The result of the coming elections constitutes a milestone for Greek politics, since it will be the first time since the end of the Second World War that the radical left in the country ever had such a popular appeal. Secondly, these elections officially entombed a forty-year period in Greek politics, since the end of the military junta, of the integration of the country into the European Communities and its re-integration in the NATO alliance, the so-called “Metapolitevsi”, the post-junta governance.
Though Greece integrated European institutions in the past differed and currently differs importantly from its European neighbors, due to its deeply rooted scars caused by the civil war that erupted after the liberation during WWII. By this, I mean the institutional and party dynamics that shaped its political landscape under the pressing shadow of the Cold War.
Greece’s role as an advanced bulwark of the west in the Balkan peninsula against the “communist danger” also crippled its society, which was already deeply divided by the bloodiest civil war the country has seen. And indeed it has seen many; the creation of the modern Greek state in 1828 was even inaugurated by one.
Soon after the end of the civil war in 1949, deep class divisions were momentarily alleviated with the en-masse state sponsored immigration of destitute Greeks and idle city workers to help in the reconstruction of the destroyed industrial complexes in Germany and Belgium.
While social contradictions always run high, in what was and is still a traditional paternalistic society, ruled through the political connivance of a number of illustrious families of businessmen in alliance with a few political dynasties, the crisis has revealed every single ugly and vulnerable spot on the country’s social map. It has been a long and painful procedure to endure for many.
It has also shattered the illusions of social ascent for the Greek petit – bourgeoisie and has liberated the hopes of many impoverished workers who have seen their salaries cut by half, and their living conditions literally destroyed. It was this same crucial part of Greece’s society that had previously laid its hopes for a better future in the hands of the two ruling parties, Pasok and Nea Dimokratia.
These social layers, together with a disgruntled and utterly disappointed middle class have created an incontestable movement in support of Syriza’s rise to power. What also turned the tide towards Syriza was the sheer right extremism that Samara’s government indulged, in its effort to attract Golden Dawn voters, and apply a strict rightist policy without much depending on its governmental partner Pasok.
What is more, the government of Samaras-Venizelos, conscientious that the only way to impose such long scale radical neoliberal reforms and a series of privatisations, depended greatly on the outright use of repressive means.
It took less than one year for the European Institutions to realise the inevitability of Syriza’s rise to power in Greece in the forthcoming elections, this Sunday the 25th of January 2015. Despite the expressed preference of the present Commission for “familiar faces” in Greece, in what constituted an unprecedented outright political intervention by the European Commission, political pragmatism has steadily stepped in the scene.
Syriza’s politica agenda was, until recently, universally painted as a populist and radical leftist conglomeration of different organisations with no common thread binding them. On the other hand, these articles failed to convey that compared to the political demands of Pasok in the 80’s, for an exit from the then European Communities and NATO, Syriza seems a fairly politically correct partner for negotiations with its international creditors (EC, ECB, IMF.)
While similar comparisons are faulty by nature, they convey also the political situation in that the Greek society has found itself through the combination of a lengthy legacy of a repressive police state, followed by a clienteles-paternalist state which culminated in the “insouciant era” of the early 90’s and 00’s, financed by a stream of cheap credit, and even cheaper immigrant labour.
Ironically, the creditors couldn’t have asked for a better negotiator; in the sense that the new government that will be formed by Syriza has everything to lose, and little to win by political turmoil. As such, they will be pressed by all sides both internationally and domestically to relinquish maximalist positions.
Ironic, since Syriza’s politicians are more fervent Europeans, believing more in the combined productive forces and the solidarity of the European nations, than the professed believers of neoliberal orthodoxy and of the ‘wolf eat wolf’ unlimited social dumping logic inside the EU.