Seeking a democratic solution to the EU crisis
Syriza party and movement activist outlines the leading Greek opposition party's strategy post-elections and his belief in an alternative vision for European integration rooted in democracy.
Interview with Syriza movement party activist, Pavlos Kazakopoulous
The outcome of the elections in Greece was being cast as essentially a vote to stay within the Euro and, in the words of Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, as a decision to "forge ahead" with implementing far-reaching reforms. Do you agree with this analysis?
Absolutely not. That was the way that the vote was cast inside and outside Greece but I think it was a distortion of what was really at stake in the election. It was an attempt to cast Syriza as an anti European party, which is not true at all. We have been steadfastly supporting the integration of Europe around democratic and social justice ideals. Of course there are different types of integration; not all are the same. This was more an attempt at a propaganda campaign against Syriza which was successful in the end as we saw.
The election, in the first place, was not a question of whether to stay in the euro or leave the euro. It was a yes or no to austerity. From many sides, especially Germany, there is an effort to present austerity as the only way for the eurozone to go on but this is what Syriza was challenging running up to the elections, by saying that austerity is going to have the opposite result. It is going to put the countries of the South, and later on maybe even of the North, in a recessionary cycle. It is this policy which really endangers the eurozone and the future of the European Union; and not what Syriza was proposing, which was a sustainable future for Europe.
As for interpreting the result of the elections, it is important to remember that New Democracy, which won the election, as well as Pasok and DIMAR (Democratic Left)- the three parties of the current governing coalition- all ran on programmes which in one way or another entailed renegotiating the austerity programme, the EU Memorandum. The result of the election was not a rejection of renegotiation, but actually an affirmation.
What we see now one month after the election is that this renegotiation has been completely put aside and the coalition is forging ahead with austerity, which means totally dismantling healthcare, education, pensions, and reducing salaries. It is a misinterpretation of the election result and this will become clear in the coming months as the Greek people realise that we are just going ahead with implementing the Memorandum that everybody has promised to renegotiate. I think this is going to create a serious social backlash for the government.
Why do you think rejecting austerity is the only viable solution for Greece?
This is not just a theoretical discussion anymore, because we have seen the results of these policies in Greece, and in other countries like Portugal and Spain that are implementing austerity measures. We see clearly that austerity is the opposite of what you would call a solution, as countries are pushed deeper into recession, aggravating the problems that the crisis created.
As I said, in the recent election, many parties ran on the platform of negotiating the austerity measures in the Memorandum, but renegotiation should have the goal of putting in place policies for exiting the crisis. If you renegotiate austerity measures in order to avoid cuts in one sector but enact these cuts in another sector in the economy, you are not really solving the problem. Syriza wants to renegotiate in order to implement a comprehensively different strategy for exiting the crisis.
Progressive taxation or tax on the rich, is one such alternative.
Progressive taxation or tax on the rich, is one such alternative. The situation in Greece is that the rich are completely exempt from paying taxes and there is no political will on the part of the government at this moment to reverse this. The income of the government is constantly diminishing because of austerity measures as you have a smaller taxable income in the population. Meanwhile, the government does not take any measures to tax large incomes or hidden incomes, because it is completely aligned with the interests of these very high income earners.
We have very clear evidence that a lot of the wealth created in 2000-2010 has been stashed away in bank accounts in Switzerland and offshore. Rather than taxing or reclaiming this wealth, what the government does instead is to keep cutting social welfare and salaries. Apart from the obvious social injustice that this creates, it is not a viable strategy for the country.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for Greece in the coming months and for Syriza as the main opposition party?
In a political sense, we have to capitalise on the huge increase in our audience in these two elections. We want to bring these people closer, talk to them, so they can become organically part of the politics of Syriza. We want to derive politics from society itself, we don't want to impose politics on society.
We have a humanitarian crisis in Greece right now. We have thousands of homeless people, and a much bigger number living in extreme poverty. Even though we are not in the government, we want to do whatever is in our power to try to alleviate the impact of the crisis. This includes creating and organising networks of solidarity, which can be anything from support for the poor to food distribution, cultural events or just things that people are no longer able to do because of the crisis and the policies of the memorandum.
We are going to witness savage poverty on the streets.
Dealing with this humanitarian crisis which is multiplying every day is one of the biggest challenge for Greece in the coming months. Summer in Greece is easy, but winter is coming and we have to be ready. We are going to witness savage poverty on the streets.
It is often said that the manner by which the European institutions have dealt with the crisis has put democracy increasingly under question. What are examples of this in Greece? What can the Greek people and Europeans as a whole do to reassert democracy?
The governments in the EU are trying to go for a minimalist democracy. In Greece, this was made evident last summer when there was a movement against the Memorandum which was met by very harsh repression from the police. We witnessed many attempts to postpone elections, although it was clear that the parties in the parliament did not represent society after signing the Memorandum. For two years we had a ‘false’ parliament, which was overturned by recent elections and now balance is restored, to some extent.
We also see a very strong triangle of interconnection between the government, the banks and the representatives of industry and the media. These three are in synergy and this is clear. There is a lot of propaganda in the media which helps support governments which are then supporting bankrupt banks and institutions which then support the media with loans they should never be getting.
The banks should clearly come under public control since the public is putting in money to keep them from bankruptcy. Even in capitalist terms, if you invest and put money in a company, you get a real stake in that company or bank. Yet not even this is happening. We are talking about a group of people that had a serious role in creating the crisis in Greece that are staying afloat by externalising the cost onto the population.
As for the European institutions, I don't think there have been very direct interventions apart from threats of throwing Greece out of the euro if it does not comply with the terms of the Memorandum. But they know what is happening in Greece. They are trying to deal with the corrupt leadership, while at the same time blaming Greece for being a corrupt country. They are working with the very same people!
So how can we reassert democracy? Through movements. This is a way by which people can assert their opinions and resist policies that are not in their interest. We have strong movements in Greece, Spain and we've seen hints of upcoming movements in Italy and maybe other countries. However, so far there has been insufficient coordination between movements in European countries.
I think the only way that democracy can be truly reclaimed in Europe, given the extent that it has been undermined by recent EU policies, is to increase the coordination of movements between Greece, Spain, Italy and other countries. If we want a different kind of European integration for the peoples of Europe then we should act in a more coordinated way.
One of the key decisions taken at the EU summit in June is to move ahead towards a fully-fledged fiscal and economic union. Is this the solution to the EU crisis? What are the alternatives?
The peoples in Europe, not only in the Southern countries but perhaps even more so in the North, have always been worried at the prospect of losing their decision-making powers to the bureaucratic structures of the European Union, which decide without citizen input or citizen vote. They are worried about giving up even more power in this direction. I don't think it is politically easy for anybody to advocate greater integration right now.
The main thing to emphasise here, however, is that when we say integration, it can have a thousand different interpretations. And the proposals we have had so far are not ones that would increase people's power and democracy in Europe.
Syriza is not in principle against integration, on the contrary, but we want it to be a democratic integration. We don't want it to be a bureaucratic integration that gives more power to executives or to some governments or people at the expense of others.
At the moment, we see a trend of people becoming more anti-European as a result of recent policies. If we are going to agree on a platform for further integration, it has to be on different terms, one that gives power to the peoples of Europe.