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12 February 2015

Syriza and Podemos: Britain could “learn lessons” from Europe’s radical insurgence

The European anti-austerity parties, Syriza and Podemos, took centre stage during the change:how? 2015 conference at Islington Metal Works.

By Ashley Cowburn

There is the potential for a more radical political movement in Britain, according to representatives from Europe’s flourshing anti-austerity parties, Syriza and Podemos. 

Speaking at the change:how? 2015 conference on Sunday, representatives from the two parties said that the battles in their home countries are no longer contests between the left and right sides of the political spectrum  rather, they are between democracy and oppression. 

The event, based in Islington Metal Works (usually home to industrial chic goth nights), had over 100 speakers including the London mayoral candidate, David Lammy and the Labour MP Stella Creasy. But it was the international austerity movement that took centre stage. Spiros Rapanakis, Syriza’s youngest parliamentary candidate in last month’s general election in Greece, said that he was at the conference to deliver a message to Europeans from the Greek government: “Change is coming, the old world has died and the new world is emerging now.” It was a message that was greeted by a loud applause and cheering from the audience. 

The anti-austerity party, Syriza, won the general election in Greece last month and it’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, has vowed to end “five years of humilation and pain” by renogtiating the terms of Greece’s dramatic international bailout.  It was an election campaign that instilled more hope in the Spanish counterpart, Podemos. Barely one year old, Podemos has a realistic chance of ending the bipartisan political system that has governed Spain since the death of Franco. Siro Canos, a member of the London circle for Spain’s Podemos party said that while the experiences in Spain aren’t directly transferable, “there are lessons to be learnt” and the potential for a much more radical movement here in Britain. 

Here are extracts from Canos and Rapanakis speeches: 

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Sirio Canos – Podemos

What has happened in Spain is quite extraordinary: Podemos was formed only 13 months ago and within five months we had five MEPs in the European elections – soon after it was polling first in voting intentions for the national elections… it is not overstatement to say it has completely changed the political arena in Spain. It has changed the nature of political discussion.

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The most important thing is that people are now excited about politics in a way we’ve never seen before. I go back home and there are people in their houses, in the streets and bars talking about politics. That had never happened before. They feel their vote matters and that finally people can have an influence on what happens in government. That was unthinkable two years ago.

By 2011, the socialisation of the financial crisis was already quite evident in Spain: rising unemployment, inequality, cuts to welfare and education. And on top of that we had major corruption cases across the political structure. And yet nothing seemed to happen . . . there wasn’t an alternative. We had the two main parties: the Conservatives and the Socialist party. But they were virtually indistinguishable in their economic and labour policies.

This might surprise you but Podemos does not describe itself as a left-wing party and we don’t because we believe there’s the overwhelming majority in Spain – across the political spectrum – agree on certain fundamental points: that institutions should govern in the interests of the majority, not the tiny privileged elite; that human rights and people’s wellbeing should come before the repayment of a debt which we don’t even know is legitimate. The real battle isn’t between right and left, it’s one between democracy and oligarchy. The division between right and left splits people and prevents the creation of a majority capable of winning that battle.

Spiros Rapanakis – Syriza

I am here today to give the message that Syriza and the Greek government give to all European people: change is coming, the old world has died and the new world is emerging now.

Thousands and thousands of people committed suicide in Greece because they couldn’t afford to live or they couldn’t afford to pay their bills. But creation and hope took the place of disaster and despair in Greece. Throughout the crisis, the main dividing line was not the left or the right, but it was democracy and dignity versus authority . . . and oppression.

I believe that democracy is coming back to Greece again after so many years. The most characteristic picture: throughout the crisis, barricades guarded the Parliament building; you could see only policemen and Special Forces. The first action of Syriza’s government was to take away the barricades, was to take away the policemen and to make Athens a city that you could safely live.

We are not afraid anymore.We are only at the beginning. The massive change is happening in Greece. Spain and other countries are following. The main question is: are you going to join the change that has begun in Greece?