Syriza’s Left Platform call not to pay next IMF tranche

Syriza’s Left Platform, spearheaded by Minister of Productive Reconstruction, Environment and Energy, Panagiotis Lafazanis, issued a document during today’s meeting of the Central Committee of SYRIZA, which will come for a vote later in the day. The document calls – once again! – for the rupture with the lenders. Specifically, it asks from the government not to repay the upcoming tranche to the IMF in June, if the ‘institutions’ continue with the ‘same blackmailing tactic.’

You can find the original text in Greek here and here. Below, you can find my translated version of the document.

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Syriza’s Communist Faction call for rupture

The Communist Faction of SYRIZA has initiated a signature-collecting campaign among the many members of the party. In a text to be submitted in the Central Committee of the party on the upcoming weekend (23-24 May) – in the form of a referendum – the Communist Faction is asking from the SYRIZA-led government to “stop paying the lenders-blackmailers” and to “implement the true popular mandate” on which SYRIZA campaigned, and eventually got elected.

Below, you can find a translated version of the text, that has been already signed by 150 members of SYRIZA. The members who have already signed the text hail from different parts of Greece (some are even stationed abroad), and will be asking for the support of all factions within SYRIZA during the weekend.

An important thing to be noted here is the fact that there is no prominent MP or  MEP signing the document, at the moment. It is a small part of SYRIZA’s membership asking for a more radical stance from the government towards the finale of the negotiations.  Nevertheless, coupled with the “call for rupture” by many prominent members of the Political Secretariat and the Central Committee of SYRIZA that was made just yesterday, this only puts added pressure on many MPs and cabinet members that are already contemplating of breaking with the more moderate line that the government seems to be following. (And I say *seems* here, because, given the way the negotiations have played out until today, and considering the recent comments made by Varoufakis and two spokesmen of SYRIZA, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Greek government is taking its haphazard bluff until the very end.)

In any case, here is the Greek version of the Communist Faction’s document, which includes a link to the signatures collected thus far. Right below, you can find the translated version of the text (minus the 150 names). It is a fascinating call for rupture (once again).

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What Varoufakis said in The Economist conference

Earlier today, Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek Finance Minister, gave the Keynote address to the “19th Economist Roundtable with the Government of Greece”. The topic of the two-day conference is: “Europe: The Comeback? Greece: How Resilient?”

While I could not find a video-taped version of the entire speech by the Minister of Finance, I landed on a video uploaded by Enikos.gr, which contains the better chunk of his speech. It seems that Varoufakis’s comments caused quite a stir earlier today, which led to an angry, official announcement by the Ministry of Finance. (See the end of this post)

As per usual, and given the fuzz created by his comments, I decided to transcribe the video of Varoufakis’s speech. Of course, it is incomplete (I begin at 3:05 of the video above, when V begins to talk about the really interesting stuff, and stop at the end of the video – and not at the end of Varoufakis’s speech). If I find the full video, I’ll make sure to provide a complete translation later on.

Segment of Varoufakis’s Speech at the 19th Roundtable with the Government of Greece [Starting at 3:05 of the video above]

… They often ask me – and I reply in the following way – why we have not finished the negotiation yet: it is because – and I speak personally – as a Minister of Finance, I will refuse to put my signature in such a package [deal] that, from a macro-dynamic perspective, is not dynamically consistent. These numbers do not tie with each other. Because, if I place my signature [in such an agreement], I will be yet another Minister of Finance that signs a medium-term program of fiscal adjustment, which he knows cannot work. And it can be proven mathematically that it does not work!

Unfortunately, on the other side, there is an understanding of this. But at the same time, there are political limitations in accepting it. When they tell you in the corridors and with closed doors that “you are right! But how can I pass this from my parliament?” you understand that we have a problem of consistency of those things that need to be done in order to have the comeback [of Greece, or Europe], and those things that can pass from the parliaments. And here, I will agree with Mr. Letta, that it is an issue of governing Europe. We know it very well that Europe does not have the structure of governance that is required in order to solve such disputes.

But since I want to focus and give more time, as I said earlier, for the discussion – I also have to go to the parliament, and answer four relevant questions today at 11:00 – I will tell you very quickly what I think must be the basis of a solution. Of an agreement-solution, so that the comeback can happen.

The first [thing that is needed], I explained: a dynamically consistent fiscal framework, a medium-term program of fiscal adjustment that has coherence, logic, [and] consistency – domestic and through time.

The second – and let us be clear here – even with divine inspiration and intervention, with someone pressing a button and making our debt vanish, the problem of growth would not have been solved. It would have been helped, but not solved. You know that better than I do.

Why? Our government is determined not to have again primary deficits. But an economy that is on a ‘Great Depression’ – it is not the same as what we call ‘great depression’ in Greek – with such low economic activity, with labour markets that are weathered, and without banking trust, and [even] with primary surpluses from the government, the question is: where will the growth-momentum come from?

It is clear that state assets must be utilized. And here comes the question of what does it mean to utilize state assets. Obviously, I do not mean a fire-sale. I do not mean selling them off in minimum prices – money that you take and throw it in the bottomless barrel of a non-sustainable debt. For us, the utilization of state assets must contain a reasonable mix. On the one hand, of privatizations; in parallel, the state must maintain an equity stake, which will be used as an asset that – together with other assets, primarily of real estate – after the reform on proprietary rights over those assets occurs, they can be integrated in a new development bank that can use them as guarantees, and in coordination with the European Investment Bank (EIB), to leverage them with the goal of creating a flow of investments in the private sector.

And you know, this leveraging via such an investment package that will use the EIB could also be connected with Mr. Draghi’s Quantitative Easing (QE), given that it has already been decided by Mr. Draghi that the ECB will purchase in the secondary market bonds by the EIB.

With the stocks of this development bank to have been conveyed to the insurance funds, as compensatory benefits, as compensation, for the large decrease in their capitalization with the PSI in 2012. And whatever profits this development bank has – or at least, its dividends – could go to the insurance funds. With a parallel reduction – a drastic reduction – of the early retirements and a restructuring of the management of the insurance funds.

At the same time, the banking system must be uncooped from red loans. There is no country in the world where the banking system – and particularly, a banking system which has been re-capitalized by the little the Greek people had, through an enormous loan from our partners…

Nevertheless, the banking system has huge percentage of non-performing loans (NPLs). If we do not find a way to manage those, there is no chance that the banking system will perform the job that it has to do. This is why a company to manage those NPLs must be created – a bank stressed asset management agency, if you will – in coordination with the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF). Why does this pillow of the HFSF exist? It exists in order to help the capitalization of the banks.

The capitalization of the banks – to which the Greek people contributed from what little it had – right now loses [and] withers because of the red loans. Obviously, we must do something about that. I have discussed it with my counterparts in France, Spain, Germany, and in Finland with NAMA; and it is clear that there are things that can happen, must happen, but they also need to be part of the negotiation.

In the beginning, I talked about the dynamically consistent fiscal framework that must not begin from 2020 and, moving backwards, decide today what the primary surplus is going to be now. But this means that if we do it properly, and have a coherent fiscal framework, in 2020 the debt is going to be much higher than what the target was. The reason is that it is not sustainable, ladies and gentlemen. Truth to be told, it is time for all of us to say publicly what we say in private. To put it simply, and with a euphemism: the Greek debt must be re-designed.

To give you an example. I am not talking about a haircut! ‘Haircut’ is a bad word, and we have forgotten about it. Even in 2012, we did not call it a ‘haircut’ but a ‘private sector involvement’ or ‘initiative’, something like that. In Europe we are great at producing euphemisms. A few more investments would be more useful [however].

Let me give you an example. In July or August, the Ministry of Finance is going to be called to borrow 6 to 7 more billion euros from our partners, in some way, in order to repay the bonds from the SMP program that was created by Mr. Trichet back in 2010-2011, which are withheld by the European Central Bank (ECB). The remaining amount of those bonds is 27 billion euros, which will have to be repaid in the next months and years, very soon. These bonds – and this is very simple – should be send to the distant future. This is crystal clear. And I think it is also crystal clear to the people of the ECB. Of course, the ECB right now has the great agony of how to continue with the QE against a Bundesbank that is quite negative and hostile. That’s why any discussion about haircutting these bonds of 27bn euros comprises, if you will, [is] a red …

 

Unfortunately, the video is cut right at the best part. I will update the post once I find a full version. After creating considerable confusion in the international community by his comments [or at least, the way his comments were communicated via journalistic channels], Varoufakis issued the following statement through the Greek Ministry of Finance. (via Manos Giakoumis)

MinFin Announcement1

 

The interview of Syriza’s Lafazanis, hardcore Left-platform Minister

lafazanis_lifo

You can read the original interview in the website of the Ministry of Reconstruction of Production, Environment & Energy, here. The interview was given to newspaper “ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ,” and specifically to journalist Niki Zormpas. Below, you can find my translation of the interview in English.

 

Interview of the Minister of Reconstruction of Production, Environment & Energy, Panagiotis Lafazanis, to the newspaper “ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ” and journalist Niki Zormpas [Athens, 28 March 2015]

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Syriza vs corruption: tracing its stance since 2010

I bumped into a very interesting Greek article today, published in the webzine Epikairo, that gives a good indication of Syriza’s former meddling with anti-corruption and tax evasion legislation. While the angle of those writing the article is clearly one of a devoted center-left voter (I would assume PASOK or DIM.AR.), the article itself is quite interesting for people from all ideological presuppositions. It traces 6 of the draft bills that were voted in the Greek parliament since 2010, which pertain to anti-corruption and combatting tax evasion. As it seems, Syriza has been continuously undermining all efforts to combat these issues when legislation was proposed by other parties, either by voting “present,” or simply “no” to those bills.

Today, Syriza seems committed to hit hard on tax-evasion, corruption, oligarchs, and the cartels. In fact, the proclamations of Yanis Varoufakis and Alexis Tsipras suggest that Syriza will invest heavily in anti-corruption policies, both during the interim 4-month extension of the existing program, but also afterwards. They both also seem to believe that they can amass great amounts of money out of such measures, and quite quickly for that matter. Up until its rise to power, however, Syriza had not craze about anti-corruption. One could say that Syriza did not want to help the parties of the establishment to pass ‘half-hearted’ legislation, especially given the fact that there were specific provisions in favor of the status-quo sneaked in many of these laws. One could also argue that the previous stance of Syriza should not be taken heavily into account, since now that it is in the government it will have the leverage (apart from the will!) to draft meaningful legislation and implement much-needed policies contra the aforementioned pathologies.

To a large extent, I agree: how Syriza operated in the past should not be seen as a determinant of how it will function in the future. Nevertheless, it is indicative of the larger anti-reformist stance of the party, a continuous intransigence not to cooperate with the remaining parties of the “status-quo” (well, that was before it became part of it), and its dependence in its clientelistic linkages with public sector workers and specific interest groups. (These clientelistic linkages, of course, were created by the two former big parties of the status-quo – PASOK and thereupon New Democracy. Nevertheless, Syriza increasingly joined the game since the beginning of the crisis, taking advantage of the dissatisfaction of the clientelistic state with the status-quo, and taking over the reigns from the two other parties.)

In any case, you can find the Greek version of the article here. Right below, you can find my translation of it. (Bear in mind: it was written in early January, before the Greek Elections had happened.)

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GR Political Economy Digest #17

NEIN

While Friday’s Eurogroup storm seems to have passed, today is an equally (if not more) important date for the fate of Greece. Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek Minister of Finance, is expected to send a list of proposed reforms to TIFKAT (The ‘Institutions’ Formerly Known As Troika) for approval. Analysts, markets, and entire governments might have sighed in relief on Friday, but it is today actually that will illuminate whether a substantial compromise has been reached in the last Eurogroup meeting.

There is not much to say at this point, other than to wait and see what Varoufakis has planned. The list of reforms is expected to be quite short (no longer than 3-5 pages) and concise. Hopefully, it will also include meaningful proposals that speak more of a “compromise,” rather than the hardcore Left platform of Syriza or ANEL. “Wait, what?,” you may ask. “Who cares about those hardcore Lefties and the few ultra-nationalist crazies of ANEL? They are a fringe part anyways, right? And they wouldn’t jeopardize their ascent to power so soon, would they? As long as the moderate part of Syriza is willing to compromise, then there is no problem!” Well… I would love to share your optimism, but I am quite wary of the influence of the anti-austerity and anti-reform hardliners. I am also quite confident that we will witness some important schisms in the next couple of weeks – iff (if and only if) Varoufakis and Tsipras are true to Friday’s deal. Some senior Syriza officials and important figures of the Left have already begun speaking up (Manolis Glezos, John Milios, Sofia Sakorafa, and even Mikis Theodorakis). I suspect that more voices will soon follow in tune. Will that be enough to bring the government down? This is extremely early to say. But don’t be surprised if the inter-governmental dynamics change drastically in the upcoming weeks.

In any case, happy Lent Monday everybody! Here is the list of the top articles to read on the political economy of Greece today: 

  1. Greece: Four more months of hope and risks, by Frederik Ducrozet | Credit Agricole CIB, Feb 23 2015
  2. Greek bailout: Athens submits economic reform plan today (Live updates), by Graeme Wearden | The Guardian, Feb 23 2015
  3. Tsipras tamed as economists declare Greece loses austerity fight, by Simon Kennedy & Jennifer Ryan | Bloomberg, Feb 23 2015
  4. Greece scrambles to send draft reforms to EU institutions, by Peter Spiegel & Kerin Hope | The Financial Times, Feb 23 2015
  5. In defence of can-kicking, by Duncan Weldon | Medium, Feb 23 2015
  6. A hard week ahead for Greece after a last-minute deal, by Max Ehrenfreund | The Washington Post, Feb 23 2015
  7. Greece’s future is its past, by Rebecca Harding | Pieria, Feb 23 2015
  8. Greece: A debt colony with a bit of “home rule”, by Paul Mason | Channel4 News, Feb 23 2015
  9. Varoufakis ‘absolutely certain’ Greek reforms will meet approval | Deutsche Welle, Feb 22 2015
  10. Spain said to lead EU push to force terms on Greece, by Nikolaos Chrysoloras & Karl Stagno Navarra | Bloomberg, Feb 22 2015
  11. Ten days that shook the euro; how Greece came to the brink, by Alastair MacDonald & Jan Strupczewski | Reuters, Feb 22 2015
  12. Greece readies reform promises, by George Georgiopoulos | Reuters, Feb 22 2015

Photo Credits: Ilias Makris (Kathimerini, 22.02.2015)

GR Political Economy Digest #16

pavlopouleto

Habemus Pavlopoulos! As of today evening, Greece has a new President of the Democracy (PtD). Prokopis Pavlopoulos, former Minister for the Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization (2004-2007) and Minister for the Interior and Public Order (2007-2009) with New Democracy, has just been voted as the new PtD. A lawyer and influential legal scholar in Greece, Pavlopoulos was nominated by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras himself on Tuesday noon.

But Pavlopoulos was both an unexpected and an unwelcome choice for the vast majority of the Greek people. He was unexpected because, up until the last moment, Greek media were almost certain that New Democracy’s Dimitris Avramopoulos (the current European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship) would be Tsipras’s pick. Moreover, the two other names thrown in the rumor frenzy by the press, former PM Kostas Karamanlis and former MEP Marietta Giannakou, did not point towards Provopoulos’s direction at all.  In a surprising move, and after not announcing his nomination as planned on Sunday night, Alexis Tsipras nominated Provopoulos instead yesterday.

But Pavlopoulos is also viewed as a highly unwelcome choice. He was Minister for the Interior and Public Order during the 2008 December riots that caused enormous damages in Athens and other major cities, but failed to handle the situation accordingly. He was heavily attacked back then, both by regular citizens who viewed their property being damaged or looted right in front of their eyes, and by the party of Syriza, who accused him, together with the police, for plotting various schemes and acts of brutality. Pavlopoulos is also infamous for authorizing more than 800,000 hirings in the public sector as a Minister for the New Democracy government, between 2004 and 2009. If the notion of ‘clientelism’ could be personified, he would definitely be one of the highest contenders for the title.

Despite all that, Pavlopoulos was eventually named the new PtD of Greece, voted by 233 MPs (out of a total of 300), including the majority of New Democracy MPs and former PM Antonis Samaras himself.

Leaving aside the election for the PtD, the Greek government has a lot of ground to cover in the days to come in order to secure the continuing financing of the country. But so does Germany and the rest of the Eurozone partners, if they aim to arrive at a substantive and meaningful deal with Greece. Accordingly, the ECB – which has emerged as a sort-of power broker in the past few weeks – has also a big role to play in all of this. Let us hope that both sides can pour some water in their wines, and meet somewhere halfway through, with the ECB acting as a constructive addition rather than impediment to an upcoming agreement. Otherwise, there is no way for this story to have a good ending. Time is running, and money running out. The sooner there is a deal, the better for Greece.

Addendum: It has come to my attention that few blogs and websites have linked to this post, with some people contesting the total number of hirings authorized by Pavlopoulos. Since this is an important issue, let me point you to a few more links on the subject matter. The accusations against Pavlopoulos have been leveled by the newspaper Ta Nea a while back. Indeed, not many other newspapers have delved into the matter, and Pavlopoulos has himself refuted the claims on a radio-show once. Nevertheless, there has been no official statement from neither Pavlopoulos, nor New Democracy to refute the total number of the hirings (that I know of). And even if there is, and the (yet to be disputed) number is wrong, one thing is for sure: Pavlopoulos did authorize the hiring of a hell lot of people during his tenure. He did nurture the clientelistic Greek state even further. And that is a sad reality.

The top articles on the Greek political economy to read before you go to bed tonight are:

  1. What deal could be struck to keep Greece in the Eurozone?, by Raoul Ruparel | Open Europe, Feb 18 2015
  2. Greece to submit loan request to euro zone, Germany resists, by Renee Maltezou and John O’Donnell | Reuters, Feb 18 2015
  3. Greece gets lifeline as ECB agrees €3.3bn extra emergency funds, by Jennifer Rankin, Graeme Wearden and Helena Smith | The Guardian, Feb 18 2015
  4. Greece’s game of chicken is starting to get dangerous, by Matt O’ Brien | The Washington Post, Feb 18 2015
  5. Power broker in Greek debt crisis could be the E.C.B., by Jack Ewing | The New York Times, Feb 18 2015
  6. Greece’s key pledges and requests at the Eurogroup meetings | Macropolis.gr, Feb 18 2015
  7. Calling Greece’s loan-agreement bluff: A giant red herring, by Gabriele Steinhauser and Viktoria Dendrinou | The Wall Street Journal, Feb 18 2015
  8. The world-historic depths of Greece’s economic misery, charted, by Jordan Weissman | Slate (Moneybox), Feb 18 2015
  9. Kammenos makes media threat, compares euro talks to resistance against Ottomans | Kathimerini, Feb 18 2015
  10. Even as progressives take lead in Greece, women remain out of power, by Joanna Kakissis | NPR, Feb 18 2015
  11. Why Angela Merkel is holding firm on Greece, by Mark Gilbert | The Chicago Tribune, Feb 17 2015
  12. Give Greece Room to Maneuver, by the Editorial Board | The New York Times, Feb 17 2015
  13. PM Tsipras declares war at home on Greece’s ‘oligarchs’, by Stephen Grey | Reuters, Feb 17 2015

Photo: Ilias Makris (Kathimerini)

GR Political Economy Digest #13

TRALALA

The Greek government is called to make some major decisions in terms of its economic program in the next few weeks. There is very little time available to Alexis Tsipras’s coalition, not much leeway, and yet too much to do. Although both the Greek Prime Minister and his Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, have softened their tone with their international counterparts, the negotiations are far from over yet. The month of February will be decisive for the future of the Greek economy, but also for the longevity of Tsipras’s shaky coalition. Whoever thought that the most difficult times are past us is in for a newsflash. February will not be a sprint, but a marathon.

Here are the top articles you need to read today on the Greek political economy:

  1. “I’m the finance minister of a bankrupt country”, Interview with Greece’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis| Zeit Online, Feb 4 2015
  2. Greece has started debt-swap talks with IMF, minister tells paper | Reuters, Feb 4 2015
  3. Greece leaders hold key talks with ECB and EU chiefs | BBC News, Feb 4 2015
  4. It’s not just Greece and Spain that need their debt restructuring, by Jonathan Glennie | The Guardian, Feb 4 2015
  5. Greece is facing three massive tests of its debt plans today, by Mike Bird | Business Insider, Feb 4 2015
  6. Crunch time: Greece takes pleas to a hostile Europe, by Holly Ellyatt | CNBC, Feb 4 2015
  7. Not so strange bedfellows: making sense of the coalition between Syriza and the Independent Greeks, by Takis Pappas | Open Democracy, Feb 3 2015
  8. For Greece, GDP-linked debt may be more curiosity than cure, by Greg Ip | The Wall Street Journal (Real Time Economics Blog), Feb 3 2015
  9. Eurozone Should Give Greek Leader Some Time to Reach Compromise, by Hugo Dixon | The New York Times, Feb 3 2015
  10. Spain keeps hawkish eye on Greece as southern solidarity crumbles, by Tobias Buck | The Financial Times, Feb 3 2015
  11. Tsipras’ Greek balancing act begins, by Harris Mylonas and Akis Georgakellos | The Washington Post, Feb 3 2015
  12. A Greek Morality Tale, by Nobel Prize Winner Joseph E. Stiglitz | Project Syndicate, Feb 3 2015
  13. Greece’s rock-star finance minister Yanis Varoufakis defies ECB’s drachma threats, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard | The Telegraph, Feb 3 2015
  14. Five questions about the ECB’s complicated relationship with Greece, by Brian Blackstone | The Wall Street Journal, Feb 2 2015

GR Political Economy Digest #11

ALEKSISThe Greek elections might be over, but both domestic and international eyes will still be fully focused on the country for a while. Today, the newly formed government of SYRIZA and ANEL (i.e. Independent Greeks) announced the new Greek cabinet (more to follow on that in the next few days). The new government is tasked with a tremendous weight. It has proposed to break with the path of austerity and follow a more confrontational stance with our international lenders and European partners. In the upcoming weeks, the government of SYRIZA-ANEL will have to take some monumental decisions about the fate of Greece and the country’s economic orientation. Based on their populist-extremist, anti-austerity, and anti-euro(pean) rhetoric up to now, it seems to be ready to make a huge break with the past. Will they continue to remain as firmly adamant as they have proclaimed in the past three years, or will we start witnessing one ‘kolotoumba’ after the other? Stay tuned for updates…

Here are the hottest articles on the Greek political economy that you need to read today:

  1. Greece debt repayment in full is ‘unrealistic’ says Syriza | BBC News Europe, 27 Jan 2015
  2. Greece and Europe dig in on bailout terms after Syriza victory in Greek election, by Matthew Karnitschnig and Gabriele Steinhauser | The Wall Street Journal, Jan 27 2015
  3. European equity rally halted by Greece and weak corporate figures | Reuters, Jan 27 2015
  4. Greek bonds, stocks drop as leaders to spar on writedown, by Lucy Meakin | Bloomberg BussinessWeek, Jan 27 2015
  5. Greek Elections: Syriza’s Tsipras faces great expectations, by Giorgos Christides | BBC News, Jan 27 2015
  6. ECB, Syriza have broken euro zone’s German spells, by Pierre Briancon | Reuters Blogs, Jan 27 2015
  7. Greek Elections: Why Syriza is ‘playing with fire’ by joining forces with racist Anel, by Gianluca Mezzofiore and Gareth Platt | International Bussiness Times, Jan 27 2015
  8. Europe’s populists hail Syriza win in Greek elections from Left and Right, by Marcus Walker, Jason Douglas and William Horobin | The Wall Street Journal, Jan 27 2015
  9. Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras’s picks new Greek cabinet, by Graeme Wearden | The Guardian, Jan 27 2015
  10. Macro Horizons: Is Greece still the word?, by Allen Mattich and Michael J. Casey | The Wall Street Journal, JanMatthew Karnitsching & Gabriele Steinhauser | The Wall Street Journal, 26 Jan 2015
  11. Greece: Think Flows, Not Stocks, by Paul Krugman | The New York Times, 26 Jan 2015
  12. Greece’s new finance minister learned about tearing down capitalism from working at a video game company, by Tim Fernholz | Quartz, Jan 26 2015
  13. Profile: Greece’s new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, by Phillip Inman and Katie Allen | The Guardian, Jan 26 2015
  14. Syriza’s win: Greece turns, Europe wobbles | The Economist, Jan 26 2015

Judgement time for Syriza

Yesterday, after a very brief yet polarized pre-election period, the Greek people went to the polls and voted for their new government. Regardless of personal preferences or ideological inclinations, the result was an astounding victory for the Left in Greece. SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, officially won the parliamentary elections falling one seat short of outright majority. As many supporters of the party chanted until the early hours of Monday morning: “It’s SYRIZA’s time.”

Many things can been said about the party, its Leader, its programmatic pledges, and the views expressed by a number of its (former and new) MPs. Since 2010, SYRIZA has adopted a highly inflammatory populist rhetoric, and has surged at the top of the “anti-austerity” camp in Greece. It’s elected representatives have criticized excessively – often, using highly derogatory language – both the previously elected Greek governments, and the Troika of lenders responsible for overlooking the bailout packages received by Greece. They have attacked the former parties of the establishment (New Democracy and PASOK), they have pledged to overthrow the existing oligarchic power-structure in place, they have vouched to overturn all of the policies decided by the previous (democratically elected!) governments, and they have insisted over and over again that they would not honor the agreements made between Greece and its international lenders.

In crisis-ridden Greece, it is no wonder that they turned themselves from a fringe party in the margins of Greek politics to the official opposition party in the parliamentary elections of 2012, to coming first in the European Elections of 2014, and eventually forming a government after yesterday’s elections. By strategically capitalizing on the anger and desperation of the Greek people, they have managed to propel themselves at the forefront of the political scene. In order to do so, they have followed a smart tactic of excessive promise-making and pledges that are not only unfeasible (given the current financial situation of Greece), but also deeply destructive of any prospect of recovery from the country’s current state. Playing favorites with the unions, embracing a statist approach in decision-making, and proposing a host of anti-liberal and anti-reformist economic and social measures, SYRIZA does not seem to grasp the fundamental issues at the crux of the Greek downfall, and does not offer a viable progressive-reformist plan to move forward.

SYRIZA has promised many things. Most of all, however, it has promised new ‘hope’ to the people of Greece. Even its main pre-election slogan was “Hope is coming.” It has elevated tremendously the expectations of the domestic population, but it has also managed to put itself in the center of international debates about austerity and economic growth – especially within Europe.

All eyes are on Tsipras and his party now. There is no scapegoating this time around, nobody else to blame. It is them, now, that will have to take the difficult decisions about the country. It is them that will have to meet face-to-face with the Troika of lenders, with foreign Ministers of Finance, and with the person they have demonized the most in the past 3 years: Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. They will now become the new government – albeit with the help of the ultra-nationalist, anti-liberal, far-right party ANEL (Independent Greeks). In a sense, maybe this is the most appropriate of all setups: both SYRIZA and ANEL have championed an anti-austerity, anti-memorandum, and even anti-European rhetoric. They have both starkly opposed any and every attempt to reform Greece in the past few years, and have made no concessions whatsoever. Now, they are both in power, together.

I am not very optimistic about what tomorrow brings for Greece. Especially after SYRIZA reaching out to ANEL for a coalition government, rather than any of the other two center-left parties (PASOK, the old party of the establishment; and To Potami, a new party created early 2014 by a former journalist). One could say that this was to be expected, and I fully agree. But I was also hoping for a better ‘kolotoumba’ (i.e. somersault, in Greek) than this.

We will witness, of course, many ‘kolotoumbes’ in the upcoming months, especially as they pertain to the programmatic promises of SYRIZA about the economy and our existing agreements with Troika. Let’s hope that they happen soon. And once they do, let’s hope that they are enough to keep this country afloat.