By James Moules
It is no secret that contemporary Greece finds itself in a sorry state.
Shocking rates of unemployment. Alarming levels of poverty. A nation savaged by the 2008 financial crisis.
Elections last July saw power returned to the centre-right New Democracy (ND) party, which swept to power with just under 40 per cent of the vote and a majority of parliamentary seats.
Greece’s ruling left-wing party Syriza – under the leadership of Alexis Tsipras – suffered a bruising defeat after four years at the top.
The party won power in 2015 on a platform of ending austerity and the bailout programmes that had been imposed upon the nation in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Dimitris Rapidis, Political Analyst and Communications Consultant and advisor to Syriza party, told the Hawthorne Effect that the roots of Greece’s problems go back decades.
“It was a combination of bad politics domestically and bad politics in EU level.
“By “bad politics” I mean a series of governments since the late 1970s that have failed to create a sustainable growth model and solid state foundations.
“In EU level, European institutions instead of pushing Greece to implement reforms, they have chosen to impose austerity that ended up pushing the economy deep down to recession.”
In the wake of the Great Recession, successive governments have rolled out extensive austerity measures across Greece.
“It has had dire social and economic consequences.
“Huge unemployment and poverty rates, loss of 25 per cent of GDP, deep recession, and a general public feeling that we have lost our dignity and hope.”
After three years of centre-right government under New Democracy Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Syriza swept to power in 2015, promising to end these austerity measures.
Rapidis said: “Our European partners and the IMF have failed to understand the roots of the Greek crisis.
“Austerity was not the answer to a bankrupt state as Greece was back in 2015.
“To the contrary, Syriza was calling for progressive reforms and a sustainable growth model that could tackle recession.”
Not long after Syriza’s election, the people of Greece were faced with a critical decision.
The people were offered a choice in a referendum – did they accept the fresh bailout package offered to them by the troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund)?
The measure was rejected by the electorate with 61.31 per cent of voters saying ‘no’.
Regarding the result of the vote, Rapidis said: “There was a massive feeling of hope and pride. Such feelings were smashed when Greek government was forced to adopt another bailout deal.”
Rapidis asserts that the Prime Minister fought hard to keep to the promises for which he was elected.
“Tsipras himself tried to preserve the ‘no’ of the referendum and convince our creditors that Greece need growth and progressive reforms, not more austerity. He negotiated hard in the EU Council.”
Despite the referendum result, Tsipras’ government still reached a bailout agreement.
Many legislators rebelled against the move. Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis resigned from the government. A further election was called, in which Syriza retained power, albeit with reduced numbers.
The bailout measures would continue. Syriza’s approval ratings went into freefall. Four years later, the party would end up out of government.
After Syriza’s disappointing showing in this year’s European Parliament election – losing the top spot to New Democracy despite not losing any seats – Greeks were summoned to the polls once again as Tsipras called a snap general election.
New Democracy’s leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was elected on a platform of lowering taxes and increasing economic growth.
Mr Rapidis believes there is little to be hopeful about under a Mitsotakis government. He says the country will now see a shift towards neoliberalism and further austerity.
In spite of his party’s defeat, however, he believes that Syriza will remain Greece’s dominant left-wing force, in spite of the increased support centre-left KINAL and Varoufakis’ Mera25 saw at the election.
“Syriza is the pillar of progressive and left-wing forces in Greece. Syriza will remain the biggest left-wing party in Greece. KINAL, KKE and Mera25 will keep falling apart, losing power and support.”