The Corner

Chávez Fan

The Guardian interviews Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s far-left Syriza grouping, which may, if most polls are to be believed, emerge first in the next (June 17) Greek elections. It’s worth noting that the party that comes top is awarded an extra fifty seats, a possibly critical number in a 300-seat parliament.

But over to Tsipras:

A long bombardment of “neo-liberal shock” – draconian tax rises and remorseless spending cuts – has left immense collateral damage. “We have never been in such a bad place,” he says, sleeves rolled up, staring hard into the middle distance, from behind the desk that he shares in his small parliamentary office. “After two and a half years of catastrophe, Greeks are on their knees. The social state has collapsed, one in two youngsters is out of work, there are people leaving en masse, the climate psychologically is one of pessimism, depression, mass suicides.”

On the over-spending and the dysfunctional monetary union that did so much to bring this terrible crisis about, Tsipras has, it seems, on this occasion nothing to say, other than to reassert his support for the single currency.

But back to him:

Tsipras, who turns 38 in July, wants me to know that the war is not personal. The enemy is not Berlin, until now the biggest provider of the monumental rescue funds keeping the debt-stricken economy afloat. “It is not between nations and peoples,” he says. “On the one side there are workers and a majority of people and on the other are global capitalists, bankers, profiteers on stock exchanges, the big funds. It’s a war between peoples and capitalism … and as in each war what happens on the frontline defines the battle. It will be decisive for the war elsewhere.”

Tsipras appears to ignore the fact that much of the current mess is the result of the effort by a bureaucratic elite (which is, incidentally, just about as hostile to “profiteers on stock exchanges” as he is) to distort the operation of free markets by the introduction of a one-size-fits-all currency that warped price signals in ways that led directly to the disaster in Greece and elsewhere.

And then there is this:

 The first thing Syriza will do in power is tear up the controversial “memorandum of understanding” Greece signed up to with creditors, which details the onerous conditions under which the country receives quarterly injections of cash.

The agreement, he says, was reached without the Greek people ever being consulted. And now in the wake of the 6 May vote, when more than 70% of those opposing the policies voted for “anti-bailout” parties, it is clear it has lost all legitimacy, he insists.

German voters might have a thing or two to say about that. They were never given the chance to reject the introduction of the euro they never wanted. They were repeatedly lied to about the risks that it would bring in its wake. They have consistently opposed handing money over to Greece. If Tsipras wants to talk about legitimacy of what has being going on, those are points, I would think, that a fair man would address.

No chance of that:

It is a high stakes game but, he argues, Europe is holding the gun because ultimately, under European law, Greece can’t be ejected from the 17-nation bloc.

That’s correct, but the ECB can refuse to continue its direct and indirect funding of Greece’s broken banking system.

And when that happens, Greece will, one way or another, be out. 

Oddly, I’m not convinced that Tsipras would worry too much about that. Out of chaos comes opportunity.

 His aides add in passing that one of his heroes is Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.

There’s a surprise. 

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