‘Politiki Kouzina’* in Greece
The outcome of last Monday’s EU leaders’ meeting in Brussels was the best news that Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras could have hoped for. Amid a tense period of uncertainty and tough negotiations, he finally won a better-than-expected deal and managed to push aside the scenarios for a Greek exit from the eurozone – at least for the moment.
As of this week, Greece will be receiving more than 50 billion euros in loans in the form of installments and a large portion of this will go for the recapitalization of its banks. If all goes well and Greece applies a radical restructuring plan of its economy and public administration, it is expected to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio to 120 percent by 2020.
How much of this good result was due to the negotiating skills of the Greek government team and to what extent it will be able to solve the sustainability problem of the country remains to be seen. Those less optimistic think it will not. They link the decision by the Europeans to “save” Greece to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s choice to stick to Greece at least until the crucial September elections in her country and blame the EU for slow, compromise decisions.
Still, in spite of all, Greece now has breathing space, at least until next September, and it is during that period that we should expect major changes in the political landscape. Most commentators are forecasting a “redefinition” of the existing party lines and anticipating the emergence of new political groupings which would try to appeal to a disillusioned and suffering electorate. The loans from Brussels are coming with a heavy load of austerity measures which are to hit society even more in the new year. So the need to hold on to power on the part of the government, on the one hand, and for the opposition to snatch it from the government on the other, will become urgent in the next coming months.
The battle has already started. The split in the new center-right party of Independent Greeks last week and the resignation of some of its deputies signaled the beginning of a process which in some ways reminds us of the political upheavals which followed the economic crisis of 2001. Last week’s decision in Brussels strengthened the debate within the governing party of New Democracy on how the party will widen its ideological base in order to secure its position over the public discontent expected to increase in the coming period. Certain party officials are suggesting a further opening of the party’s ideological base to include even elements of the extreme right, while others are proposing the establishment of a new great European center-right party which would push forward a tough program of reforms as has been agreed with the country’s creditors. Even the name of former Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has been mentioned as part of this reconstruction process.
There is a lot of commotion on the left side of the political spectrum, too. The new year may bring momentum with new dynamic groups who could enter the political arena with a more radical rhetoric of a national salvation front.
What is most interesting, though, is how SYRIZA, the official opposition consisting of the Coalition of the Left, will adjust its political and ideological rhetoric to the current circumstances. Their weakness is their lack of specifics in their opposition. And as the battle is about economics, Marxist professors who have been designing the economic policy of the party so far, will have to come up with a concrete program for the country to stay within the eurozone, under a tight austerity program but retaining a social welfare state. They will have a tough task as the party has not increased its ratings dramatically in spite of the deep recession. “We have to discover new ways for opposition/protest, but also new reference points; society is not as mobilized as expected,” writes a commentator at a pro-SYRIZA newspaper.
A tough year ahead, but a year of political reshuffling which, of course, cannot go unaffected by the geopolitical reshuffling that is unraveling in our wider region.
* ‘Politiki Kouzina’ is the title of a Greek film produced in 2003. It means ‘Istanbul Kitchen’ in Greek but was wrongly translated into Turkish as ‘Political Kitchen.’ It deals with the persecution of Istanbul Rums in 1964: The English title is ‘A Touch of Spice,’ while the Turkish title is ‘Bir tutam baharat.’