Sunday, March 1, 2015

Understanding Syriza and the Situation in Greece »




Exarhia – my neighbourhood – is a small area in Athens’ inner city where people, ideas, and practices outside the system strike root and grow. People will gather here to discuss and protest, to attend events and assemblies at social centres and squats.

In all of Greece, Exarchia is also the one area under the most stringent police occupation. For as long as I can remember, armed officers, many carrying automatic rifles and shields, patrol the streets on foot, on motorcycles, in cars, arresting people, throwing them in lockups, beating them up. They spray tear gas at the drop of a hat.

Before the elections, Syriza promised to withdraw the patrol wagons and the police special forces units stationed in the area. And indeed, Syriza kept their promises: the heavily armed police forces were moved 200m-300m away! Typically they are not in Exarhia anymore. A few days ago, when a police car was set on fire, the special forces once again invaded the neighbourhood, randomly beating up and arresting residents and passers-by. As his predecessors had done so many times in the past, Giannis (Yannis) Panoussis, the new Minister of Public Order, didn’t even place the incident under investigation.

Panousis: “Even the worst racist would break down”

Panoussis recently stated that the immigrant detention centres – which are, in fact, concentration camps where thousands of immigrants are kept locked up for up to 18 months without having committed any crime – will become “hospitality centres,” a euphemism the previous government used as well. Syriza will give a humanitarian touch to the State of Emergency and will dress it with a social-democratic cloak. The concentration camps may still operate, but the NGOs that will be involved will increase in number and will send more blankets and sandwiches by way of charity, along with social workers. Issues like the drowning of refugees from the Near and Middle East in the Aegean Sea and the slave labour conditions for migrant workers are not priorities for the new government. People who share anti-nationalist views have been silenced and Syriza hurries to set up its own “patriotic alliance”.

In any case, there are MPs and party officials in Syriza who have more than instrumental relations with the far right. And we shouldn’t forget that Syriza has formed a government with Independent Greeks, a small party which is deeply xenophobic and homophobic.

Despite the tough competition from Independent Greeks, the place of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is stable – it came third in the elections even without the promotion it enjoyed two years ago by the mainstream media; even though its leadership is imprisoned. But, it would be a mistake to consider racism a Golden Dawn privilege – especially when racism and nationalism have been incorporated for decades in the official policies of the State. In fact, they have been a central political choice of the Greek State for more than a century. Since the end of the dictatorship in 1974, the far right has been more or less assimilated in New Democracy, one of the major parties in Greece that led the government coalition in the last three years, and recently in smaller parties like Independent Greeks. Their populist, anti-immigrant rhetoric and agenda found a breeding ground in a majorly conservative and xenophobic society.

Actually, the whole political spectrum in Greece has moved right to appeal to the nationalist demands of the majority of the electorate. The success of Syriza drew mainly on the disaffection of the working and lower middle class voters to the politics of the pro-Memorandum governments. In the five years since the agreement was signed, the Greek working class have seen their incomes dwindle, and have been forced to accept low-wage and insecure jobs, while unemployment climbed to 27%.

At the same time, economic depression transformed the great majority of the petite bourgeoisie into proletarians. More importantly, it thwarted their desire for social mobility – for them and their children.

Now they long for a return to the traditional form of the Nation State, which will protect them from the economic hardships of the crisis. All in all, they have political and economic interests linked to the newly elected government, as they hope that Syriza will restore their dream of climbing up the social hierarchy. This is rational from the viewpoint of petite bourgeoisie and typically opportunistic. Syriza –the “patriotic” Left– promised to revive the State to the function it served so well in the past: a structural mediation whose purpose is the protection of its citizens from the “bad markets” and the “evil forces” of the global economy.

In a country where the crisis is blamed on the “bad Europeans” and/or the “supranational elites”, where the interference of Germany is used as an excuse to call Greece an “occupied territory”, and where resistance to austerity is understood as a revival of the anti-fascist struggles of the 1940s, the majority see the State as responsible for restoring national sovereignty against foreign lenders and institutions, especially Germany.

Besides that, Syriza has managed to recuperate the anti-austerity struggles and the demands of the squares’ movement (as the anti-austerity movement is known, its public protests often occurring in public squares). Having become the main opposition during a time of increasing political action, they did their best to divert energy from the streets back into parliamentary politics. Actually they waited two and a half years for the government to fall.

The ruling class now hopes that Syriza can restore politics as a legitimate source of consensus, soothe the protests and divert people’s attention from the capitalist crisis and the transnational commercial war. In a time when the Greek capitalism has gone bankrupt, social peace can guarantee the unimpeded continuation of capital accumulation and the survival of Greek capitalism at the expense of the working class.

While the fundamental social relations of class exploitation stay intact, nationalism remains a la mode in Greece. Pro-government demonstrations are held to back up the patriotic discourse and political agenda of Syriza. The crowd demands a more present and more aggressive Greek State. They’re waiting for a leader who will put an end to national dependence and will unite the nation under a common cause. Of course defending the national sovereignty requires sacrifices. Once again in its history, Greek capitalism will use the geopolitical position of the Greek State as a tool for its survival. Contrary to the crowd that gathers outside the parliament, the capitalists know that national independence is achieved by the barrel of a gun both within and outside the country. And this gun is put on the temple of the multinational subversive proletariat.

Jazra Khaleed was born in 1979 in Grozny, Chechnya. He lives in Athens’ inner city and writes poetry in Greek. He edits the literary magazine Teflon. His poems have appeared in World Literature Today, Modern Poetry in Translation, Westerly and Die Horen. His poem “Words” appeared in the anthology With Our Eyes Wide Open: Poems of the New American Century. A boxer as well as poet, he is co-publisher and editor of Topovoros Books, a small publishing house located in Exarchia, Athens.

Understanding Syriza and the Situation in Greece » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names