It has been some time since last I tried to brief my English speaking friends of the Greek developments. After all; the international press has kept Greece in headlines for a long period, more than ten months, for well known reasons that have to do with the very bad financial situation that nearly led the country to bankruptcy.
In order to proceed further with an analysis of the current political situation and what is played behind the scenes, it may be advisable to mention, priory, some facts that position Greece and Greek political parties historically in relation to EU and not only.
I apologize if some of the information is well known to some of the readers.
The Greek economic crisis is not the result of just a few years of mismanagement of a number of prevailing political establishments that have been alternating in power for a few decades. It is the result of a more complex historical journey that one needs to be aware of, if some not so superficial conclusions need to be drawn.
The Greek Parliament ratified the Accession Deed of Greece to the European Community on June 28th, 1979 which was the successful conclusion of a very long effort and negotiations that started as far back as June 1961, a date that marked the beginning of the association that was unfortunately “frozen” for seven years due to the establishment of a military dictatorship on 21st of April 1967.
Major reasons for which Greece chose full accession to the Community include:
1. The institutional framework of EU which appeared to be attractive because stability could be brought into its democratic political system and institutions.
2. To enforce the country’s independence and position within the regional and international system as well as its «power to negotiate», particularly in relation to Turkey, which, after the invasion and occupation of Cyprus (July 1974), appeared as a major threat to Greece.
3. Within this context, Greece also preferred to loosen its strong post-war dependence upon US, especially because US was blamed to interfere or even encourage the military dictatorship.
4. Accession into the Community was regarded by Greece as a powerful factor that would contribute to the development and modernization of the Greek economy and Greek society.
Many economists expressed reservation if Greece could apply reforms in line with the federal model of EU, yet Greece took a step further participating as a full member in the single currency (euro) and the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) since January 1, 2002.
Some of the issues which are not very openly discussed regarding the participation of Greece to EU are the side effects of Greek membership in NATO which had and still has some role to play in the international geopolitical balance of power.
Nobody doubts that Greece has received significant funds from EU to reform and realign the country’s infrastructure with the rest of the EU nations, but very few spent the effort to relate and compare these amounts with defense expenditure and commitments that Greece has as a member of this defense alliance. This, among many other issues, adds some complexity to the equation, especially if one considers who the suppliers of defense equipment are in this environment of conflicting interests.
One additional piece of background information, for the reader who is new comer in the Greek political scene, is to mention that Greece has been the only European country, member of the allied nations against Germany that suffered a long and dreadful civil war, as a consequence, just after the Second World War.
This needs to be emphasized and clarified, as it makes significant difference to what Western Europe understands from their experience derived from European leftish parties and organizations. These western experiences cannot relate to the Greek environment where the resistance against the occupying forces of Nazi Germany from 1941 was almost totally organized by a “liberation” army (EAM) mainly controlled by the communist party which after the end of Second World War giving birth to the civil war that ended after 1949.
This has left Greece with significant wounds that have not been totally healed, not underestimating as well, the delay in its realignment with the rest of the Western European nations, as far as its post war development. The delay, in spite marshal aid provided, has affected the development for nearly ten years. This put Greece at a disadvantage against the rest of the western European nations although was among the winners of the Second World War after sacrifices for which Greeks are very proud.
Other issues that play a significant role in the background are the invasion of Turkey in Cyprus resulting to the occupation of 40% of the country that obliged Greece to temporarily leave the NATO alliance. This was done as a demonstration against the neutrality exercised in a conflict between two so called NATO allies. Further conflicts also developed with Turkey over the Aegean Sea, not to mention the conflict with FYROM over the name “Macedonia”. All these issues had a strong influence on the Greek public and governments in their decision process, in addition to the financial crisis.
So what is the situation today regarding the position of the public and the political parties?
Austerity measures, as applied since 2010 have led the Greek public to total disillusionment against the governing political parties that were considered accountable for the crisis due to corruption, incompetence and populism but what was more distractive, some of the public lost confidence in the strategies EU was forcing Greece to implement influencing the development of the Greek economy.
So it happened what was expected to happen, SYRIZA a leftish party with Marxist roots, that merely managed to reach an electoral percentage of 4% a few years ago, succeeded to gain control and form a government in collaboration with a small “anti austerity” right wing party.
This coalition government democratically elected, started, from January 2015, new negotiations with “troika” for a support program for Greece to avoid bankruptcy.
By July 2015, a third very strict memorandum was signed by the president of SYRIZA abandoning, under extreme pressures from EU and IMF, its fundamental pre-election promises and plans as well as most of its Marxist principles. This had two totally adverse reactions; on one hand part of SYRIZA supported the action of Alexis Tsipras the president, considering that with his decision saved the country from total distraction, on the other hand the left platform of SYRIZA with anti austerity and antiEuropean European views, supported the idea of defaulting with the country’s obligations introducing local currency replacing euro.
So, what is happening now, in view of the new elections that have been announced for the 20th of September 2015;
The split of the Greek electorate body has been basically unchanged for many years, in spite changes in names and personalities. One has to know the history to decipher this fact.
The Communists have always been split among the traditional communist party and other leftish elements that merely exceed 12%. (This covers the present communist party with 5%, the left platform of SYRIZA currently forming a new party under the name Popular Union (LAE) (5%) plus various leftish elements (2%).
There is a considerable section of the public maintaining pure socialist principles that can merge with traditional centre, This covers the remaining SYRIZA party which is based to members of the parliament who were part of the old PASOK party which together with the actual remaining social Democrats PASOK and Democratic left consist 32% of the electorate.
The Liberal center and the traditional right wing party can consist about 30%, while the extreme right is limited to 5%.
Hence the real challenge for either of the two major parties is to gain as much as possible from the central democratic part of the electorate or the undecided vote that generally belongs to center democrats any way.
The real problem for SYRIZA is the animosity that exists between old members of PASOK who consist mostly SYRIZA and the current PASOK. Some say that Greece is destined to always be governed by PASOK.
This is exactly why the result of the current election is totally unpredictable. Most certainly, there will be a coalition government which will have a pro European orientation.
Apart from predicting the results of the elections, the real question is what will happen to the Greek economy if Troika insists on a strict implementation of this 3rd memorandum that imposes the worst ever austerity program to an already exhausted economy, especially after six months of financially unstable period that ended up with SYRIZA imposing capital controls that effected, most of all, the private sector.
I personally believe that troika and the general European political establishment have never accepted a Marxist government to negotiate for Greece and this is something that Alexis Tsipras very vividly understood and appreciated even the last minute, so gracefully retreated and came to terms with realism.
This, of course, does not mean that Europe imposed an achievable development plan for Greece.
No development has ever been achieved in the private sector by enforcing taxation that all together can exceed 50% on profits.
So the real challenge, now, is how and who can turn an unachievable plan to a realistic way out that can lead to success for all concerned.