Greek Elections: A Changing Left and A Permanent Right

As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus expressed, there is nothing permanent except change. Though a timeless tiding, yesterday’s triumph of the formerly bereft Greek Left over the Centre-Right mainstay has surprised many in Europe. Winning with over 36% of the vote (and 49% of the seats) , the left-wing Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras, decisively defeated the centre-right New Democracy party of PM Antonis Samaras, making it the first anti-austerity party to take power in a Eurozone country. While the realities of governing tend to dilute campaign promises, Tsipras has pledged to force Greece’s creditors to renegotiate the terms of its financial bailout (estimated to be worth 240 billion euros) and to reallocate more money towards domestic government spending. Austerity, it seems, is not Greece’s answer for itself.

In an effort to stymie controversial ideas and to sober voters in Greece, European leaders have – unsurprisingly – emphasized the inflexibility of Greece’s financial obligations. Citing the manifold rules that preclude economic eccentricity and unexpected consequences of being mildly maverick, Europe is seeking to box in the left. That said, it’s unclear whether the left is necessarily the biggest problem for those seeking political equilibrium. For many in Greece, it’s in fact the permanence of the radical right – and not the newness of the left – that presents the greatest threat.

With an insignia modelled after the Nazi swastika and a platform modelled against all things “non-Greek,” Operation Golden Dawn came in third place Sunday with slightly over 6% of the vote. Though 6% is perhaps not that substantial a proportion, it’s certainly significant. Not only is 6% double the 3% threshold necessary to hold seats in Parliament, all of Operation Golden Dawn’s former party leaders (18 in total) are either awaiting trial or already in prison for the 2013 murder of Pavlos Fyssas, an anti-fascist rapper, in what was believed to have been a well-organized criminal conspiracy. In a 700-page argument issued last Fall, state prosecutor Isidoros Doyiakos argued that the leading party cadres of Operation Golden Dawn had been using a political front as cover for a broad host of criminal activities across the country using what some allege are “murderous tactics.”

Known for its anti-immigrant rhetoric and virulent nationalism, Operation Golden Dawn’s power – like many European parties on the radical right — has soared since the 2009 financial crisis. And, unlike the Syriza party, is a largely unexceptional political phenomenon. From France’s National Front, to Hungary’s Jobbik, to Bulgaria’s Ataka, the radical right has emerged as the alternative antidote to economic paralysis and social stagnation in Europe and – unfortunately – doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. That said, if the new and emboldened Greek Left can fulfil its promise of prosperity for Greece, it’s likely that the radical right will lose appeal and that nationalist rhetoric will prove less effective. At this point, one can only hope that Heraclitus is right and nothing but change endures.

HIlary Hurd, UK


Hilary Hurd is a 2013 Marshall Scholar currently studying at King's College London.

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