Greek activists welcome much needed breathing space

  • April 4, 2015

Capitalism & Crisis

Many Greeks have low expectations of SYRIZA, but with the coalition in power a space has opened up that allows for the creation of an alternative economy.

The following text is a short introduction to the brochure ‘What’s next for Greece?’ (click here to download the PDF), which has been published at the initiative of AK Malaboca, a group of German activists from Frankfurt and Bremen. In February, they visited several activists and initiatives across Greece in order size up the situation of the changing conditions and debates among activists after the victory of the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition.


“We have some breathing space again,” says Makis, a teacher and street art activist from Athens. For more than twenty years he has been part of different anarchist groups and initiatives, so you really wouldn’t think of him as someone naively celebrating the new Greek government. But as many others we meet in Athens, just three weeks after the electoral success of the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition, he is using this metaphor to describe his feelings about the recent change of government.

After the re-election of the right-wing Samaras government in the beginning of 2012 the blunt repression of social movements reached a level even experienced activists hadn’t seen before. Unrestrained police brutality on the streets, racist hunts, political murders by fascists, numerous lawsuits and evictions of squatted houses. Among the new government’s first acts in office were the dismantlement of the police barriers in front of the parliament and the withdrawal of the riot police from Exarchia, where it previously had been posted 24/7 to cordon off the subversive neighborhood in the center of Athens.

These are first steps. Further reforms of the police apparatus are announced, but the relief is palpable. “For the first time in years I can move around freely in my own city without being frightened,” says Fereniki, who is part of the struggle against the privatization of the former international airport of Athens in Hellinikon.

Most people we spoke to considered the coalition between SYRIZA and ANEL not such a big issue. Concerning their economic agenda there was simply no other fit. Also, the Independent Greeks are an inexperienced and therefore unprofessional party, which in the end just adds the necessary two votes to get the 151 seats needed for a majority. “If there are controversial bills, the parliamentarians will decide according to their conviction not their faction. This way, SYRIZA is able to find its majority with votes from outside the coalition parties,” states Achim, who is a member of the anti-racist network Diktyo. For him, ANEL poses no great threat to SYRIZA’s agenda on refugees.

Meanwhile many leftist were preoccupied discussing the meaning and consequences of this devilish deal between Left and Right. This focus of discussion was astonishing for most Greek activists. This harsh criticism might just reflect the disappointment of those, who openly or secretly expected SYRIZA to be the revolutionary messiahs.

SYRIZA never claimed to be revolutionary…

But SYRIZA is not a revolutionary party — at best they can be labelled progressive social-democratic. Those who are now accusing the Greek population or even more so the Greek left to be reformist, are ignoring the consequences of the disastrous economic situation at hand. “To denounce SYRIZA as social-democratic was a luxury we couldn’t afford at that time,” Makis notes referring to aforementioned criticism.

Clearly, this development signals a risk for the initiatives which were set up in times of crisis of the (social)state. But in the past few years it were mostly material conditions that were keeping people from partaking in those groups. “When you have lost your job, when you have no insurance, when you or your family are indebted, than it is very hard to support a self-organized project even if you want to.”

Especially concerning refugee policies, most of the activists hope for tangible improvements. Shutting down the detention camps — in which an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 refugees and migrants are held under inhumane conditions — developed from a demand by anti-racist movements into a promise by the government. Most of the cells, where hundreds of refugees have been held for months without even one day of parole, are emptied out already. A bill, which would give citizenship to all children born in Greece, is on the table. Those may be small steps but they are essential for survival.

…and will fail sooner or later

Many activists assume that apart from the changes for refugees and the easing of the excessive repression the prospect of success for the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition is minor. The Troika’s influence on Greek economic policies is enormous and the options at hand limited: a continuation of austerity measurements as required by the EU would be disastrous – an exit from the eurozone probably would have even more devastating social and economic effects.

There is almost a consensus among activists that the collision course of the new government will fail on the long run. The question most discussed these days is more about the kind of failure. As long as SYRIZA is able to confront the Troika — even at tremendous costs — they would maintain their credibility and secure support of their voters. An apparent slippage in the government’s position on the other hand, would have fatal consequences. It would damage the reputation of the Left in Greece heavily and the Right, maybe even the fascist Golden Dawn party, would see its popularity surge.

Therefore: using the opportunity – creating alternative institutions

The atmosphere nowadays is sceptical, but not hopeless. Ultimately, nobody wishes to see SYRIZA fail, while at the same time nobody is believing in fundamental change either. A way out of this dilemma is focusing on the space opened by the new government to reorganize and extend the sphere of influence of the social movements.

Besides some impressive initiatives which combat the direct effects of austerity policies like foodbanks and solidarity clinics, there is another remarkable development. People are talking about the creation and extension of alternative economic networks – and they already started working on it. In the last years, many cooperatives were born, producer-consumer networks and producer markets were established. Some were established out of pure necessity, but there is also a realization of the fact that there won’t be any fundamental change without alternative economic institutions.

Danea, member of the anti-authoritarian group Alpha Kappa, argues that now that the movements have more “breathing space” a new range of possibilities is presenting itself. “So now it’s the time for us to go beyond this traditional forms of practices, like showing solidarity or any other symbolic action. Now, we can concentrate on building economic relations from the bottom up to offer an alternative to the capitalist market. People are fed up with big words, of how the production or the society will look like in the far future, which is not available to them. They need results here and now and it’s up to us to show them that these ways exist and work for them – here and now.”

What's_next_Greece

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AK Malaboca

AK Malaboca is a young media collective with activists from various cities in Germany. Born this year they focus on developments and strategies of current social movements. They can be reached via d.malaboca@riseup.net.

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Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/syriza-greece-left-movements/

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