Theodore Andreadis Synghellakis is a Greek journalist born in Rome in 1973 of parents who fled the fierce military dictatorship of the colonels. Correspondent for over twenty years for Greek TV station Alpha, the press agency Athens and Macedonian News Agency and the newspaper Efimerìda ton Syntaktòn, meaning of Newspaper of Editors, he has also collaborated with numerous Italian newspapers including l’Unità e Liberazione, ll Messaggero and the Italian edition of the Huffington Post. He recently published a book Alexis Tsipras. My left. Interview with the leader of Syriza, explaining the thinking of the leader of the Greek left and his political strategy. Below is an edited version of more extensive interview.
Theodore, you are a man and an intellectual who has lived your life with a dual identity, Greek and Italian. Two scenarios complicated for those who are on left and will lead you to make comparisons between the two situations…
If we want to make a comparison, certainly Greece has not been intoxicated by Berlusconi. We faced a more conventional political scene, with a center-right which has alternated with the center-left although especially PASOK. During which, although its thrust was much weakened, within the party and in the speeches of the then Prime Minister Costa Simitis there was reference to the redistribution of income and greater social equity. At least in the purpose and objectives the position that are the mainstay of the left were present. And we looked at Berlusconi in a very critical way. Then there was this five-year period of Greece’s center-right, from 2004 to 2009, in which the accounts further deteriorated and which was supported by socialists… It was the bland face of conservatism but it led to the disastrous economic figures. And the doors of hell opened because the recipes that were later followed were even worse. In my book Tsipras, speaking of Georgios Papandreou, said the leader of PASOK had made an agreement with the IMF before they won the election. For its part, Italy certainly has not experienced an economic situation as dramatic, the Troika hasn’t arrived, and this makes a difference, no doubt. But I believe that the day will arrive in which we [in Italy] find ourselves, at a time like Tsipras says, of strong choices, the choice is indeed the same.
Both Italy and Greece, although the situation is different, have to choose and understand what it means to build a proposal for a leftist government. Greece is doing it with SYRIZA. anchored around key policies ranging from minimum wage to collective labour agreements, to ensure the unemployed can take the subway. Italy is at a crossroads because the center-left in the government causes huge divisions – if not splits – in the [ruling] Democratic Party. And because what is left of the left must understand if it can first unite in order to be in a position to govern.
Every day, since SYRIZA won the elections, there’s been a clash between the Greek government and the European institutions, alternating closures and openings from Europe in the face of determination in Athens. The question that arises is this: to what extent can we say that SYRIZA will have won and to what extent on the other hand will it have lost, yielding too much on the key points of its campaign, and so therefore undermining its credibility?
This is a very central point. Syriza did not want to take any step back on the pressures that were exercised on it over the past few days regarding an extension of the memorandum of the Troika because it would undermine its raison d’etre. At this time the Troika has in fact disappeared from official statements. And this is already a symbolic – as well as concrete – victory for SYRIZA. Because it means getting to deal more closely, more directly with the European institutions, the European Union. This the objective. Sure there will be a big deal, a tight battle to define what are the objectives that remain within the new agreement. Finance Minister Varoufakis said that 70% of the previous agreements may be accepted and the remaining 30% not because they are toxic, as he has called them. I have read through everything that has came out and in summary what the Greek government does not want to accept is the further deregulation of labour relations, a new reduction of pensions, or to make layoffs easier. Basically everything that has a further impact at the social level. On this SYRIZA says no. And this is undoubtedly a leftist agenda, an important element to emphasize. Despite being in a time of great crisis and greatly dependent on creditors, SYRIZA is trying to pursue a program of the left that will mark a real change. Of course, within the limits that will be imposed when negotiating…
However, as far as we can see right now at least there will be a meeting in the middle, at least both parties will take steps, and at long last Germany has not heard Greece say “the programme will go ahead as is” but, as we heard the Chancellor say in the European summit, “I’m ready to deal.” And this is already a victory of SYRIZA, even if cannot talk of real conflict. But on the diplomatic level and in terms of the message to the voters it is indeed a success. It is not accidental that the 36% who supported Tsipras’ party in the elections [in January] has increased, based on the approval of the government programme, to 78%. And 90% of Greeks think that the opposition parties should support SYRIZA in negotiations. Clearly there was real need for liberation and, as Tsipras says in my book, a psychological decompression. Because people felt like they were sinking further and further, and they saw no future.
National pride has returned …
But also a personal pride, the raison d’être, to be able to move forward in life.
Let’s come to the issue of a balanced budget. Tsipras claims not to be contrary. But with what resources … .
This point had caused stomachache within sectors of the Italian left. In this interview, he sent for the first time a message to Italy saying “I am in favour of keeping the accounts in order.” Disorientating people on the right and the left. Many have wondered “how do you keep the accounts in order and kick start a social policy?”. But this is the real challenge. We say that is also somehow a strategic move because at this time to say “I want to rebuild the social situation and want to go back to getting into debt” would be an inadmissible proposal at the European level. Tsipras says for example that he would cut the primary surplus to 1%. And from what filters through the European reality they are ready to discuss it. Even Italy seems ready to support this development. SYRIZA aims to be able to jump-start the economy, for example in the medium term, spending less on unemployment benefits or valuing and investing the money it saves to keep the accounts in balance.
Among other things, the budget balance can also be reached in ways other than those adopted so far. For example, fighting tax evasion, endemic evil for you as for us in Italy, and by ensuring taxes are paid by the oligarchs, like the shipowners, because they do not pay even what the Constitution demands …
..from some data provided to me by Syriza it is not that they not paying anything but the situation is nevertheless scandalous. According to the latest available figures they pay a quarter of the taxes of their crews.
In short, if we reach a balanced budget by making them pay their taxes we can be in agreement … Certainly we can also agree on the objectives and they may be similar but how to get to those goals must be left to our freedom of decision. This is the point.
In your view within the projects of SYRIZA is there the possibility that, if all attempts fail, they will take Greece out of the euro? And is it possible, albeit as a last resort, they will choose an alliance with Putin that would mean a change in Greece’s geopolitical position of epochal dimensions?
I think that for much that may discuss this issue SYRIZA will do everything possible to reach a solution. There were economists in recent days, such as SYRIZA MEP Costas Lapavitsas, who said that if you were to come to a dead end a referendum should be called. But not to leave the euro but rather on the continuation of the memorandum. And I’ll let people imagine the answer. And then you would see what decisions needed to be taken. As for the geopolitical situation, I believe that that was also a message to Germany. In that sense, both politically and economically it can’t imagine calling the shots without any backlash. I want to think that Tsipras wanted to show that outside of a Europe dominated by Germany, Obama as much as Putin found this social situation is intolerable and damaging both for Europe but also destabilizing for Europe’s partners.
I do not believe that Greece is considering a special and deepening relationship with Moscow from the economic point of view. Perhaps it could counterbalance some of Europe’s policies, for example on Ukraine, and despite what some say I don’t think Tsipras sees analogies with Andreas Papandreou. To goad the West, [Greece’s first socialist Prime Minister and PASOC founder] sealed closer relations with the countries of the Warsaw Pact without ever leaving NATO and of course without ever entering into the Soviet orbit. Tsipras could also do the same with Moscow. But not for a definite change of camps.
You were talking before about the wide consensus that Tsipras is achieving after his victory in the elections. Could this mean an enlargement of the alliance, which is so far limited to the party independent of the Greeks? I was thinking of what’s left of Pasok, and [centre-left] River … .
The problem is this: the central point that has been understood abroad with some difficulty, is that this alliance with the Independent Greeks has been sealed above all in the name of anti-austerity politics . And on this point the other forces were much less willing. Stavros Teodorakis, who is the leader of River, comes from a career in journalism within the most powerful media groups and on the issue of austerity he has always taken a middle position. In the sense of trying to resolve it but without creating too traumatic reactions among our partners. And PASOK was until recently in government with New Democracy. I think at some point some of their deputies could join the government majority. The [new] formation of [former PASOK PM] George Papandreou did not, however, enter parliament. At the political level we will have to see what the future will bring. If some return to Pasok or others will moves towards SYRIZA. Then there is the uncertain Falciani factor. In the book he argues that in the famous list [of 100,000-plus bank accounts] is the name of the mother of Papandreou. Papandreou has denied this in official statements. Even if the former employee of HSBC Geneva claims that the then French President Sarkozy, aware of the fact, would have used it during negotiations to impose the conditions of the Troika. The development of this story could therefore have negative or positive effects on Papandreou’s Movement of Democratic Socialists. In my view at the present SYRIZA, as Tsipras has said to me, seeks above all, and up to now it is succeeding, to expand its consent within Greek society. It’s almost surprising that some members of the Orthodox church at this time support SYRIZA, especially after the elections, for its social policies.
And then there’s that the overcoming of the ideological divergence with the Independent Greeks, in the name of austerity. Two points that are very clearly identified with the programme of the left – to give citizenship to children of immigrants and extend civil rights, extending the civil partnerships that are already recognized for heterosexuals to homosexuals, were included in the government programme. And the Independent Greeks did not react. Evidently there was an agreement facilitated by the very strong commonality of purpose on issues of austerity that cancelled out dissent on other issues. Sure, there will be some compromises, for example, the terms of coexistence for homosexuals will not be exactly equivalent to marriages. However it would be a major step forward. I think for the moment Syriza will aim to expand its support within society and see if, more between people rather than between parties, there will be conditions to expand the majority…
Translation/edit by Revolting Europe