So we’re all in the Montagu Pyke in Soho — a cavernous bar off Greek Street (it has an entrance on Charing Cross Road that I refuse to acknowledge), once the home of the famed Marquee Club, where everyone from skiffle groups to Dream Theatre played at — having watched Portugal take apart the Netherlands in the EUFA cup finals qualifier (there was a Denmark-Germany game too but I mean really who gives a rat’s? Football is only interesting when it’s politics by other means. Portugal, Holland is the south versus the north), when, I do have a point and I will make it, when the staff switched the feed to BBC World, and live reportage of the Greek elections started to come in.
People usually switch off at this point, but not tonight. They swung back around to see what was going on because this was the real deal, politics as exciting as football. There were the scenes that have become kabuki-standard for reportage on Greece now — Olympic stadiums with grass growing through the cracks, a soup kitchen, Ermou Street looking a little scruffy and so on, but then there were cutaways to the two big speeches of the night — Antonis Samaras, leader of centre-right New Democracy, which had gained 30% of the vote, and Alexis Tsipras, 38-year-old leader of Syriza, the left coalition, which took about 27% of the vote.
Had it been any other time before a few years back, it would be the Pasok leader and ND leader — both from one of a few political dynasties — going at it like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. But Pasok — at 13% of the vote, down from 44%, three years ago — is now a mere adjunct of New Democracy, a pro-austerity, pro-“memorandum” party, attached to its larger host like a suckerfish on a shark, hoping that it can one day detach and swim free again. There is nothing pre-ordained in this. Had New Democracy — two words, two lies — been in command when the 2008 recession busted Greece’s shonky budgeting, they would be the despised ones, clinging onto Pasok for dear life.
Now, the politics of Greece, and of Europe, have been fundamentally re-arranged. Pasok — a party that’s an exact register of the ALP in many ways — has been squeezed out, and Greece has a genuine programmatic government, and a genuine opposition. The government’s program is to do whatever the troika — EU/IMF/European Central Bank — asks of it, clear its throat about the lunatic austerity measures and ask for a little mercy. Syriza’s oppositional program is to express a clear desire to remain in the EU and the euro, but reject the austerity measures substantially, broaden the tax base in the direction of the rich, and put the ball right in the EU’s court.
What makes Greece remarkable at this moment, is the genuine emergence of politics in a parliamentary sphere, of two forces, with two visions of how to proceed. We have seen alternative visions from right and left emerge in the past decade or so in Europe. Denmark, for example, was the first country, in the ’90s, to elect a chauvinist anti-immigrant party in such numbers that they became part of government. It was also the first country to throw them out, and elect a four-party left coalition, which included a democratic socialist party, greenish reds, and the ex-communists.
But Greece is the only place where a party suggesting a total alternative is the main opposition party, and was a whisker away from government. The final results in percentages were New Democracy on 30%, Syriza on 27%, Pasok 13%, Independent Greeks 7.5%, Golden Dawn 7%, Democratic Left 6%, and KKE, the Communist Party on 4.5%.
Compared to the elections held a whole six weeks ago, Syriza was the biggest gainers, getting an extra 10% of the overall vote (i.e. increasing its vote by 67%, and a whopping 400% since 2008), while New Democracy gained 7%. Pasok and independent Greeks (a nationalist-right breakaway from ND) held, as did Democratic Left, a left-centre breakaway from Syriza, neo-Nazi scum Golden Dawn rose a little, and the KKE went down by 1% of the overall vote (it has lost almost half its votes since 2008).
Both the major parties — it is astounding that Syriza is now “the major party” — gained largely from small parties that didn’t make the threshold (almost 20% of votes in the last election went to parties that gained no seats). The worst casualty was Laos, the former Orthodox conservative party (itself an ND split-off) now outdone by the new right parties on offer. Votes for Syriza came in from Pasok, Greens, the KKE, as people rallied to a unified alternative. Two hours after voting closed, Tsipras called Samaras to congratulate him.
Had the votes been evenly spread, ND would have got 78 seats, Syriza 72. But with the 50-seat bump for the winning party, ND shot to 128 seats. With Pasok’s 33 seats, it can form government and guarantee compliance with the EU memorandum, right? Right? The sweat was still drying on Samaras’ forehead after a half-chaotic media appearance when Pasok announced that it would only join the coalition if Syriza did so too. Why? Well 128+33 seats, is 161 seats, ostensibly a majority in a 300-seat parliament. That’s an 11 seat majority, right, right?
Right?Seriously, how long have you been watching Greece? The Pasok leadership is petrified that the majority will not hold. MPs, even from Pasok’s rump will defect, ND people will defect to independent Greeks — all with an eye on the next election, and what side they were on went the next EU deal went down. That would be a self-fulfilling prophecy, undermining the government, and pitching Greece into fresh elections. Syriza, if it has stayed out of the coalition, which it presumably would, would then step in and pick up power like a feather in the street.
What happens if Pasok sticks to its guns, and refuses to join the coalition? The answer is, no one knows. Ostensibly, there should be a fresh round of elections — the system predicated on Einstein’s observation that madness consists of doing the same thing again, and hoping for a different result. Most people think that won’t happen, and that Pasok will come to the party. The ND-Pasok government would then get some modification of the austerity measures imposed on the country, and try and carry on.
Globally, markets and market-sycophant finance journalists reacted with relief, suggesting that the country had voted to uphold the EU package. They did nothing of the sort. Pro-austerity parties ND and Pasok gained 43% of the vote. Every other party, of left and right, opposes the current deal, and gained 57% of the vote (the figures are more complex when you count parties that didn’t make the threshold. Then an anti-memorandum vote rises to 65%). But the Greeks have been stymied by the recently introduced system of giving leading party — no matter what its margin — a 50-seat bung, and thus allowing it leapfrog the other parties, even if, as they are in this case, they are all united on the other side of an issue.
Result (I)? The governing coalition still lacks legitimacy. Result (II)? Politics gets back out on the streets. The split between politics and polis that has animated Greece for two years will continue. The protest will become more militant. There will begin to be occupations, should the Germans not stump up the cash, and the whole state apparatus begins to break down. Beyond that, I have no idea, and neither does anyone else.
A block up the street from the Montagu Pyke is where the Greek church once stood. The street is named for it. Soho, a spec-built housing estate carved out of the king’s hunting fields in the 17th century, became a refuge for Greeks fleeing persecution by the Ottomans, and the first building that they planned was, naturally, a church. Their arrival set a tradition for the persecuted and oppressed to come — Huguenots, Jews, homos-xuals, the denizens of Bohemia, and the Free French — and then go out again, to retake the world. The attention, in a half-dead pub, on a Sunday night, to a faraway country of which we know a great deal, was palpable. Greece, and particularly Syriza, now stand in Europe not for millions but hundreds of millions, whose countries offer them little resembling politics at all. Tsipras and Syriza stand for humanity against abstract systems, for reason, rationality, commonsense, and a belief that people, working collectively, can solve their own problems.
Those who stand against are for fear, obedience and authority without legitimacy. My prediction is that Tsipras will be prime minister in six months, and if before that, Greece wins the EUFA cup, I think I will die of happiness. Take it away, Lonnie.