Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Greece wakes up to a different world.

By all rights the world, at least that corner of the world that is forever Greece should be in tatters, the the entire nation in ruins, or at last teetering on the edge of the abyss. Sorry for the hyperbole but that's what happens when you follow too much of the media coverage of Syriza's unprecedented election victory on Sunday. For those unfamiliar with modern Greek politics for the first time since the mid 70's neither the conservative New Democracy or the nominally centre-left Pasok party will be in government. It is as if USA had just elected a president who was neither Republican or Democrat or that the UK was now governed by the Green Party.

The electoral self-immolation of Pasok along with growing disenchantment with its right wing coalition government partner New Democracy drove away voters who in other eras would never have countenanced voting for a party as avowedly left-wing as Syriza. In doing so they have changed the political landscape more radically than at an other time since the fall of the military junta what ruled Greece till it was toppled in 1974.

Voters, sick of austerity and the endless succession of promises of recovery being just around the corner made by a political elite widely seen as out of touch abandoned the dominant parties to vote for Alexis Tsipras's Radical Left Alliance. Even the weeks of scare mongering by the government and its allies in the media proved insufficient to convince voters to give prime minister Antonis Samaras the mandate he needed to stay in power.The daily predictions by Greek and EU officials of a Grexit, bank runs and even the possibility of a collapse in the economy so dire that ordinary people would not be able to buy even basics such as toilet paper failed to win back lost ground.

However, this  switch in allegiances had less to do with a general surge in sympathy for radical leftist ideas than with a groundswell of disgust with the politics of business as usual which have left many Greeks jobless, poorer and without hope for the future. The siren call of stability which the PM promoted so hard during the short but divisive campaign cut little ice with those who desperately need to see real change and not just endless talk of improvement in the the nation's 10 year bond yield or its standing with credit rating agencies such as Standard and Poors.

Since the the announcement of Syriza's victory on Sunday evening, the political developments have been coming thick and fast. Lacking the 151 seats needed to form a government on its own Greece's new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras brokered a deal with the right-wing Independent Greeks party to form a coalition. The announcement, which was made at midday Monday suggests that neither side was surprised by the offer and that the groundwork had been laid in advance, so catching off guard the other opposition parties who had assumed that the search for a partner would be a long and convoluted process, or even the prelude to another round of elections.

The choice of Independent Greeks has surprised many observers, especially those abroad who find it hard to comprehend a partnership between a radical socialist party and a conservative nationalist one, Yet for Syriza this constitutes the least worst choice given the options available. The most obvious candidate for coalition partner would have been the Greek Communist Party (KKE) but anyone even vaguely aware of Greek politics would have known that such an alliance would have been impossible as KKE would never compromise on its own leftist principles which include leaving the European Union, the Eurozone and NATO.

Others may have considered a partnership with PASOK (well, the S does stand for Socialist) would have been a better fit, but once again the party's role in imposing austerity plus its identification with the country's corrupt political elite would have proven unacceptable to Syriza rank and file, not to mention the fact that it would have instantly damned Tsipras in the eyes of voters seeking change.

The other likely partner for many analysts would have been the recently formed Potami (River) party headed by ex -TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis who's attempt to carve  out a centre - left niche for themselves in the Greek political landscape made them a good match for Syriza, at least on paper. However, this was never really on the cards for a number of reasons. Theodorakis, whose party's funding and basic policies still remain a mystery is widely seen by the Left as a stalking horse for Greece's oligarchs, a front for the vested interests that have been forced to abandon the traditional parties of power. To give Theodorakis the political equivalent of a "kill switch" would have not been acceptable.

So, in the end Independent Greeks who are often painted as a collection of right wing conspiracy theorists and borderline racists (imagine UKIP a la Grecque) made the cut, a decision that has already been condemned by many on the Left, both inside and outside Greece (for an account of why this is so, I recommend this blog post). However, the party led by Panos Kammenos repeatedly made clear its opposition to Troika imposed austerity measures and its participation will perhaps assuage more conservative Greeks that issues such as defence and policing will not be solely decided by a bunch of "wild radicals". It's also an admission that much of Syriza's support is not from those who traditionally identify themselves as left wing, let alone radical socialists.

Above all, such an alliance allows Syriza to implement policies which will be popular with voters and build up a more solid base ahead of any confrontation with Greece's creditors who seem unwilling to back down on the issue of debt renegotiation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Vote Right. Greek PM's message to voters

The Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras leaving a campaign rally in Thessaloniki, after addressing the party faithful ahead of the national elections on Sunday.

Once more I happened to be in the right place at the right time, instead of being in a lesson which was a no-show I went to the Vellidio conference centre where the PM was due to speak. I managed to grab the last few few minutes of his speech and seeing he was about to leave via the central entrance I  waited outside for him to carve his way out of the place ahead of the flotilla of secret service guys.

Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza greets supporters at campaign rally in Thessaloniki, Greece

Greek opposition leader, Alexis Tsipras greets supporters at campaign rally last night in the northern port city of Thessaloniki. Come Sunday there is a good chance the party he leads, SYRIZA will win the elections and form Europe's most radical government in decades.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

PASOK leader on the campaign trail

Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the Greek PASOK party about to address supporters ahead of next weeks elections. The audience was dominated by the party's ageing party base, with those under 40 being a distinct minority.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The EU Death Star moves to crush the rebellion in the outer provinces.

Admiral Scauble: Any attack made by SYRIZA rebels against the Eurozone would be a useless gesture, no matter what financial data they have obtained. This currency is now the ultimate power on the Continent! I suggest we use it!

Darth Vader: Don't be too proud of this fiscal terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a nation is insignificant next to the power of the Markets.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A poster is For life, not just the holidays

I've drawn upon a pretty diverse range of source for these posters; Tacitus, Martin Luther King, Audre Lorde, Voltaire, Hong Kong democracy activists, Usual Suspects, Fight Club, Sucker Punch, Sam Cooke, George Orwell, Woody Guthrie et al.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Je Suis Charlie - Greeks remember the victims of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy

More than 1,000 residents of the northern port city of Thessaloniki, Greece turned out in solidarity with victims of the terror incidents in France. After a minute of silence in memory of those killed participants went on a silent march through the centre of the city and were later addressed by the French consul and the mayor.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Greek Orthodox Christians mark the Epiphany in Thessaloniki, Greece

Greek elections - state of play so far

The Greek national election campaign is now well under way and all parties involved have started their campaigns, both on the road an in the media. The Greek prime prime minister, Antonis Samaras kicked off New Democracy's efforts with a televised rally in a hotel in city of Larissa, almost immediately followed by SYRIZA leader's rally in a stadium in Athens. The contrast could not have been greater, while the prime minister gave a lacklustre performance which meet with lukewarm response, even among party faithful, Alexis Tsipras on the other hand showed just how far he's come as a public speaker, both energising the party base with his speech and showing that he was clearly setting himself out as a national leader.

In the meantime, coalition party leader Evangelos Venizelos addressed PASOK party members in a cafe, reminding viewers that the glory days of the party when they could attract crowds numbering hundreds of thousands were well and truly over.

To add to the uncertainty surrounding the most unpredictable Greek election in years, ex-prime minister and once leader of PASOK Giorgos Papandreou announced his formation of a new party, The Movement of Democratic Socialists in the same period, a move that was quickly condemned by the current PASOK leader as "irrational and unethical". Some media outlets were even predicting, rather generously as it would later turn out, that the new party would garner anything up to 6% of the poll, so allowing it representation in parliament.

New Democracy's campaign which as being spraying the internet with banner ads and pop up non-stop since the day of the vote for president has been focused on playing on fears of ordinary Greeks that a SYRIZA victory would be tantamount to an exit for the Eurozone, even the the European union itself. 

The talk of Grexit cultivated by the Samaras and echoed by pro-government TV stations and newspapers has spooked markets and led to a number of European officials to back track and say that such a contingency is out of the question. However, such denials did not stop prime minister repeating such threats in his speech on Tuesday in the northern city of Komotini, though latest news reports seem to indicate that the party's campaign will change direction and now focus on the government's track record in power.

As part of this change in tack it seems Samaras is willing to use the even more incendiary topic of immigration, even the tragic deaths of the 12 people killed in the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris on Wednesday were used by him in order to attack SYRIZA's immigration policies. In his speech in Halkidi he said, 

"There was a massacre today in Paris yet some people want to invite more illegal immigrants and hand out citizenship"

This campaign promises to be the dirtiest in years, and as if to underline the point the prime minister and other senior New Democracy figures were eagerly using the deaths of the victims in Paris to drum up votes for their party which has consistently been behind the polls over the last few weeks. Whilst some surveys have put SYRIZA anything up to 7.5% ahead, most seem to agree on a 3-4% lead for Alexis Tsipras's Radical Left party, despite the fact that they are facing an almost uniformly hostile mainstream media inside Greece and to a large degree abroad.

If such figures prove accurate this mean that SYRIZA will be unlikely to elect the 151 MPs required to have a majority government in Greece's 300 seat parliament and so will probably need to form a coalition with one or more of the smaller parties vying for power. This is where the waters muddy and accurate predictions of what will happen on election day and afterwards become less certain. All the other parties who could be in parliament are polling between 6 and 2% which given the margin of error present in such cases means any meaningful estimation of how seats will be distributed is difficult.

However, some guesses can be made. It would seem sure that KKE (Greek Communist Party) will once again get 4-6% and so about 12 seats as it did in 2012. Whilst KKE has not been able to exploit the economic crisis in order to widen its base, it's party organisation and strong campaigning abilities mean that the party faithful will turn out and support them. Likewise Golden Dawn's support in the polls has remain steady at 5-6% despite the jailing of most of it leadership on criminal charges pending trial. Despite almost singularly negative press coverage there remains a hardcore of voters who are willing to vote for them, no mater what.

On the other the once might PASOK party was in the throes of a major meltdown, even before the announcement of Papandreou's new party which is likely to drain what is left of its popular support among older voters. Latest polls show PASOK at between 3 and 5% and the Movement of Democratic Socialists at 2-3%, though there is a possibility that neither will break the 3% barrier needed to gain a seat in parliament. The situation is not helped by high level defections from PASOK to other parties. Today, PASOK cabinet minister Angela Gerekou announced she would be standing on a New Democracy ticket in the next elections.

The other major unknown is the amount of success the Potami (River) party will enjoy,set up last year by a former TV presenter with the oligarch owned MEGA TV station, Potami has been built up as a centre - left alternative to SYRIZA for those unhappy with PASOK's record in power. Currently, it is polling 5-7% and seems on track to be the third largest party.

Other parties such as the far light LAOS and the centre left Democratic Left party who once were government coalition partners have paid the price for pushing through deeply unpopular austerity measures and seem unlikely to win even one seat in parliament. Even the Independent Greeks party once seen as a viable centre right alternative to New Democracy is struggling to reach 3%

(It should be noted though that Greece's pollsters have proven notorious political in the results over the last few elections and so any results should be taken with a pinch of salt, and the political affiliations of the news outlets that commission them should be taken into account).

Whatever the final outcome, it seems SYRIZA may need allies, but this is where things get complicated. A first glance the most obvious coalition partner would seem to be KKE but this is extremely unlikely given the deep ideological gulf that divides them. The insistence of KKE's party leadership on maintaining ideological purity in the face of siren calls of power is unlikely to disappear soon.

A partnership with either a rump PASOK or Potami also is not without risks and threatens to split SYRIZA which till very recently was a loose coalition of leftist parties, many of who are far to the left of the Tsipras leadership and would view such allies with the deep suspicion, seeing them as the agents of the establishment seeking to worm their way back into positions of power and responsibility. 

Finally, there is a possibility that no government may be formed and so Greece may have to go to the polls again. Such a move would definitely make the nation's creditors deeply uneasy as it would raise the spectre of default over debt repayments due in 2015.