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Greek elections, the end of Europe and other German hallucinations

Ares Kalandides explains why the victory of left-wing party Syriza in Sunday's elections matters so much to Greeks, both at home and here in Berlin.

Image for Greek elections, the end of Europe and other German hallucinations
Photo by Marios Lolos

It seems that both in the months before the Greek elections and in the days that followed, everybody knew how the Greeks should vote (or should have voted) except for the Greeks themselves. In particular, mainstream German media made a fool of themselves publishing junk camouflaged as news: a mix of blatant lies, macho bullying, end-of-world scenarios and pure coercion with a large dose of arrogance. It didn’t work out: Greece voted left last Sunday, elected the Syriza party into power and with it the 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras as prime minister. So who’s Syriza and why am I, a Greek who’s lived half his life in Berlin, so foolishly ecstatic? First things first:

Syriza missed the absolute majority by about 12,000 votes. It would be tragic if it still weren’t close to a wonder. Not having the majority, Syriza needed to find a coalition partner. The options were few, given that only anti-austerity parties could be considered. The neo-Nazis were out of the question, the communists refused and the only (painful to say the least) solution left was a small right-wing, nationalistic (xenophobic, homophobic, anything-phobic), but anti-austerity party called ANEL. For us who had supported Syriza, it first hit us as a shock, but still: what else could have been done, with austerity being the number-one issue (and rightly so) on the party’s agenda? “Realpolitik” at its most painful.

After that first blow (and after managing to rationalise it), it was hard to follow the amazing surprises that came one after the other at the speed of light: In 48 hours there was a coalition; the complete cabinet was set and ready to function; we saw the first prime minister in the history of the country take a political oath (as opposed to the standard religious one); the privatisation of profitable public enterprises was stopped; second-generation immigrants were promised citizenship; the minimum wage was raised to a human level; people who were sacked from the public sector with no apparent reason were given back their jobs – and many more small or big symbolic steps that clearly bore the handwriting of the left. Nine of the 10 ministers in the new cabinet are from Syriza, while their junior right-wing partner seems content with the defence ministry (boys and toys!).

There are two things that the new government has promised to tackle fast: the humanitarian crisis and the renegotiation of the debt. Although neither of them is going to be easy, both need to happen – and fast. With the streets full of growing numbers of homeless and a large portion of the population below the poverty line, there is no time to lose. Saying that there is no money for that is just cold cynicism. But of course it’s the renegotiation of the debt that will be the big challenge. Any new money lent to Greece now falls into a black hole of repaying the old debts, increasing the debt in a deadly vicious circle. Yanis Varoufakis, the talented economist who has become the new minister of finance, will have to prove his negotiation talents here. I’m glad to not be in his shoes.

A series of photos taken by Marios Lolos that circulated on Facebook last night depicts middle-aged women wearing red rubber gloves with tears in their eyes: they are those public sector cleaners who’ve just heard that the new government has given them back their old job. No revanchism or cold-hearted cynicism is going to take my joy and hope away from me today!

Urban and regional planner Ares Kalandides is the managing director of Inpolis GmbH.