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The Greek elections, before and after: two letters about the fortunes of Syriza

Chris Jones, who lives on the Greek island of Samos, writes to a friend about the meaning of the elections

July 1, 2012
11 min read

Friday June 15, Samos

Dear Dora,

I have so many mixed feelings–excitement and fear–about whether Syriza will do well enough to form a government after the elections on Sunday.

As with many of our friends on Samos I hope for a Syriza victory, which would send shock waves through the European elites who have done so much over recent days to terrorise the people here by predicting disaster for Greece should Syriza come out on top. Syriza has worked hard since its success on May 6 and they have managed to draw up a convincing range of policies and principles which, because they start with the humanitarian crisis confronting Greece, speak to the people’s suffering and their daily realities.

But a vote for Syriza will not be enough. It is what comes after that matters. Their supporters will have to become even more active on the streets, in the neighbourhoods, and villages. Without constant critical pressure from below, the parliamentarians are likely to be swept away by their powerful, national and international enemies. Many, such as Anna (a school teacher in Karlovassi and a veteran of Greek left politics) know this very well. She told me that Syriza, because it includes both social democrats and socialist revolutionaries, would need constant pushing from below to hold to its declared radical route. Let’s hope that many more also understand this necessity. Maybe Syriza can provide that spark that will ignite a genuinely popular uprising.

It has been difficult to gauge the mood about the elections. There is a considerable sense of resignation here in the village, rather than excitement. As usual there seem to be a host of factors at play, such as students at schools and universities being in the midst of exams, but I also pick up a tiredness with the formal political process.

But most important of all is the grind of daily reality. There are few expectations that things are going to get better as a result of the election. Whoever wins, people here feel that there will be more misery, more pressure and less hope. The weight of austerity is heavy, and poverty and anxieties drain the vitality of everyday living.

But alongside this weariness there is also a strong desire for change. It is self-evident that the Greek society is collapsing. Summer is here with its promise of tourism (and therefore work and income), but the beaches on Samos are empty, as are the cafes and eating places. I have never seen it so quiet.

Syriza will win the votes of most of our friends. It is good that so many people also know at least some of the party’s programme, which clearly speaks to their experience. Their demands and principles are taken by many as self-evident truths. The troika is destroying a country and voting for more is simply crazy and wrong. It is self-evident that core state activities have to be transformed and basic information such as compiling registers of land ownership and wealth needs to be done. It is without doubt a radical programme.

A victory for Syriza would lift many from their gloom and could be a tremendous boost to confidence and resistance. But a victory for New Democracy [the conservatives] will cast a deep shadow. It is almost beyond belief that ND should be edging the opinion polls at the moment after all these monsters have done and not done.

External pressures

Our friends here tend to laugh off the crude external pressure of so-called international leaders and institutions who endlessly warn about the multiple disasters which awaits them should they vote Syriza into government. I have never seen before such a broad overt campaign by the elites to terrorise the Greek people, whether on the TV, in the papers or at their meetings.

The editorial intervention of the German-based edition of the Financial Times published in Greek and German was clear and unequivocal in its support for New Democracy: ‘Dear Greeks, create clear political conditions. Vote courageously for reforms instead of angrily against the necessary, painful structural changes… Your country will only be able to keep the euro with parties that accept the conditions of the international creditors.’ It added: ‘Resist the demagoguery of Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza.’

I don’t know how this has gone down in Patras, but this particular intervention has gone down badly here. Those we met over a drink at the kafenio at lunch time were very angry.

What really should count as a terror campaign has been far-reaching and incessant, and I think we are mistaken to think that it has not had the desired effect at least with some voters. However, the fright of the elites also gives succor—and that fear alone makes me crave a Syriza victory. The desire to give the troika a bloody nose runs deep here.

On the other hand the rise of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, though not evident yet on the streets of Samos, continues to arouse any number of negative emotions. Stephania, a maths student in the university here, was disgusted by its rise in the May election. There is much dismay that such overt and violent fascism is now part of the Greek reality, especially in the cities.

Many here seem to think that the neo-fascist vote will fall on Sunday as previous supporters in May realise what Golden Dawn represents. I am not so sure, especially given the high levels of support it gets from both the police and parts of the army.

It’s very hot here at the moment, which does not help in terms of energy levels. But there seems a cloud of exhaustion over the place. People are tired, as well being angry, confused and hurting.

It would be good to hear from you.

Love,

Chris

Monday June 18, Patras

Dear Chris,

Thanks for your message. What a weekend! My mind is so full of things at the moment as I try to make sense of all that has happened. But my first feeling is:

Disappointment and anger

Yes we are disappointed and angry. If Syriza had won it wouldn’t have just been exclusively a win on a purely political and ideological level. It would signal the raising of hope in Greece. We were perfectly aware that had Syriza won things wouldn’t be easy, but at least we could work with the hope that things can change. Moreover for the majority of people who voted for Syriza victory would have meant that we could finally take a deep breath.

The brutality of austerity is an everyday experience. The threats to and harassment of the people by the banks, the abolition of workers’ rights, reductions of salaries and pensions are just a few of things that have tremendous consequences for our lives. We no longer talk theoretically and abstractly anymore about poverty. People experience poverty every day (the middle class as well).

We were so tired of left parties which, although they were against the brutality of the state, preferred to keep themselves in the corner. I mean, people are dying. Unlike some on the left we don’t have the privilege to stand back and watch. For the very first time a left party in Greece, Syriza, argued that they can govern and I think that the preference of people for Syriza was because they seemed ready to do so. If KKE [the Communist Party] had argued the same way people would have voted for them too, but…

Once again New Democracy and Pasok will be in the government. What a surprise! Germany and the EU worked intensively for this. We experience again the involvement of the foreign powers in the internal affairs of the country.

Naturally the global capitalist system wouldn’t permit the left to govern. However I feel angry with Greeks, and not only for their votes for those that did and will destroy people. I also feel angry about the half million people who voted fascist. OK, we knew that the fascists were always here, hidden in other parties. However today, things are different. Fascists are in the parliament with 19 MPs and 6.9 per cent of the vote and they continue to create more and more branches across Greece. They grow in confidence.

In the streets of Athens immigrants cannot walk without fear. Attacks against immigrants (and yesterday against Syriza in Piraeus) by the fascists will be used by the system. We do know the fascists that will do the state’s ‘dirty’ jobs whenever the police cannot.

Why did New Democracy win?

During the previous weeks the national and international elites have threatened Greeks 24 hours a day through the media. The threats referred to the disaster that we will experience if Syriza should be the winner of the elections. I do believe more than ever that fear is an effective tool.

The right also has a long tradition in Greece. Additionally after the 6 May elections, New Democracy made coalitions with other parties—for example with Dora Bakoyannis [leader of a split named Democratic Alliance], who returned to New Democracy and abolished her party.

All over Greece the right was bringing together their efforts. On the other hand the left didn’t bring together their collective power and efforts. Syriza was practically alone (no other left party supported Syriza). On the contrary the attacks from some groups on the left competed with those coming from the right. I will never forget one poster where KKE wrote: ‘Do not trust Syriza’.

It’s pathetic. I do believe (and always did) that the unity of the left could be used not only for the elections but more importantly for building alliances and solidarity on a societal level.

Syriza was shocked by its high percentage of support on 6 May. I mean it was a coalition of left parties and organisations (and not a party). While their percentages were about 4 per cent in the previous elections, on 6 May it rose to 17 per cent!

To my mind they did more than their best, however the attacks by the media and the political system with regard to the multiple ‘voices’ of Syriza’s representatives in one or two cases, confused some of the people. Moreover this variety of opinions within the Syriza coalition was used effectively by both right and other left parties and gave them a ‘weapon’ to attack Syriza.

In any case it is not so easy for a coalition of parties to provide rapidly convincing arguments through the media. Moreover it is not easy at all to apply radical policies in this system. To my mind Syriza needed more than ever the radical left (including KKE) to be together. Once again, they refused.

But the fact that Syriza captured 27.1 per cent of the vote this time is impressive. Two or three months before no one could ever have imagined such an increase! Of course not all of the votes derive from people that see themselves as clearly on the left. They vote Syriza because they are in need… They vote Syriza because they believed that something could change. They believe that the left are not corrupted and they might care for the good of the many.

I feel angry and disappointed, but Chris, I still have hope. Now is the time more than ever that we have to work in the neighborhoods with solidarity, to create networks and be prepared.

I do not know if in the next elections people will vote Syriza or not. These elections were an opportunity for all the left to be united, yet KKE and others denied it. However I do know that we now have two options. We either move out of Greece to other countries in order to survive—or we stay and fight. I think that many of us will choose the second (at least for as long as we can). We won’t give up now. We lost a battle but not the war.

The political landscape here has changed dramatically in the past 6 weeks and much of it in our favour. Pasok looks fatally wounded—its 12.3 per cent vote is shattering for a party that has enjoyed so much power and privilege. New Democracy has no majority nor mandate from the people who again voted for anti-austerity parties in the majority. It is likely to find government a poisoned chalice. Syriza stands to gain much from the turmoil and popular resistance to even more austerity. It will give the party much-needed time to deepen its presence and its activities across the country.

So the fight goes on. There is no alternative!

Much love,

Dora

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