A view from Athens: is a “backflip” by Syriza in the Greek debt crisis negotiations inevitable?

Is Syriza simply looking to take Greece from a deal-making cliffhanger to plain-sailing for the middle classes who had stability and prospects before the crash?

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So we've avoided Grexit. So far. There have been no bank runs, no Argentinian or Cypriot scenarios for Greece. Whatever agreement is finally signed between Alexis Tsipras’ “radical left” Syriza party with the EU, ECB and IMF, the first self-proclaimed “radical left-wing” party in Europe will ultimately have caved in on all strategic issues dealing with debt payments, austerity and privatisations. 

Because Syriza never “went to the people”. Its “moral crusade” against capitalism ended with its embracing of capitalism. Syriza capitulated on multiple red lines it had set for itself, backflipping on promises that had propelled it to power on 25 January.

Why should the developments in Greece come as a surprise? Syriza represents a middle-class movement keen on returning their supporters to the status and security they once enjoyed. To that unrealisable end, it surrendered abjectly and totally to the Troika institutions.

I recently ran into my friend Anastas near the centre of Athens. An unemployed construction worker, he always votes Communist. He is grim about the future. “People don’t realise what just happened,” he says. “Life will be extremely difficult for the next 20 years. I worry about the children.”

Naturally, Syriza is presenting itself on ERT, the state-run television channel it recently “won back for the masses”, in the best possible light. The message is that the Greek government bargained hard with Germany and its fellow capitalist jackals, and managed to save the bacon: Greece remains in the the EU and the eurozone!

But wasn’t this all quite clear from the very beginning? Why should the outcome so far of what have been pitched to the world as “cliffhanger” negotiations surprise anyone? If you, or I, owe a million euros to someone, then you, or I, have a big problem. In contrast, if the sum we owe has at least another three zeros on it, it’s the other side that has the problem...

Another friend, Alex, a marine biologist who works on rescuing Mediterranean dolphins, waxed bitterly in an email he circulated: “Back in 2011-12 we fought together against the sell-off of our country by bank stooges and yes-men, inhaling huge amounts of chemicals, and being beaten by the cops. That was tough. But to have this exact thing done by the ‘leaders’ of those who just the day-before-yesterday fought on our side, calling themselves ‘leftists’, is a bitter cup to swallow. It creates so much anger, disappointment and despair in so many people.

The system always prefers the worst measures to be made by humbled ‘left-wing’ governments for this exact reason.” Poignantly, Alex’s email ended with this: “I remember writing flaming declarations with Syriza members sitting on the steps in Syntagma Square, people who now occupy government posts – letters against the sell-off of regional airports, Helliniko in Athens, the ports of Piraeus and Salonika, the country’s train operator, the extension of the concession agreement regarding Athens’ International Airport. And look at them now, they've signed this all away.

From the very beginning, Syriza showed its true colours. This is no “radical left” party. It is turning out to be a dyed-in-the-wool social democratic party (socialist in words, capitalist in deeds), which represents not the simple wage earner but the middle classes. These people whose deep-seated hostility to the authorities is rooted in the loss of their previous status and upward mobility as a result of the crisis. It is aimed at restoring their past well-being and social advancement.

I fail to understand those who earnestly believe the panic-mongering about Greece leaving the European Union. How could all these people, including think tank specialists, have fallen for the cheap act that’s been played out, back and forth, for five months now, between Athens, Berlin, Brussels, and New York? Wasn’t a “backflip” by Syriza inevitable? Hasn’t Alexis Tsipras’ gang been play acting – as the other side has been – when in fact they long ago accepted a need for the continuation of a certain extent of austerity measures? 

Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has been, by his own admission, engaged in a campaign to stabilise the European socioeconomic system in order to avoid the ascendency of the far-right Golden Dawn. He described as “genuinely radical” his pursuit of a “modest agenda for stabilising a system that I despise”, and admitted publicly that he ran “the risk of surreptitiously lessening the sadness from ditching any hope of replacing capitalism in my lifetime by indulging a feeling of having become agreeable to the circles of polite society”. 

It appears quite likely that what amounts to a new memorandum for Greece will be voted though Parliament with the active support of conservatives and rightwingers in the centre-right New Democracy party of Antonis Samaras. Which of course will make these people look weak and politically impotent (it won’t make Syriza look much better either). A Grexit/Grexident catastrophe would benefit them immeasurably. People understand this. It confirms in the minds of most voters that what is good for the Chicago School neo-liberals isn’t necessarily good for the country.

Perhaps things would have been brighter if Zoe Konstantopoulou, the firebrand Speaker of the Greek Parliament (her nickname is “Robespierre”), and not Alexis Tsipras, were PM. One thing is certain. Only two players on the Greek political scene – mortal enemies – were right on the money in their evaluation of Syriza. Both the communists and the neo-Nazis stated that this “first time left-wing government” was chock full of pseudo-socialists who’d quickly sell their principles, and the country, down the river.

Evel Masten Economakis has been living in a town 25km east of Athens since 2005. He teaches history, and also works in construction to supplement his family's income.

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