Some Notes From a Discussion of the “Network for Social and Political Rights in Athens”

To comrades

by Bernd Kasparek, Athens, 28th of January 2015

 just after the election…

Even if you might consider them largely symbolic, it is the small things that matter, and that make the difference. The police, who had for many years been stationed at the main streets leading into the Athenian neighbourhood of Exarchia, has withdrawn today. The fences around the parliament, which were both the symbolical as well as material limits of the movements against austerity and memorandum politics of the last five years, have been taken away today as the press was taking pictures of the new government. That many people who had been fired over the last years have been re-instated is, however, not symbolic anymore, but an important vindication of the resistance that has been put up, despite waning hope that the memorandum politics could be reversed.

One cannot but be impressed by the swiftness, agility and chutzpah with which the new government has been formed, has taken power and has started to take the first decisive decisions. Less than 24 hours after the preliminary election results were out, Tsipras was already sworn in as prime minister on Monday afternoon, and another 24 hours later the list of ministers was published, and soon after, they were sworn in. The speed is amazing, and it sends the important message that this new government is willing to act and to work on fulfilling its promises. It creates a general positive feeling that indeed strong and deep transformations are a-coming. There is no doubt that Syriza has well prepared for and anticipated the formation of government.

This definitely holds for the coalition with the “Independent Greeks” (ANEL), which, as it was indicated, was agreed upon way before the elections. It is the decision which has created the strongest controversy, less in Greece than in the other European countries and their left movements. Even if the choice may seem contradictory, it is difficult to imagine any other constellation for Syriza to form a government. The communist party KKE, as many observers have pointed out, has refused to come out of its isolationism and forfeited the chance to be part of a left government, while the centre-left party To Potami was never a choice. With its pro-memorandum and pro-austerity stance, it would have created dissention and conflict within the government from the onset.

As difficult as a coalition with right wing populists (as they are labelled in the North of Europe) may be to swallow, it has created a government that is unanimous in its radical rejection of the neoliberal politics of austerity that have wrecked havoc in the Greek society. The socio-economic indicators have been well reported and don’t need to be reproduced here. Suffice it to say that the formation of this peculiar government coalition is indicative of the state of Greek society. As it has been pointed out, the origins of ANEL can also be traced to the movement of the squares of 2011, the aganaktismenoi, which at least in the Syntagma square in Athens consisted of a portion of nationalists that joined in the revolt against the memorandum coalition, and that favoured anti-memorandum politics that were strongly inflected by nationalistic and racist viewpoints. They remained well separated (even spatially) from the square, but were nevertheless present. One can only but hope that ANEL will remain an isolated presence in the new government.

And indeed the probability seems given. With the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Tourism, ANEL does not occupy positions that are pivotal for the transformations that are to come. The obvious lack of women in the new government is a much more critical point. But while ANEL occupies two ministries, five ministries are held by independents that are not members of Syriza. The distinctly academic background of many of the government’s members bodes well for the hope that they are not part of the government in order to enrich themselves, but that they accept the intellectual challenge that the membership in this unprecedented government poses.

A point much commented on is the creation of the new department of migration within the Ministry of Home Affairs, headed by Tasia Christodoulopoulou as a vice minister. She has close ties to the Greek anti-racist movement, and as a friend commented, it is already soothing to hear a member of government speak about migration in non-derogatory terms. However, there is more to hope for. In a radio interview on Tuesday, she has already announced her policy goals. Citizenship for migrants born in Greece is a must and of the highest priority, while she is also aiming for the closure of Amygdaleza detention centre, the introduction of humanitarian protection pursuant to the Geneva Convention on Refugees, the acceleration of asylum procedures and improved reception conditions for asylum seekers. She certainly is not intimidated by ANEL’s harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric and seems more than willing to pick this fight.

However, for those with their ears tuned to the politics of migration and borders, the most interesting gambit is that it is rumoured that the presidency of the Greek state might be offered to the conservative politician Dimitris Avramopoulos, who the ND-government nominated for the European Commission and who presently occupies the post of Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. This would allow the new government to nominate a new commissioner, and given there is no re-shuffle of posts, would mean a commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs that would mark a decided break with the securitarian line pursued by Frattini, Malmström and Avramopoulous (and all the others before them).

Of course it is imperative for the new government to have eyes, ears and not least a mouth within the European Commission. Concretely, it might mean that the Commission needs to take a more critical stance, or at least be internally stalled on issues such as Dublin or the borders of Europe. However, this is only one of the examples in how the outcome of the Greek elections of the 25th of January 2015 might affect European politics. Needless to say, but always worth re-iterating, is how the formation of this new government represents a radical rupture with neoliberalism and the politics of austerity in Europe. There is no guarantee that the new government will succeed. But its mere formation has already opened up a vast political space, and the social movements of Europe and beyond are required to seize this historical moment, occupy this space and push, with renewed vigour, for true alternatives to the triste state of affairs — socially, economically and politically — that is still predominant in Europe. The position taken by the new government towards the Euro and the EU, i.e. the obstinate refusal to relinquish its membership, and its intention to use this membership for transformation points towards a left project for Europe that rejects both neoliberalism and re-nationalisation, but that aims at nothing less than reclaiming Europe. However, that task cannot be delegated to any government. It is up to the left and social movements of Europe to realise it.

by Bernd Kasparek, Athens, 28th of January 2015

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