150 days of solitude

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Having started my blog in January this year, my entries have served as a chronicle of my thoughts, hopes and aspirations for Syriza’s government. What has been billed as the ‘first’ left government of Greece (I guess if one does not accept Andrea’s PASOK 1981 win as a left win) has had a turbulent start and is likely to soon make the landmark of its first 150 days. These have been 150 days of solitude however. The following narrates how Syriza lost my trust and will explain why it will soon lose the trust of the rest of its supporters too.

At the beginning of January, with the election approaching in Greece, it seemed like Syriza could offer the chance to start a rethink of the neoliberal settlement that has dominated European politics for decades. The 2008 crisis (I wrote) had within it the seeds of a challenge to the dominant neoliberal paradigm, alas the challenge was never realised. Could Syriza restart a debate on finding an appropriate balance in the market-state relationship, bringing back the state as the protector and supporter of the less strong in society?

This period also brought hope that politics could once again retake the ground ceded to technocrats (see here). I had identified in my work a long time ago the danger the retreat of politics in favour of technocracy posed to democracy. An election of a government with an overt political agenda could help (I hoped) to recalibrate the role of politics in economic management; to put the people back in control of fundamental choices as to how their lives are run. I also commented on how salvation from economic crisis in Europe was beginning to look ominously like the creation of a new type of ‘fiscal’ authoritarianism, a ‘dictatorship of finance’ as I wrote in my book (see here). Syriza again was identified as a potential solution, linking popular demands with economic management and reviving democracy in Europe. With these hopes and aspirations therefore I declared my support for Syriza. This was a difficult step for me, as I have never publicly supported a Greek political party before.

I was delighted with Syriza’s win and supported Varoufakis in his European tour, where he explained why the existing programme was not working for Greece. My hope was that Europe was ready to make a change. That our partners had realised (perhaps with the exception of the Germans) that non-stop austerity is self-defeating. Perhaps they were waiting for a little push to change their minds, and Varoufakis was offering them this opportunity, for the benefit of all. I was not oblivious to the risks of re-negotiating the bailout deals however. Already at the beginning of February I cautioned Varoufakis and Draghi not to upset Greece’s difficult liquidity environment. Suicide was preventable, I said, a compromise solution was achievable (see here). I was unhappy with the role of the ECB and the measures it took to restrict liquidity to the Greek economy. This was clearly motivated by a desire to push Syriza to compromise, to say: There can be no salvation via the Bank if you cannot reach agreement with the Eurogroup (see here).

My faith in Syriza’s ability to guide the country through this impasse, and achieve a better deal with our creditors than Samaras, Venizelos and everyone prior was shaken by the events following the 20 February agreement. The February agreement seemed like a sensible compromise. It was evident that there was no support for Syriza from anyone, especially the Germans. Too much political capital has been invested in Europe supporting austerity to allow for a change of course. This is regrettable, but nonetheless true. Syriza could have a deal, which was in some aspects better than what was achieved before, but Greece would not be given a ‘good’ deal. The February deal was a step in the right direction in what would clearly be a long road. What shook me was Varoufakis’ response. When asked to present a series of technical measures, he submitted a list of odd and in places nonsensical proposals (see here). Was this done due to incompetence or calculation? Either way, it was not good.

It all went downhill from there. The negotiations dragged on, the economy stagnated, progress (whatever progress one had seen) was lost. The rhetoric hardened and Tsipras lost his window of opportunity to achieve something better. Faced with double-speak, lack of trust and gimmicks, the Europeans who were not positively inclined to Syriza anyway, and could not politically afford a change of tack, lost interest and started demanding that Greece gets its act together and completes the evaluation of the current programme review in order to receive any money. Varoufakis committed a criminal error in not achieving the disbursement of the bailout tranche after 20 February, leading to a credit crunch that drove us to the dire straights we are in now. It was obvious from the 19 March leaders meeting that things had gone off the rails (see here).

On 21 April I published my ‘Basta Yani’ piece (see here) that asked Syriza to make a deal now. I argued that Syriza was not elected with a mandate to take the country out of the Euro. If a deal that Syriza could live with could not be achieved, then they had a responsibility to resign after signing it and hold an election. This election should be fought on Euro-In/Euro-Out lines so the Greek people got the make the horrible choice that befell them: Capitulate to the demands of the creditors with the hope of a long drawn recovery, or risk return to the drachma in the hope for long drawn recovery. I strongly rejected the idea of a referendum with the rationale that such complex questions need to be the subject of an electoral platform, not an in-out single question on a single ballot (see here).

By mid-May I had lost my faith in Syriza. The lack of a clear position, the inability to demonstrate achievable goals for the negotiation, the disorganisation and disinterest in the state of the economy, the lefty fascism of members like Zoi Kostantopoulou, and finally the parading of the holy bones in hospitals proved too much for me (see here). I was never a member of Syriza, I was briefly a supporter, but I could not bring myself to stand beside Varoufakis and Tsipras anymore. I am unsure as to what Tsipras is trying to achieve. I am not sure he knows himself. I know what people like Lapavitsas want, but I can bet you the Greeks did not sign up for Grexit and its consequences when they voted on 25 January (see here). My change of position attracted a lot of hate mail/commentary, so I decided to post a satirical piece hoping to demonstrate in a different way the perils of Grexit (see here).

The outcome of all of this is that the (almost) 150 days of Syriza’s solitude have fundamentally changed my view of whether a ‘left’ government points the way forward for Greece. It does not. It has demonstrated clearly that it is charting a route to disaster. Even if a deal is reached (I hope there will be one for the sake of all of us) tomorrow (22.6.15), I will still believe that Syriza has made Greece’s problems worse, lost us friends and allies and increased the size of the mountain we have to climb to exit the crisis. I am disappointed and feel betrayed by the incompetence, short-sightedness and fanaticism of those who seemed like our saviours.

disappointment

@iGlinavos

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3 thoughts on “150 days of solitude

  1. ” I will still believe that Syriza has made Greece’s problems worse, lost us friends and allies and increased the size of the mountain we have to climb to exit the crisis.”

    Syriza are digging in their heels about debt write-down. They are negotiating less austerity, less primary surplus, less VAT rises. It is clear, that when an agreement comes it will be better than what would have been achieved, if settled earlier. There will not be any settlement unless there is debt write-down on the horizon, and that is absolutely crucial, as otherwise the Greek economy will not recover.

    I do not know which friends and allies you think Syriza had in Europe? The institutions or other governments? They are all on the opposite spectrum politically. Schaueble hates the idea of having to negotiate with, the way he sees it, communists. They do not want them to succeed. You have read the Daily Telegraph on this?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11687229/Greek-debt-crisis-is-the-Iraq-War-of-finance.html

    However, Syriza have a lot of support from eminent economists and the people of Europe (the ones who look into the issue, not the ones, who are spoon-fed propaganda via the media) because they are standing up to the nonsense which the Troika imposes on them. And which every blind person in Europe now sees is not working, yet the IMF wants “adults in the room”. Who should grow up here? Syriza are good for Europe because the un-orthodox negotiating stance of Varoufakis exposes the all so mighty Eurogroup so something worse than the muppet show.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/yanis-varoufakis-a-pressing-question-for-ireland-before-monday-s-meeting-on-greece-1.2256339

    Now ultimately all of that does not matter, it depends who has the better cards in this game of Poker. The ECB can make it difficult, as you have pointed out, but beyond forcing capital controls, they cannot do anything.

    Grexit would mean the biggest insolvency ever, anywhere in the world, with Greece’s 320 bn government debt, and 120 bn Target2 liabilities. Merkel would not like that as her epitaph, “Mean German chancellor causes 440 Euro insolvency by insisting on 20% cut in Greek pensions”. Americans don’t like that outcome – so it will not happen.

    So Grexit is all bluster. Nobody is going to kick Greece out of the Euro or Europe. Strategically too important to the US.

    In which case, Syriza have the upper hand and should get the best deal possible, drag our negotiations forever. But that does not end the crisis. And even given in to a temporary compromise tomorrow does not end the crisis, of course, because the Troika is set up to prolong it.

    So, what would end the crisis?

    Like

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