by Aris Anagnos
For the third time within nine months the people of Greece were called to the polls on September 20. In January, for the first time, the people of Greece were able to vote a progressive leftwing government into power, SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left. Previous attempts at the end of WWII were drowned in blood, first by the British offensive against the Greek Resistance movement in 1944, which was then succeeded by the Truman Doctrine of Intervention and precipitated a very costly civil war.
SYRIZA had an ambitious program: to reverse the terrible consequences of the austerity measures imposed by the foreign creditors of a huge debt of hundreds of billions of euros. The debt was accumulated by right wing, center-right and center-left governments during the last 40 years since the Greek people were able to overthrow the CIA-imposed dictatorship of the Colonels in 1974. The austerity had created more than 25% unemployment, over a 25% reduction of GDP and untold misery and suffering, plunging large segments of the population into abject poverty. Whatever national product was produced was used to service the debt. The so-called “bailout” of the Greek economy was really a bailout of the lender.
The SYRIZA government tried to relieve the misery, giving free electricity to the poorest and trying to salvage the crumbling National Health System among other measures. It needed the cooperation of the lenders, the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These institutions, controlled by conservative forces and by German Chancellor Angela Merkle, were not about to give a breather to a leftwing Green government by reducing or even restructuring the Greek debt. This was followed by six months of intense, tense negotiations with bluffing by both sides. In July, Prime Minister Tsipras called a plebiscite against austerity resulting in a majority of 63% in support of his efforts. Undaunted, the lenders tightened the rope: the ECB stopped liquidity of the common currency, the euro, to the banks and the Greek banks were forced to close for three weeks, creating total chaos in the country. No modern country can function with the banks closed for three weeks.
Faced with this situation, Tsipras used guerilla tactics: he retreated in the face of overwhelming force and signed an agreement with the lenders accepting some obnoxious austerity measures, preparing to fight another day when he would be in a better position to do so. The agreement was approved by 225 votes in the 300 seat Parliament, including the votes of the right wing and center right parties. At Tsiprasí insistence, the agreement provided for a future injection of 80 billion euros in investment to revivie the moribund Green economy. It protected 50 billion worth of pubic assets from forced privatization under the control of the lenders. The lender had insisted on moving control of these railroads, airports and other public assets to an escrow account in Luxembourg, where they could liquidate them. Tsipras was ready to walk out and the lenders backed down.
In the meantime, Tsipras lost 30 deputies of his own party who disagreed, broke away and formed their own party, the Popular Union. This forced Tsipras to proclaim new elections because with the assortment of parties and now working majority, the country was ungovernable. On September 20, 2015, the people of Greece reelected Tsipras and gave him 145 seats in the Parliament. Since this was short of the 151 deputies he needed for a working majority, SYRIZA will continue its coalition with a small right wing party, the independent Greeks, who were his allies in the previous government. Together they have 155 seats in the 300 member Parliament. They are ready to continue the fight.