Mike-Frank Epitropoulos on SYRIZA Victory

See also Mike-Frank Epitropoulos’s pre-election piece, A Second Demonstration Project for Greece. Patti Smith’s song People Have the Power has been adopted as SYRIZA’s anthem.  SYRIZA’s twitter feed posted another YouTube version of the song (as reported by the New York Times), but that version can’t be viewed in the United States.

Anti-Austerity SYRIZA Wins Big—Now the Clash with the Crisis

The left, anti-austerity SYRIZA party scored a decisive victory in the Greek elections on Sunday, with margins exceeding those of most polls.  This is the first time that a left party has won Greece’s national elections, and Europe’s and the world’s attention is focused on how SYRIZA will combat the economic and humanitarian crises that the country faces in the wake of Troika-imposed austerity programs.

SYRIZA is projected to have won 149 of the 150 seats needed to secure a parliamentary majority (with 36-37% of the vote).  Party officials have indicated a willingness to work with any democratic, left, or anti-austerity forces, and have joined with the center-right anti-austerity party the Independent Greeks (ANEL) to form a government, since SYRIZA did not secure an outright majority.

The out-going New Democracy (ND)-led coalition government of Antonis Samaras garnered 27-28%, while their partners in PASOK brought up the rear in seventh place with about 4.5%.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party left its mark as well, finishing third overall with just over 6%.

There is much discussion about how SYRIZA’s margin of victory exceeded expectations, including the notions of “hope” and “desperation” of large percentages of Greeks, especially the youth.  A subplot might well be that the unprecedented outside pressure and interference from some world leaders and financial sector institutions led to a backlash by the Greek citizens.

SYRIZA’s results represent a clear mandate, and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, made clear that the hard work for Greece starts tomorrow.  He made sure to put Greece’s elite and oligarchs on notice about changes that are likely to follow, including crackdowns on tax-evaders, increases in taxes on the higher strata, and a more active social state.

Tsipras also emphasized what any spectator of the celebrations of SYRIZA could see—a conspicuous presence of other left, anti-austerity parties from across Europe, including Spain’s, Podemos, and groups from Italy, Portugal, and other countries.  This is precisely the symbolic threat that the SYRIZA victory represents: the beginnings of networks of other anti-austerity, left groups connecting on an EU-level to fight the neo-liberal forces in the EU and the Troika.

Immediate reactions to SYRIZA’s victory, ranged from euphoric optimism and relief to cynicism and vicious attacks from other parliamentary parties.  Government hardliners of ND and PASOK warned that SYRIZA’s project would fail quickly because—they claim—“there is no alternative” to market discipline imposed by the financial sector.

But it’s clear that the Greek people did choose an alternative: democracy over the dictates of the markets. 

The Troika’s prescription of austerity and privatization was tragic for Greece, and the debt is insurmountable as it stands.  Now comes the hard work for SYRIZA and Greece.  It will require them to stick to their guns, to not succumb to mainstream pressure, and to keep the needs of the people at the fore.

Mike-Frank Epitropoulos teaches sociology and is the director of the Pitt in Greece and Pitt in Cyprus programs at the University of Pittsburgh.  He spent three years teaching in both private and public-sector higher education in Greece before returning to the United States in 2007.