A year of discontent for Syriza

A year of discontent for Syriza

I am sure many of you remember this night exactly one year ago. Jan. 25, 2015. Athens was up in flames; the radical leftist party of Syriza managed to come first in the general elections with a surprising 36.34 percent of the vote and 49 seats in the parliament, three short of an absolute majority. 

Speaking before his delirious crowds from the entrance of the Propylaea in the beautiful neoclassical building of the Univerisity of Athens, Alexis Tsipras, in a casual blue, open shirt, told his people that “Greek people wrote history, today, that hope has written history, that the sovereign people gave a clear, strong indisputable mandate. That Greece turned the page, left behind the austerity of destruction, the fear and authoritarianism, five years of humiliation and agony and walked on with hope, optimism and dignity in a changing Europe where Syriza is a characteristic example.” The ecstatic crowds were certainly full of those exact feelings, as it was the first time that a European country had voted a leftist party to power. “First time Left” was the dominant slogan of that night and everybody listening to this youthful leader believed that better days were shortly ahead after the long dark days of austerity and depression. The following day, after an agreement with the small center right party of ANEL (the Independent Greeks), Alexis Tsipras took the civilian oath of service (unlike all his predecessors who swore on the Holy Testament) and his term began.

A day is too long for politics, and a year is even longer. 

One year later, most of those upbeat feelings of Syriza voters on that cold January night, have been replaced by a generalized sense of melancholy and gloom. Their young charismatic leader let them down in almost all his promises. He could not secure for them an end to austerity, he could not fight against Brussels, his party could not become an example of change for the rest of Europe. 

He tried to renegotiate with Greece’s creditors for a new more lenient bailout program. His team failed to convince anybody-particularly Germany. He had to agree to a new, harsher package; he decided to resign last August and ask for a new mandate, which he surprisingly got in September even though a large chunk of his leftist deputies had abandoned him accusing him for “treason.” In his defense, he claimed that he had to back up when Greece’s creditors put the country’s exit from the zone of Euro “on the table” and he realized that people’s euro savings in the banks might be in danger. Syriza is still in power and battles to stay on. 

The first birthday of Syriza in government will be celebrated this evening. Not in an open space this time, but in a closed sports center in the south of the capital built to host handball and taekwondo games during Athens Olympics 2004. It can hold up to 4,000 people. The main speaker will be the now 41-year-old Alexis Tsipras, while the party’s slogan has been amended to “One year Left, one year of battle. We go on.”
There may be many who would challenge the new slogan on several grounds. First, on how much of a leftist approach has Syriza managed to apply in a country tied to a strict bailout agreement, conditions of which include harsh anti-popular measures in order to get an extra 88 billion euros. Second, to what extent the battles fought in Brussels were properly planned and finally, whether the government will retain its popular base to keep on. Because during the past year, the battle fronts have widened. Besides the problems of increasing domestic discontent, it now has to perform the impossible task of saving, registering and processing an unstoppable flow of migrants from its eastern seas. 

If, say, you were to drive last weekend to Athens to celebrate Syriza’s birthday, you would have difficulty reaching the place on time. You would be stopped at several points on the motorway by angry farmers who have decided to camp with their tractors on the main highways protesting the new taxation and social security measures.

But even if these battles were to be won by Tsipras government, there may be more serious ones waiting to be fought around the corner. And these go beyond Syriza or any other Greek government. They have to do with European policies, with secretly discussed plans to change Schengen area borders to leave Greece out, which is clogged by a massive crowd of migrants who would be kept out of the rest of Europe.  I hope this plan would never be realized; it is on this point Turkey plays a major role.