Greek right and left


Alexis Tsipras was sworn in as Greek Prime Minister by President Karolos Papoulias, reflecting the anti-bailout frame of mind of his compatriots.

Greeks are fed up with the fiscal hawks who pilot the neo-liberal political course in Europe. The Greek electorate’s rejection of Europe’s stringent manner of dealing with the fallout of the financial crisis (2008-2014) led to the triumphal electoral victory of Tsipras. Greece is in no mood to compromise with Europe, a continent that speaks of the urgent need to restore confidence in the Greek economy.

The leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), 40, is the youngest premier in Greek history since 1865, therefore his people need a convincing vision of the country’s future. He is young and full of hope, brimming with optimism. The question uppermost in people’s minds is how a leftist president can lead a country with a market economy in which private initiative is what drives the system.

Curiously, SYRIZA is aligned to the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL). The two parties have nothing in common ideologically, except their mutual animosity to the economic austerity programme enforced by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

Significantly, his first act was to lay a wreath on the National Resistance Memorial in Kaisariani where more than 200 Communists were executed by the Nazis in May 1944.

Four decades after the restoration of democracy, Greece is embarking on a new beginning, and a majority of the 9.8 million Greek voters wanted radical change. The challenge now is to deliver better public services while simultaneously stabilizing Greece’s gross public debt.

A more calibrated approach to running the country is sorely needed. The statistics are scary. Bailout loans are 240 billion euros. A fourth of Greeks are jobless, the highest unemployment rate in the European Union. A third of Greeks do not have health benefits either.

Greek economic policy is the trickiest to interpret in the EU and SYRIZA, an anti-austerity party, at the helm of the country’s economic policy cannot remain opaque. Tsipras, after all, represents those oppressed by austerity measures in the countries of European Union, and especially the southern European nations which are the relatively poor countries of the Mediterranean. Public debt stands at 316 billion euros, or 176 per cent of Greece’s gross domestic product, the highest in the euro-zone.

Tsipras is an atheist, and the first to take a civil rather than a religious oath of office. His partner is electrical and computer engineer Peristera Batziana and the only Greek First Lady to date who is unwed.

The Maximos Mansion, the official residence of Greek prime ministers, will never be the same again. The couple live together with their two sons. Tsipras is something of a novelty in a country traditionally more accustomed to conservatism.

The Greek poll provided a national identity test of sorts and conservatives have been forced on to the defensive. There are, of course, still questions about whether or not Greece will remain in the euro-zone. There are no signals as yet that Tsipras would change his track. On a more optimistic note, Greek bond yields have risen 50 basis points to 9.35 per cent.