international analysis and commentary

The Greek trajectory and Syriza’s fate


New Democracy emerged victorious in the Greek elections on 7 July 2019, with a 39.85% share of the vote – that is 7.5% more than SYRIZA. This is a far cry from the political landscape of July 2015, when the (then) radical left SYRIZA party came to power with high aspirations to change not only Greece, but Europe.

New Democracy had not pledged much: its president, son of a former prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has been careful to warn his voters that his promises of tax reductions are contingent upon on a 4% surplus, which no one can guarantee. What he has done, however, is assure his voters that he will restore law and order. He has told them that one of the first things he will do is eliminate the university asylum law, which complicates the procedures for police interventions on university campuses. He has also promised to crack down on lawlessness in Exarheia, a neighborhood in Athens known as a gathering place for anarchist youth.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis


In short, New Democracy has not relied on restoring “hope” or “prosperity.” Its main focus has been on reestablishing “normalcy” and ridding Greece of the SYRIZA administration, which it describes as the worst since democracy was reinstated in themid-1970s after the junta.

Why was the Greek public so susceptible to this rhetoric? Because Alexis Tsipras has emphatically admitted that the promises of ending austerity were illusions founded upon his own ignorance. That said, it was only a matter of time before his political opponents would return to power, vindicated.

Alexis Tsipras


The outcome did not come as a surprise, since it was clear from May’s European elections that New Democracy would win by a large majority. The fact that SYRIZA held on to its percentage of support was hailed as a minor victory by its prime minister. What remained to be seen was whether the results would be devastating enough to bring a political earthquake to Alexis Tsipras, or whether SYRIZA could spin rhetoric along the lines of “we lost but we have been firmly established as opposite pole in our political system.” It is indeed likely that the new, transformed SYRIZA will be able to play a different role, as the opposite legislative poll and in the form of a mildly social-democratic party.

That is what the situation looks like when paying attention to the way the opposing sides talk to each other. Viewed from a distance, this controversy might be summed up as a devastating defeat of anti-austerity ideas.

There were, however, further points of interest, when it came to the smaller parties. The most refreshing outcome of the elections was that the Golden Dawn party, currently under investigation for charges of running a criminal organization, will not be represented in the Greek parliament.

Despite the concerns voiced in Greece, where there was fear (apparently completely unfounded) that the persecution of Golden Dawn would only serve to turn its members into heroes, other cases in Europe demonstrate that resistance to such right-wing parties, when combined with institutional pressure, does, in fact, lead to their marginalization. Such was the case when, for example, the BNS (Bund Nationaler Studenten) was outlawed in the mid-1960s. Figures (in “Right-Wing Extremism in Europe”, by Ralf Melzer and Sebastian Serafin) show that in Germany, for instance, 70% of party officials and approximately 40% of party members remained active in the ultra-right, which means that “a near-negligible number of neo-Nazi activists withdrew to private life after their organizations were outlawed.”

Golden Dawn failed to reach the 3% threshold that would secure parliamentary representation. This representation has secured them virtually infinite resources, both in terms of finances and media presence, to promote their ideas. It has been confessed by one of the members that the money allocated to Golden Dawn’s parliamentarians for scientific research was spent on their criminal lawyers.

Another interesting development is the election of Mera25, Yanis Varoufakis’ party, to Parliament. Varoufakis became universally renowned in 2015, with his uncompromising stand and unconventional attitude. He has been so brutally and systematically smeared by the Greek media ever since that it came to most as a complete surprise that he would resurface and elect nine members of parliament. This marks a unique example of political strategy in Greece: Varoufakis has collaborated with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit and Naomi Klein on climate change.

Yanis Varoufakis


“The Greek Solution” is the political party of an ultra-right conspiracy theorist, Kyriakos Velopoulos, a man who on his television show claimed to be selling authentic letters by Jesus Christ. He had participated in rallies organized by Golden Dawn and included notorious junta ministers and neo-Nazi theorists in the acknowledgements of his best-selling book, and yet his party was voted into Parliament.

It was not uncommon during the crisis to see political parties disappear in the blink of an eye, such as Enosi Kentroon (Union of Centrists) and To Potami (The River), as well as the Anexartiti Ellines, (Independent Greeks). To Potami and Anexartiti Ellines decided not to participate in the latest elections.

It is no coincidence that there was very little international attention paid to this year’s elections in Greece. The international press thought there was nothing really at stake, given that either of the two major competing parties would have to implement the same pro-austerity agenda. There was no heroic left party, fighting against the Goliath of its creditors, no rising stars lacking conventional business suits and ties. It was a bitter return to business as usual, after the experiment had failed.

In short, the radical experiment of 2015 has now come to an end, with those at its helm now fully reabsorbed into the political landscape without ever being held accountable, and their critics elected to office once more.

Philosopher Panagiotis Kondylis wrote that “Ancient historians tell of how, when Rome defeated Carthage, Scipio Africanus the Younger wept at the sight of his enemies’ end, because he remembered the line from Homer ‘The day will come when holy Troy will be destroyed’ and reflected that Rome, too, might suffer the same fate. Lesser spirits and smaller hearts do precisely the opposite. The moment their own ideological framework leads to decisive victory, they hasten to proclaim the End of History so that nothing will ever be able to overturn that victory.”

Words to remember when watching a new government being sworn in.