March 25, 2015 Originally Published in LEFT IN GOVERNMENT

by Magdalini Varoucha

The day of the first national celebration under a left government in Greece brings up mixed feelings, especially given SYRIZA’s strident rhetorical opposition to nationalism prior to its recent electoral surge in crisis-struck Greece and its subsequent ascent to power on January 25th this year, exactly two months ago.

On March 25th, the decision of the SYRIZA-ANEL government to celebrate Independence Day with the usual major military parade in Athens combined with various parallel events, including traditional Greek songs and dances in the Greek capital’s downtown Syntagma Square, causes SYRIZA’s supporters on the Left embarrassment and even dismay; the decision comes amid rising concerns that SYRIZA is insufficiently prepared to stand up to the nationalistic rhetoric of its right-wing coalition partner (ANEL-Independent Greeks) by asserting the value of concrete class and economic analysis.

The Left’s concerns about nationalism also arise from the climate of uncompromising attitudes towards the country’s “external enemies”, a climate that seems to be gaining ground[1] as Athens (justly) demands that Berlin should reimburse it for forced Wartime occupation loans and should pay war reparations. The Greek government is right to raise the issue; the justice of its claims has been well documented by prominent historians such as Albrecht Ritscl and Hagen Fleischer (the latter insisting on the distinction between war reparations and the occupation loan, suggesting that Greece should focus on the second claim.) The legal department of the German Parliament also confirmed Greece’s right to claim repayment in a 2013 experts’ report. Yet, while rightly opening the issue, the Greek government is wrong in nationalistically linking this important discussion to the revival of Greek-German conflict.

Greek nationalism as a weapon against German economic hegemony?
Based on the above, one gets the impression that Greek nationalism is being employed as a weapon in response to German nationalism (or economic hegemony). Yet, at the same time and despite both the coalition with Independent Greeks (dictated understandably by the urgent economic agenda) and the very tough process SYRIZA has faced while trying to negotiate an end to austerity at EU level, the party has seemed largely unwilling to drop its progressive, liberal agenda: the government is putting forward a number of legislative bills that aim to defend human rights for marginalised groups –including immigrants, prisoners and same-sex couples– who have been consistently attacked in Greece, especially during the “austerity memoranda era”.

With the criminal Nazi gang Golden Dawn now the third largest party in parliament and its leaders now released from jail with their trial about to begin, SYRIZA is facing major challenges not only abroad but also on the domestic front.

In this context, and while embarking on yet another battle front with Germany regarding the war loan and reparations, one could argue that SYRIZA needs all the support it can get and it is thus understandable that it should seek to mobilise national pride at home. Yet, I believe Greek nationalism can not –or, more accurately, should not– be our response to any other nationalism.

Even on purely pragmatic grounds, playing the “nationalism card” for tactical reasons is not a very wise move for a radical left party. This is a battlefield where genuine nationalists and fascists always prevail. At this stage, SYRIZA can only seek internal and international alliances based on its class analysis on the financial crisis: supporting wealth redistribution in Greece and across the EU while also insisting on highlighting the democratic deficit implicit in the EU’s technocratic handling of political issues. SYRIZA was absolutely right to attempt to internationalize the issues of austerity and debt and to insist on the essentially political nature of European economic policy, both of which it did by appealing for pan-European solidarity from forces of the Left. SYRIZA should insist on the salience of the narrative it has been following since 2010, trying to shift the agenda from the moralistic arguments of Schauble and Der Bild, adopted by many Greek politicians and much of the Greek media, regarding the “necessary” punishment’ of the “lazy Greeks, who have spent other people’s money”, to a European debate on class-based, more clearly political terms.

In shifting to an ethnocentric line, SYRIZA would only facilitate the populist arguments about Greek “specificity” encouraged by Berlin in order to avert political turbulence within Germany and elsewhere in Europe. SYRIZA should not follow its coalition partner Kammenos[2] (and also some of its own members) on the slippery path of a Greek-German confrontation in nationalistic terms that ultimately would only facilitate the arguments of the German political and economic elite by feeding a simplistic binary in which a “good vs bad” opposition maps neatly onto “philhellenes vs enemies”.

SYRIZA: the need to insist on economic, democratic and class analysis

The stakes informing political choices both for Greece and the EU can only be understood in terms of political, economic and class analysis. Those stakes demand specific choices about the redistribution of wealth in Greece and Europe, and they are linked with the specific interests of globalised financial capital as well as with corruption issues, democracy and human rights, media control etc. A leftist party should focus on political and class arguments, should highlight the accountability deficit in the EU and should seek alliances with left wing, democratic forces in Europe even in this hostile political environment.

Advancing the agenda of class politics abroad requires the construction of domestic Greek alliances – and lines of opposition – on class lines. That applies especially in conditions of economic asphyxiation. In other words, we are infinitely closer to the Dutch, French, German and Spanish workers than to our ‘compatriot’ Greek oligarch and his mafia-style economic activity: his tax-free profits, his influence over the state and his control of the media.

Austerity policies can only be effectively challenged, and the privileges of EU and European elites can only be properly exposed, if our politics is based on forging class alliances and rifts within Greece rather than obscuring class interests beneath misleading rhetoric about patriotic unity; that can only serve to undermine and overshadow the real debate on the economy, democracy, wealth redistribution and human rights. In addressing these questions, the analysis of the Left has, in my view, the moral and political advantage.

[1] See in this context: FM Kotzias statements on irredentism of FYROM as the real problem behind the name issue, as well as the official visit of the Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament Zoi Konstantopoulou to the Ministry of National Defence.

[2] Panos Kammenos: Greece’s Minister of National Defence and founder of the right-wing anti-austerity party ANEL (Independent Greeks) which formed the governing coalition with SYRIZA after the January 25, 2015 elections.
Translated by:Original in english
The original text was first published on:Written for AnalyzeGreece!

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