Greece: populist bloc with xenophobes

We were very enthused that Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister from Greece's leftist Syriza party, in his first act after being sworn in today laid flowers at the National Resistance Memorial in the Athens suburb of Kaisariani, where the Nazis executed 200 Greek communist partisan fighters on May 1, 1944. (Sky News) An unsubtle message, both to Greece's own resurgent neo-Nazi right, and to contemporary German financial imperialism. We applaud. Especially since the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (its leadership in prison awaiting trial for running a criminal organization) came in a highly disoncerting third in the election. This is a sign of polarization, with the pro-austerity "center" collapsing, and far right and radical left in a contest to seize the populist space. What's not so good is that Tsipras and Syriza, just short of the outright majority needed to govern alone, have quickly formed a bloc with lawmakers from a right-wing anti-immigrant populist party, the Independent Greeks. (AP)

The Independent Greeks (who go by the acronym ANEL) are not neo-Nazis of the Golden Dawn variety. They emerged from Greece's political establishment, breaking two years ago from the center-right New Democracy party. But still too close for comfort, thank you. The Independent tells us they "vocally oppose immigration and multiculturalism." The Telegraph notes they also "have close links to the Greek Orthodox Church, further putting them at odds with Mr Tsipras, who is an atheist" (and, to his credit, the first prime minister to take a secular oath rather than the religious one customarily administered by a Greek Orthodox official). The Anarchist Writers website, which has been closely watching the Greek struggle, notes the coalition with the headline "Syriza: So Much for Solidarity." They inform us that ANEL leader Panos Kammenos peddles the notion that the EU-imposed austerity is part of an "International Conspiracy" against Greece, and has falsely claimed that "Jews pay no taxes." OK, the actual context for the quote was a discussion of religious bodies rather than individuals, but was still incorrect. ANEL would impose a 2% quota on "non-Greeks" (presumably meaning non-ethnic Greeks) living in Greece.

The picture is too clear. Syriza may need anti-austerity partners to push through its economic program. But unless there is crystal clarity that this is just an alliance of convenience and that the ANEL's politics are otherwise toxic, the seeming victory for the Greek left could end up a frighteningly Pyrrhic one—legitimizing xenophobes and scapegoaters rather than principled socialists, and wacky conspiracy theories rather than clear anti-capitalist analysis.

  1. Greece: attack on Jewish cemetery

    A little context, perhaps… Swastikas and slurs were sprayed on the walls of the historic Jewish cemtery in the northern Greek city of Larissa last month. Among the scralwed slogans was "six million more." (YNet, Dec. 28)

  2. Syriza link to Putin’s “Eurasianist” ideologue…

    Syriza's flirtation with the populist right may go beyond tactical political alliances, alas. An account by Anton Shekhovtsov on The Interpreter, website of the Institute of Modern Russia, notes various links between Syriza figures and Alexander Dugin, ideological architect of Putin's Eurasian Union project. For instance, in 2013, Nikos Kotzias, now Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Alexis Tsipras’s cabinet, invited Dugin to deliver a lecture on "The Geopolitics of Russia" at the University of Piraeus, where Kotzias then held a post. Shekhovtsov also reproduces (and translates) an Aug. 24, 2014 Dugin Facebook post in which he stated: "Ukraine needs to be cleansed of idiots. A genocide of cretins suggests itself.… I don’t believe that these are Ukrainians. Ukrainians are a fine Slavic people. [But] these are some race of bastards that emerged from the sewage."

    Lovely company you've been keeping, Syriza.

    Further Syriza links are apparently provided by an Anonymous hack of Dugin's e-mail account, and Vienna-based Kremlin watcher Christo Grozev pledges to keep us posted on Twitter. We'll be watching. 

  3. Hey Syriza, you’re supposed to hate the Germans not the Turks…

    We alas feel more vindicated in our skepticism about the new Greek government following this Reuters report:

    Greece's new nationalist [ANEL] defense minister prompted Greece's perennial rival Turkey to scramble jets on Friday, just days after he took office, by flying over uninhabited islets off the Turkish coast that nearly triggered a war in 1996.

    Turkish fighter jets entered Greek airspace and were intercepted by Greek jets as Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and military chiefs flew by helicopter to the islet of Imia to drop wreaths in memory of three Greek officers killed nearby in a helicopter crash 19 years ago, the Greek Defense Ministry said.

    Kammenos heads the small, right-wing, Eurosceptical Independent Greeks party, and the episode underlines the risk that its unlikely coalition with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's leftwing Syriza party, winner of last week's election, will come under strain on issues not related to their shared desire to end Greece's austerity program.

    A Greek Reporter piece of Jan. 31, 2014 marked the 18th anniversary of the incident. A Greek navy helicopter "crashed under mysterious circumstances" after overflying Imia (called Kardak by the Turks) and reporting Turkish troops there. Under pressure from the US, both sides removed their troops. The downing of the chopper was blamed on bad weather but Greek nationalists insist this was a mutual cover-up to hide that it was shot down by Turkish fire, both sides accused of concealing what really happened to prevent war. The three crew members who were killed "are revered as heroes by many Greeks, particularly the neo-Nazi ultra-patriotic Golden Dawn party"

    We truly hate to say it, but it is starting to smell more and more like a Red-Brown alliance in Athens…

  4. Syriza anti-Semitism? Um, no.

    Rather annoying. Here we are raising the alarm about Syriza's questionable politics, and along comes one Louise Turner in Your News Wire, who headlines: "New Greek finance minister accused of anti-Semitism." The incredibly dishonest text:

    The new finance minister of Greece has been accused of harboring anti-Semitic views and expressing empathy for Palestinian suicide bombers.

    In 2005, Yanis Varoufakis was suspended from a radio show for what the station called the promotion of anti-Jewish stereotypes. Varoufakis, who at the time was an economics professor at the University of Athens, defended himself a few years later by stating that in his criticism of Israeli policies he was merely basing himself on reports in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

    During his weekly broadcast at the Australian state-owned radio station SBS on August 29, 2005, Varoufakis had claimed that Israel used the blockade of Gaza as part of "a strategy for retaining a large part of the West Bank" and called the West Bank security fence a "concrete monster," according to his blog.

    "The fact that my comments were supported by reports in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz was not deemed a sufficient defense against the charge of anti-Semitism," he wrote in December 2010 about the incident." [Sic]

    Incorrect use of quotation marks in original. But note obvious bait-and-switch: The lede tells us we're about to get salivation for suicide bombers, but the actual text contains not a word of this. The actual quoted comments are not only not anti-Semitic, but fairly self-evident. Although Turner almost certainly garbled the first one: Obviously, Varoufakis was refering to Israel's 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, not the blockade, which was imposed the following year after Hamas seized the Strip. Israeli authorities were fairly open about the fact that the Gaza disengagement coincided with a settler "consolidation" on the West Bank.

    Worse than sloppiness is the classic boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome. There is nothing anti-Semitic about the Varoufakis comments quoted above, but that doesn't mean Syriza isn't in bed with right-wing xenophobes, which they are. 

    Once again: Read past the lede, and don't believe the hype.

  5. Golden Dawn ‘not-so-neo-Nazi’?

    Another sign of the "left" making its peace with fascism? Paul Krugman in the NY Times Feb. 6 writes that Greece and Germany are "playing a game of chicken" that could destroy the European Union. He finds:

    [C]haos in Greece could fuel the sinister political forces that have been gaining influence as Europe’s Second Great Depression goes on and on. After a tense meeting with his German counterpart, the new Greek finance minister didn’t hesitate to play the 1930s card. "Nazism," he declared, "is raising its ugly head in Greece —a reference to Golden Dawn, the not-so-neo-Nazi party that is now the third largest in the Greek legislature.

    "Not-so-neo-Nazi"? Ask the Greek leftists who have been putting their lives and freedom on the line to oppose these thugs. So is Krugman hyping the threat to Europe's order, or minimizing it? You'd think the "left" or "alternative" media would call Krugman out on this doubletalk, but Alternet merely muddies the water further. The headline in their write-up of his column goes further than Krugman in invoking a fascist threat: "Paul Krugman: Showdown in Europe Raises the Ugly Specter of Fascism." Yet they quote his "not-so-neo-Nazi" line without a peep of protest—indeed, with no criticisms of Krugman whatsoever. (We could just read the original if you have nothing to add, AlterNet.)

    AlterNet has recently displayed its own disturbing flirtation wth fascism (of the Putin variety…)