Greece: Austerity and Repression Worsen, Syriza Fails to Fight Back

by Joce Cognord

The Greek government’s debt has surpassed 190% of GDP, and GDP has “grown” at a negative -6.5%. In 2012, simply in order to service the interest generated by its debt, the government expected to secure €100 billion from privatisations and an anticipated budget surplus. None of these sources of income was even remotely successful, while the expected €900 million deal with the Russian gas company Gazprom was a total flop, renewing discussions about a further haircut.

At the same time, with non-serviced housing loans (on which nothing is being paid) reaching a dangerous 30%––dangerous for the bankrupt banks, of course––the government is considering the repeal of an emergency law that forbids the expropriation of people’s houses in the event of  non-payment of loans. Alongside the 40% wage cuts, unemployment approaching 30% (62% for people under 25), increased taxes and living costs, and a steady deterioration of the health and education system, it is clear that the dream of equal participation in the wealth generated by the European family has turned into a proper nightmare.

Taking advantage of the retreat of the opposition movement and its transformation into a passive spectator in the electoral battle, the social forces responsible for continuing austerity have been very busy. And though the opposition movement failed to stop on-going devaluation, the government learned an important historical truth: the only chance of surviving politically and proceeding with austerity measures goes hand-in-hand with strengthening the repressive side of the state mechanism. Those who fail to accept this are obviously “relics of a failed past,” as Prime Minister Samaras said recently.

State Repression of Immigrants and Anarchists

There are those, of course, who fail to comprehend the necessities of contemporary sacrifices. For example, on a fine summer day in August, immigrants in the “hospitality centre” of Amygdaleza got news that their imprisonment would be extended from 12 to 18 months. In response, they refused to return to the containers in which they “live” and attacked the cops who brought the wonderful news. The uprising was swiftly suppressed; eyewitness reports spoke of live shots being fired by the cops. A deafening silence in the news media followed in the days after, and when some anarchists appeared in court to show solidarity with the immigrants on trial, the police made it clear that their presence would not be tolerated, threatening them with arrest–which is always preceeded by beating people up.

Of course, there is not much point in describing a place as being like hell, when no one considers it heaven. In Greece (like elsewhere) the treatment of immigrants is a tragedy that few want to know about. But what about another police operation called “Thetis” (justice) in April 2013, which rounded up drug addicts from the streets of Athens and took them to the same “hospitality centres”? A few days later, the same operation targeted homeless people. None of these two groups where kept in detention (apparently the cost would be too high for the poor bankrupt state), but were instead released––in the middle of the night and approximately 15 klm away from where they were picked up.

As the government is keen to remind its subjects, immigrants, the homeless and junkies are not the only internal enemy that threatens the road to stability. In the last few months, the police have raided more than 9 anarchist squats in Athens, Patras, Ioannina and other towns. C. Sakkas, an anarchist accused of being part of a (so far unnamed) terrorist organisation, was held in prison without trial for 2 1/2 years, while “athens indymedia” and a pirate radio station (98 fm) were also shut down after police operations. Similarly, and using state of emergency powers, 3 strikes (teachers, metro, and shipyard workers) have been declared illegal since January, while in June state television station ERT (broadcasting since the 1960’s) was shut down, sacking 2,500 workers, because the government felt that its coverage of the news was too “anti-government.”

The government has also been keen on reducing health costs, shutting down hospitals across Greece and hinting at the impending sacking of personnel. The success of their strategy was demonstrated a few days ago, when the Centre for Blood Transfusions sent out a memo to hospitals urging doctors and personnel to inform patients that the required medical checks of blood transfusions are no longer possible due to budget cuts. Patients who need blood transfusions must proceed “at their own risk,” said the document.

Syriza Avoids Chances to Bring Down Government

This bleak exposé of the situation is, in many people’s heads, counteracted by the unexpected rise of Syriza from a miniscule 4.6% of the vote in the 2009 elections to an unprecedented 26.9% in June 2012. Self-proclaimed party of the radical left, rigorously supported by international figures like Slavoj Zizek and Oliver Stone, Syriza has not only risen from anonymity, but actually came really close to winning the elections of June 2012.

Since then, however, Syriza has passed on every single opportunity to bring down the government by exploiting the breakouts of serious crises. For example, a proposed strike by teachers during the national exams in May could have easily evolved into a full-on political crisis, given that the government declared that it would rather resign than see this strike go ahead–and for this reason, declared the strike illegal even before it was announced. Ignoring the overwhelming participation in the local teachers unions (official numbers speak of more than 90%), which openly defied the forced mobilisation and voted in support of the strike, Syriza and other left-wing union hacks decided to call it off. Their excuse? Conditions were not ripe.

Similarly, Syriza refused to take advantage of the occupation of television station ERT by its workers, a situation that had the surreal effect of transforming the channel of state propaganda par excellence into a type of anti-austerity “indymedia” centre of national broadcasting range. Syriza’s leader, Tsipras, was invited to speak on the illegally broadcasting frequency (viewed, for the first time in ERT’s history, by more than 4,000,000 people) and to explain Syriza’s program: with a cool attitude, Tsipras refused to reveal his party’s tactics to the public. Combining these events with recent polls indicating that Syriza has increased its percentage of support, many are left wondering whether Syriza actually wants to become the government.

Filling-in the gap created by the near-disappearance of Pasok (a party in control of the state mechanism for more than 30 years), Syriza feels the need to please an unholy alliance: disgruntled ex-voters of Pasok and KKE (the Stalinist party), petty-bourgeois shop owners destroyed by the crisis, and all those who are not exactly happy with the extreme right-wing gang that makes up today’s state mechanism. But harsh economic realities inform Syriza’s policy-makers that pleasing the voters is not realistic. After the Cyprus disaster, Syriza’s strategy of a tough re-negotiation with the Troika has given way to a pro-European outlook. When asked how they propose to secure the dwindling budget, G. Stathakis, head of Syriza’s economic policy for development, was very clear: first, by freezing wages and state expenses at today’s levels; secondly, by recapitalising Greek banks; and thirdly, by attracting foreign investments.

Today, Syriza appears willing to make even more concessions. In a recent interview, Stathakis had to admit that the difference between Syriza and the current government has more to do with New Democracy’s obsession with “law and order” than with economic policy, and he used Obama’s government as a model to be followed. Clearly, if Syriza is the hope for an end to misery, the bad days will not end very soon.

This article was originally published in German in “Jungle World”; reprinted with permission.

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