation. Though the European Central Bank released a statement saying that they will not interfere with the democratic process in Greece, officials fear that a new government may mean the complete disposal of the fiscal reforms implemented by Samaras. Syriza’s leaders insist that they do not wish to exit the Eurozone; however their proposed reforms may make it hard to stay. Can a small bankrupt country manage to change the European Union’s fundamental incongruities?
With the possibility of having power getting closer, Alexis Tsipras has already softened the party agenda, promising to keep Greece in the Euro and to debate on the bailout agreement rather than tearing it up. The dashing ‘raven-haired’ leader is aware of the rocky road to success but seems hopeful all the same. In an interview with Transform Network, he stated, “As I said before, I’m optimistic about the developments – even though I’m sure that they won’t all come about smoothly. The insistence on strict budgetary discipline by the German government and a few smaller allies will undoubtedly add friction; however, there is a slow but growing dissent across Europe – including those whose dissent would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. For this reason, I believe that Syriza will be able to generate wider support for its political positions.”
According to me, the greatest challenge Syriza will face, should it come into power, is to be true to its leftist and radical ideology in an arena surrounded by capitalist powers. Greece has been known to be susceptible to pressure from external EU elites, who will, in all probability, do their best to topple or corrupt the new establishment. “Today, we have a fully comprehensive programme to address the debt. Key aspects include renegotiating the terms with our European partners, along with a detailed plan to spur economic growth, address unemployment, strengthen the welfare state, and provide relief to the members of society hit hardest by the crisis. It is imperative that we implement these changes; austerity and budget cuts are not sustainable and only serve to further destroy social cohesion,” says Tsipras. However, the party’s lack of experience and know-how in implementing these promised programs is something that the opposition will not fail to keep bringing up.
Opinion polls show Syriza in a narrow lead, but even if the leftist party loses, they have already let the proverbial cat out of the bag. What the capitalist leaders fear most is the same fear that USA had back in the 50’s – The Domino Effect. If Greece takes the lead and challenges the very capitalist regimes on which Europe is built, similar movements in countries like Italy, Spain and France cannot be far behind. “After decades on the defensive, the left is staging a comeback. Not just in Greece, but in Europe and Latin America as well,” said Mr. Samanidis, a top official of Syriza, to BBC. Is the world heading towards another cold war – an ideological struggle where both sides will scramble to prove that their socio-economic ideals are superior? Talking of a breakdown of neo-liberalism may be quite premature and hyperbolic at the moment, but once the fire of insurgency is lit, there is no guessing the path it’ll take. For now, all we can do is sit tight and await the results of the 25th January polls. And to Syriza, I say, “Viva la Revolution!”