Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Samaras ratchets up tension in clash with SYRIZA over violence


Photo by Myrto Papadopoulos [] Photo by Myrto Papadopoulos []

Tension has seeped through Greek politics in the wake of the Golden Dawn arrests but Prime Minister Antonis Samaras appears to have decided to play on this polarisation. On Friday, he launched a new attack on unidentified opposition parties, which he accused of not providing a blanket condemnation of violence.

There is no “good or bad violence,” Samaras told New Democracy’s political committee. Although he did not name SYRIZA specifically, it was clear that Samaras was trying to single out the leftist party. In recent weeks, his aides have followed a similar, if more outspoken, line with references to the “two extremes”.

It has been a concerted New Democracy tactic for some time to portray SYRIZA as a party containing radical elements that favour violent protest and which leader Alexis Tsipras is not able to control. SYRIZA has found it difficult to shake off the accusations and is often drawn into slanging matches with the conservatives.

On Friday, Samaras drew parallels between the violence committed by Golden Dawn and the firebombing of Marfin Bank in Athens in 2010, which left three people dead, and an arson attack this February on the premises of Hellenic Gold in Skouries, Halkidiki. He accused opponents of justifying the use of violence when it was part of “popular struggles”. The implication is that SYRIZA, if not directly connected, was tolerant of these kinds of expressions of violence.

While SYRIZA has been active in street protests and backed demonstrations against the Skouries gold mine, no evidence that it was involved in or encouraged violence has been produced so far. Twenty people have been questioned in connection to the attack on Hellenic Gold and reports on Friday suggested that another 54 are due to be charged in connection with a number of protests in Skouries.

This week, SYRIZA’s newspaper, Avgi, ran an unsigned article that claimed the party’s opponents were preparing to frame the leftists in a bid to damage them politically. This came just a few days after SYRIZA MPs started asking questions in public about whether they were being monitored by the National Intelligence Service (EYP). It was earlier revealed that the agency had been eavesdropping on Golden Dawn MPs. The leftists have also opposed draft legislation that would block state funding to any parliamentary party whose leadership is accused of criminal activity. SYRIZA has asked for the bill to be amended so that funding only ceases if the party leader or MPs are convicted of a crime. The leftists seem to fear the originally proposed legislation could be intentionally used to harm them.

Given this climate and the fact he pleaded for calm in the wake of a Golden Dawn member murdering rapper Pavlos Fyssas last month, Samaras’s decision to turn up the heat under this political pot boiler can only be seen as a calculated move to strengthen his appeal with right wing voters and damage SYRIZA’s chances of appeal to moderate voters. It is not a tactic that has universal approval within New Democracy. MPs that remain loyal to former prime minister and party leader Costas Karamanlis have expressed their concern. Karamanlis sought to appeal to the centre ground when he led the party.

SYRIZA’s response to Samaras’s latest attack was to label him the “high priest of political division.” A new round in the two parties’ war of words is inevitable. Whether it is a result of genuine differences or calculated politicking, the fraught atmosphere in Greek politics shows no signs of abating.

Samaras ratchets up tension in clash with SYRIZA over violence | Macropolis