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10 July 2019updated 03 Aug 2021 3:39pm

By embracing austerity Syriza allowed the Greek right to escape the dustbin of history

By Yanis Varoufakis

The Greek right is back: greedier, uglier and more focused than ever. The incoming New Democracy government is determined to reclaim full control of the state on behalf of the most parasitic segment of Greece’s oligarchy and, of course, of our country’s ruthless creditors.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the new prime minister, is a scion of one of the dynasties responsible for Greece’s perpetual bankruptcy, corruption and subservience to the Atlanticist oligarchy-without-borders. Tellingly, he has surrounded himself with, on one side, apparatchiks connected to vulture funds and failed banks and, on the other, ultra-nationalist former fascists. Together, Mitsotakis’s motley reactionaries plan to unleash a fresh class war against a people who have already lost almost everything, against minorities, against our environment, against common decency.

How did this happen? Four short years ago, Greek voters gave Syriza, the party of the radical left, a mandate to unseat the oligarchs and confine New Democracy to its rightful place – the dustbin of history. On 25 January 2015, caught up in the moment’s excitement, I quoted from Dylan Thomas to convey a message of hope to progressives across the globe: “Greek democracy,” I wrote, “today chose to stop going gently into the night. Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light.”

So, what went wrong? What was it that allowed the restoration of an authoritarian, incompetent regime – one that wrecked Greece before turning it into a harsh debtor’s prison from which emigration was, and remains, the only escape? When did my fellow Greeks stop raging against the long night of our debt bondage? The answer is: the night of Sunday 5 July 2015.

The night had begun brilliantly. The Greek people had flocked to polling stations to deliver a resounding “No” in a referendum called by our government at short notice. That brave No was addressed to Greece’s troika of creditors (the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund) which, on 25 June 2015, had delivered a callous ultimatum to the nation: vote Yes to succumb to new, inhuman austerity measures in exchange for another huge credit card from which to draw funds, or risk being thrown out of the euro and forced to transition to a new national currency.

The vast majority of the 62 per cent who said No to the troika’s ultimatum knew exactly what they were saying and the risks involved in saying it. Disingenuous commentators try to portray our people as delusional, citing what they regard as a “contradiction”: most of those who voted No did not want Greece to leave the euro. While this is true, preferring to stay in the euro and voting No to those threatening us with Grexit is as much of a contradiction as saying that, in 1939, the people of Britain craved peace but at the same time backed Winston Churchill’s determination to defend the nation against the Axis’s aggression.

That night, while our people were out on the streets celebrating their remarkable victory, the political representatives of Greece’s oligarchy were in tatters. The leader of New Democracy resigned, the party’s cadres wallowed in deep despair, the oligarchy they represented was in a state of panic. Alas, they worried unnecessarily. For at the same time, a coup against the people was being hatched in the office of my colleague, the prime minister.

The moment I walked into the office of Alexis Tsipras, he told me he had decided to fold, to ignore the people’s No, and to side with New Democracy in order to pass through parliament the bills by which Greece would, again, surrender to the troika. After I failed to dissuade him, I resigned as minister of finance. A few hours later,  Tsipras convened a meeting with the acting leader of New Democracy, and the leaders of the other pro-troika parties, whose votes he needed to pass the third bailout. It was at that moment that New Democracy was retrieved from history’s dustbin and placed on a track leading to election victory.

Since that night, Greece’s parliament has been the stage for a four-year-long tragicomedy: Syriza MPs passed austerity and fire-sale bills with which they disagreed, while, on the other side, New Democracy MPs voted them down – in spite of agreeing with them. How my former colleagues convinced themselves that this would end in anything other than a devastating defeat for Syriza is beyond my comprehension.

Syriza’s unconditional surrender to the troika alone would have sufficed to revive New Democracy. Alas, Tsipras’s government went to greater lengths to alienate the progressives that elected him by surrendering on every imaginable front. His unforced submission to the status quo demonstrated a facility for casually betraying every one of the left’s most cherished principles.

The only ray of hope in this bleak landscape is the entry of MeRA25 (the European Realistic Disobedience Front) to parliament. Nine of us were elected, despite zero funding and a sustained campaign of character assassination against us by New Democracy and Tsipras’s government. Unlike Syriza’s MPs, who will lack all credibility in opposition, our MPs and activists will lead the resistance, inside and outside parliament, against the cruel oligarchy that New Democracy will strive to erect upon the foundation of Tsipras’s fourth bailout agreement. Together with our comrades across the world, we will work for a Green New Deal to prevent apocalyptic climate change.

MeRA25’s share of the vote was small (3.4 per cent). But, along with the fabulous news that the Nazis of Golden Dawn were eliminated from parliament, that small number is large enough to make a crucial difference – like a tiny candle whose light is capable of penetrating the darkness. 

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