Dr Alexander Kazamias, director of politics at Coventry University and Course of Freedom parliamentary candidate for the Hellenic Parliament, has discussed the impact of Syriza's legacy on the Greek state, as well as the effects of Greek austerity imposed on Athens by the European Commission.
Sputnik: Can you describe Syriza's legacy and contributions to Greece? What have they achieved (or failed to achieve) over the course of their four-year term in power?
Syriza’s four-year government has left a very sad legacy for Greece, Europe and the international progressive movement.
As a trained historian, I see Alexis Tsipras forever remembered as the prime minister who surrendered his principles to cling to power for four years as Mrs Merkel’s functionary. Future generations will see him as a politician whose people elected him to challenge the neoliberal doctrine of "There Is No Alternative" (TINA) and who became the Troika’s model of submissiveness and repentance, displayed as the alleged proof of TINA.
Tragically, Tsipras let the EU exhibit him in his neoliberal cage as a spectacle of the humiliated and repentant rebel to warn all other leaders from small European states of the fate awaiting them if they dare challenge German hegemony in the EU.
What Syriza achieved in Greece is equally distressing. It destroyed every sense of mass progressive politics in that country for many years to come. Its parliamentary group hosts deputies from almost every party: the left, the centre-left, the centre-right, even the populist hard-right Independent Greeks.
Meanwhile, Syriza still clings to the ludicrous claim that it is a “Coalition of the Radical Left”, which is its official name. Many progressive Greeks fell into the trap of voting for it in the last elections because they are caught up in the logic of a two-party system, which makes them support Tsipras as a supposedly softer version of neoliberalism than the traditional right-wing New Democracy (ND).
But now, after ND returned to power in July, the only opposition Syriza can articulate is to complain that the new right-wing government is copying its policies or is claiming credit for things it was about to do - which is often true. But the elephant in the room, the big victim of Tsipras’s legacy, is the death of any true progressive alternative.
Sputnik: Greece has allegedly "celebrated" its one-year anniversary this year since exiting the European Troika's bailout packages in late August 2018. Can you give us a picture of the Greek economy to date? Is it recovering from austerity or can we expect more of the same?
I am not sure who attended such strange “celebrations”, but, to tell the truth, I haven’t noticed any crowds. Back in August 2018, Syriza’s propaganda claimed that Greece supposedly “exited” the bailout packages in August 2018, but all opposition parties, from right to left, rightly accused Tsipras of secretly accepting a fourth bailout.
For many years, the Greek budget was in surplus, but in 2018 to 2019, that is after supposedly “exiting” the bailouts, Greece’s national debt rose sharply to a record 190 percent of GDP. Now, why borrow when you have surpluses?
The aim was to create what the EU calls a "buffer", a fund of €37 billion, with loans Greece received in 2018-19. In return, the Eurogroup is imposing huge budget surplus targets of 3.5 percent until 2022 and 2 percent until 2060 – the length of Tsipras’s fourth bailout.
Greece remains a bankrupt economy, as it was in 2009-2010, meaning that without this fourth hidden bailout and its €37 billion “buffer”, the country could not borrow in the money markets as no creditor would lend to a bankrupt economy.
The "buffer", however, is Greece’s collateral, what enables it to borrow again and behave as a "normal country". If Greece cannot repay a bond from its regular budget, it could use that buffer. Since ND was elected, it stopped talking about Tsipras’ fourth bailout to avoid embarrassing the EU, as EU memberstates approved the new bailout to Greece without approval from their national parliaments.
Today, after losing 25 percent of GDP from 2008 to 2016, Greece had an anemic recovery of 1.5 to 2 percent in 2017-19. Unemployment is down from 27 to 17 percent in 2019, mainly because of the mass migration of jobseekers and false jobs created by EU investment funds. No serious economist can call this a proper recovery. What Greece has been experiencing since 2014 is economic stagnation, caused by the Troika’s harsh austerity and its massive 3.5 percent and 2 percent budget surplus targets. ND also announced tax cuts to stimulate the economy and predicted 2.8 percent growth by 2020. Similar predictions, however, were made by the EU Commission for 2017, but the result was a meagre 1.5 percent.
Therefore, we should expect more of the same. The root cause of the Greek crisis is the national debt, and despite Tsipras’ celebrations about a supposed "exit" from "the crisis", Greece’s national debt rose sharply in 2018-19 and will continue to do so. This is what Syriza’s record must be judged by mostly. To help you understand why, average interest on Greece’s debt is 1.6 percent. With a debt at 190 percent of GDP, i.e. nearly twice the size of the Greek economy, each year the country must grow by 3 percent only to be able to keep up with the annual growth of the debt. We are still very far from that point. Under Syriza, Greece grew by 4.5 percent in 4 years, but its national debt increased by 9 percent. It’s a sharp regression.
Sputnik: Why exactly did Syriza suffer such heavy defeats in the 2019 elections? What were the reasons for voting against Syriza and what does New Democracy's rise mean for the Greek state?
Syriza lost for many reasons, but two stand out: The implementation of the harsh austerity programme, and Tsipras’s low credibility after successively misleading the Greek people. Syriza’s ministers speak only about the first factor, which alienated pensioners and much of the middle class. This is true, but insufficient.
To implement the Troika’s toxic programme, Syriza had to constantly trick the Greek people with the most manipulative propaganda Greece has known since the fall of the dictatorship in 1974.
Its predecessors, who implemented the previous two bailouts in 2010-15, also sweetened the pill, but much less so because at many levels, they ideologically agreed with the policy. Syriza’s electoral base, however, never did. As a result, Tsipras had to constantly promise things, such as a “parallel programme”, debt relief, fairer taxation, among others, which he knew he could not deliver.
At the same time, his low domestic credibility made his government completely dependent on Berlin and Washington, whose support was the main reason his government did not fall before 2019, but this alienated voters, especially when they saw him implement US President Donald Trump’s policy of expanding NATO in the Balkans under the Prespa Treaty.
Syriza lost the July national elections by 9 points, but did slightly worse in the May Euro-elections. Tsipras’s defeat would have been much bigger were it not for the abstention of disaffected Syriza voters and the logic of “negative voting” in Greece’s re-emerging two-party system.
Because ND’s victory was certain, many progressives disapproving of Tsipras voted for him tactically to deny ND a clear parliamentary majority. But the real standing of Syriza among the Greek people is much lower than its share of the vote suggests. Exit polls show that 42 percent of its voters in July 2019 did not feel “close to the party”.
Sputnik: You stood as a parliamentary candidate (PPC) for the Course For Freedom Party. Can you tell us more about your party platform and how you plan to change politics for the Greek state, as well as for Europe?
Dr Alexander Kazamias: Course to Freedom is a progressive and radical party, led by the former President of the Greek Parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, during Syriza’s first government. Its founding group left Tsipras’s party when he capitulated to the Troika in July 2015. Course to Freedom is therefore defined by its opposition to the continuing austerity packages of the Troika and calls for a write-off of Greece’s national debt, a position not shared by any Greek party.
For us, the Greek crisis is by no means over, as Syriza and ND declare, but we also differ from the other splinter group from Syriza, Yanis Varoufakis’s MeRA25, in that we do not see the crisis in narrow economic terms.
Unlike Varoufakis, Course to Freedom views Greece’s subservience to the triangle Washington-Berlin-Tel Aviv as yet another manifestation of the country’s crisis, namely the loss of political independence that follows on from economic bankruptcy. For this reason, we opposed the Prespa Agreement 2018, backed by ND, Syriza and MeRA25, as it furthers NATO’s expansion in the Balkans and undermines peace in the region.
Our opponents try to portray this position as "nationalist", but this merely deflects attention from the embarrassing fact that they are completely aligned to Donald Trump’s ambitions in the Balkans. Even a child knows that NATO’s expansion runs counter to any internationalist vision of peace and unity in the Balkans.
I stood as a candidate in the 2019 elections to contribute to the revival of real progressive politics in Greece. The yawning gap which Syriza’s turn to the right has opened, and the trauma which the crushing of Greece in 2015 left among progressives in Europe, is something we must heal.
All my life I have been an academic and a political analyst, but one cannot go on analysing as though everything still is "business as usual". For me, this point came with the Arab Spring and the rise of the neo-Nazis, Golden Dawn, in Greece in 2012, as well as the intensifying crisis after Syriza’s historic defeat in 2015.
I was never after a political career and, as a full-time academic, I am still sceptical about how much good politics can do for people’s lives. But I cannot accept the sight of deformation and disintegration which has befallen progressive politics in Europe and the Mediterranean region.