Saturday, May 19, 2012

With new elections approaching EU's war of words with Greece gets down and dirty

Alexis Tsipras  Αλεξης Τσιπρας

The announcement last week that none of the parties in the Greek government were able to form a government has brought with it a dose of madness that dwarfs even the fervid election campaign rhetoric that proceeded it. If you were to take the statements of much of theforeign and local mainstream media at face value Greece is about to collapse andthat it will take with it much of the Eurozone.. Once again Athens is at the centre of a maelstrom of media speculation that can be seen as a retread of 2011 when the Greek prime minister, GiorgiosPapandreou raised the possibility of Greece holding a referendum on whether it should implement yet more austerity measures . Then the suggestion was met by a vociferous campaign from within Greece, not to mention the pressure exerted by Paris,Brussels and Berlin.

With Papandreou now gone from the political scene, his role as the Eurozone's enemy number one has been taken over by Alexis, Tsipras, the leader of the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), which if the name didn't give you a clue is a group of socialist and communist parties who shot into second place in the May elections campaigning on the promise to defy European Union's demands for yet more austerity measures.

The results has been a surge of interest in Greece and a concerted attempt to paint anti-austerity politicians and parties as extremist and dangerous. The new media narrative being created goes like this; Tsipras and, by extension any political group opposed to the terms set down by Athens's creditors are putting in danger Greece's place in the Eurozone and so inviting economic collapse by forcing it to re-adopt the drachma. Some variations on this theme even go as far as to say that Greece may even by kicked out of the EU, and so face decades of North Korean style isolation.

Greek exit from the Euro?

It is a story that has been carefully cultivated in the local press as well, with daily horror stories coming out in the state run TV stations and their allies in the privately controlled media sector. Pro-austerity parties such as PASOK and New Democracy appear regularly to crank up the fear factor by painting the Radical Left as a bunch of crazed fanatics hell bent on destroying what's left of the economy.

If that wasn't enough this week's non-story about a run on Greek banks was gleefully jumped upon and news organisations were desperately trying to recruit local bloggers/twitter users to feed them stories of people besieging banks to take out their money. Rumours of banks limiting withdraws to just 50 E swirled around the internet. That neither was happening proved to be no impediment to reporters eager to get another scoop.

The fact that this week the EU decided to cut off funding to Greek banks it deemed non-viable did nothing to help the situation , leading some commentators to say that maybe that was their intention after all. An example of yet more attempts to nudge the Greek electorate in the “right”direction.

Burning bank - Thessaloniki, Greece

This week also saw the arrival of EU president, Martin Schulz in Athens, obstensibly to persuade the new Greek government to adhere to its earlier fiscal commitments, however, his public appearances with both the leaders of PASOK and New Democracy made it quite clear that the EU wanted it's say in Greece's next round of elections. A message with he then went to repeat on state run and pro-austerity channels yesterday and today.

If that wasn't enough the suggestion by German chancellor Angela Merkel toGreek president KarolosPpapoulias that Greece hold a referendum on membership of the euro was meets by angry accusations of interference in Greek internal affairs. Raising ugly memories of the two countries troubled past relationship.

Ironically, the suggestion, which the German chancellor's office denied (the office of the Greek president then went on to deny the denial) has helped undermine the position of those parties who are hoping to persuade Greek voters to swallow more job cuts and tax increases scheduled for June.


Whether the fear of expulsion from the Eurozone is working is hard to tell. Some local opinion polls have put New democracy ahead of SYRIZA but then there are otherσ which show wildly differing results. The problem is that no one knows what will happen in June. Gauging public opinion has become much harder when the two main political parties are constantly changing their make up and positions. PASOK has decided, under it determinedly uncharismatical leader, Evangelos Venizelos to distance itself from both scandal ridden past by abolishing much of its present hierarchy.

On the other hand Greece's right has seen a flurry of deals and team changes. With members of the smaller unsuccessful parties jumping ship to sign up with Samaras's right rainbow alliance. Howe much of this will change the results of the elections is hard to say. Many of those retuning to New Democracy such as ex party super star, Dora Bakoyianni, northern populist, Panayiotis Psomiadis (once again the subject of  legal proceedings) and former MPs with the far right LAOS party are hardly the stuff that electoral landslides are made of.

With a party made up of those willing to change political allegiances at the drop of a hat, it is going to difficult to persuade sceptical voters that the right won't result to yet more u-turns and back flips if elected.

Greek pensioner looking through rubbish for leftover food

Far away from the endless media attention to those in mainstream politics, ordinary Greeks continue to face the everyday grind of surviving in a shrinking economy in which 30-40% are living in poverty, more than half the country's youth (some of the most educated in Europe) are without work and no one knows when things will get better.

Beyond vague promises to renegotiate the terms of Greece's bailout, only SYRIZA has offered something positive to those who have already lost so much. Even if it's the empty gesture of defiance it gives something concrete to those left bitter and disillusioned by the country's more moderate political choices.

1 comment:

ariadne said...

Very well said! I love your articles!AriadnefromGreece!