More austerity in Greece heralds more demos in Syntagma

More austerity in Greece heralds more demos in Syntagma

“How are things in Greece now?” a Turkish friend asked me the other day, looking a bit perplexed over the information that a period of political instability may be around the corner once again. 

It has been quite some time since any of my Turkish friends showed interest in the political ups and downs in Greece. This was not so last year. Indeed, many in Turkey were keen on following the political impact of a prolonged economic crisis in their neighboring country.  

They were particularly interested in the way the society was affected by austerity and they were sympathetic towards the way people had the stamina to go on protesting on the streets, trying to save their rights, their jobs and their salaries. And indeed many of them had openly shown their support last January for what seemed like Greece achieving a finite political solution by the two electoral victories of the radical leftist Syriza party - although some felt perplexed about the meaning and the usefulness of the referendum that took place in between. 

So, most Turks’ interest in Greek politics diminished significantly since the summer. Besides, there were no anti-austerity mass protests in Syntagma Square to fill primetime Turkish TV news bulletins any longer.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis “Tsipras’ Greece” in the mind of most Turkish friends had more or less entered a normality path and the government was going to sort things out somehow. Even the Greek PM’s official visit last November to Turkey was not enough for them to spare their attention to Athens. 

I do not blame them; they have so much more to worry about in Turkey’s domestic political agenda that it can hardly give them any time for anything else. I mean, not even for a humanitarian tragedy shared with Greece, that of the refugee crisis.

However, news travels fast and even if most Turks are currently trying to make sense out of an exceptionally heavy domestic political agenda, some, at least some, are finding the breathing space to take a look at their neighboring country and get worried once more. 

They are right. As of this week, Greeks will again arrive in Syntagma Square and fill the streets around it in order to protest against a tsunami of new austerity measures which will hit their already falling living standards. These measures were demanded by Greece’s creditors last July as a condition for the eventual release of 86 billion euros provided by a third bail-out agreement; they include reforms in taxation, pensions, labor markets, banking and privatizations. 

The toughest “reform” requires a complete overhaul of the pension system whereby most Greeks will see their pensions decrease while their social security contributions will get higher. Although during a referendum last July, when a high percentage voted no (63.1 percent) to such a package supporting the stance of the government until then, it was an eventual surrender of the Greek government to the demands of the eurozone leadership that imposed the current arrangement. 

The public mobilizations that are expected to rock Greece during the coming weeks while new legislation is debated and voted in the parliament will have to also be seen against interesting changes in Greek party politics. A surprise win by Kyriakos Mitsotakis - the 47-year-old son of the former PM - in the leadership of the conservative New Democracy Party has changed the political balance. It created a strong polarization trend that may push several small centrist parties out of the game. After the spectacular defeat of Syriza in Brussels to implement a leftist agenda, it may be very hard for Tsipras to convince the embattled Greek society that he can offer a very different set of policies than the ones already offered by his market-economy advocate new opponent. Already the first opinion polls are showing that the new leader is ahead of Tsipras only a few days after his election to the post. But one should not disregard Tsipras, whose charisma and political instincts have made him win two elections against all odds.