The whole world is waiting the June 17 parliamentary vote in Greece with hope and fear. In particular, mainstream media are depicting Syriza, the most probable winner according to the last polls, as an extremist and quite dangerous political force and are siding with the New Democracy, centre-right party responsible for the Greek financial disaster. Syriza is a broad coalition of a dozen political organizations, ranging from socialists to ecologists, unifying alternative and traditional left. Despite the spotlight on it, Syriza remains a mysterious thing for a lot of people outside Greece. What does Syriza want? Which are its ideas about LGBTQ* rights and immigrants’ rights? We talked with Panagiotis Pantos, representative of the coalition in Nea Smyrni, a southern suburb of Athens.
Do you really think that Syriza can win the elections, despite the opposition of economic and financial powers of global capitalism?
We believe that it is absolutely feasible for Syriza to win the elections, marking in this way not only a big change for our country but also for Europe, since it will be the first time a government of the Left will be installed in office. But we understand that the most difficult times lay ahead, since our adversaries (political parties, foreign governments and financial powers) will not respect the outcome of the elections and the right of the Greek people to decide its own fate, but will try to boycott our efforts. That’s why we have been saying clearly to the Greeks that in order for a Government of the Left to succeed, active participation of the people is necessary.
Conservative and Social Democrat parties are trying to demolish social security, working rights and even democratic principles all over Europe. These parties constitute the real danger to a Europe with a strong social model, solidarity, education and health for all, and European people need to stop them before it’s too late.
Which are your main allies in Greece, in Europe and worldwide?
Apart from the support of Left parties all over the world (in Europe mainly those participating at the European Left Party), social movements that have emerged in the last 15 years in the quest for an alternative, ecological globalization, and intellectuals (like the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, the British Pakistani historian Tariq Ali and the French philosopher Étienne Balibar), our most important ally is the peoples of the world and especially the peoples of Southern Europe, who understand that if the Greeks lose their battle against “austerity for the people and profits for the banks,” they will be the next ones to suffer the same policy. We are counting on your active support and solidarity!
Which are the main points of your electoral program?
Until now European Governments are paying money to the same politicians that are responsible for the Greek economical problems, in order for everything to stay the same. We are asking from the international community to support Greece in an effort to change deeply, in a direction that will not be attacking the rights of the people to a decent life. Our program is merely stating basic things: state control on Greek banks and privatized strategic utilities, renegotiating of a new loan agreement with the Troika, reintroduction of collective agreements on salaries, protection of salaries, pensions, public health and education, a new system on taxing wealth, zero tolerance to corruption and patronage, mobilization of the productive forces in order to transform our economic base, participatory and direct democracy institutions…
And what about LGBTQ* rights?
Syriza has always been an active supporter of the efforts of the LGBT community for equal rights. It’s the only parliamentary party that supports the right to same-sex marriage, with equal rights to different sex marriage (while all other parties do not even support the right to civil partnership). In fact Syriza (through its affiliated newspapers and radio station) played a crucial role in the organization of the first “activist same-sex marriages” in Greece, in 2008. During the last years Syriza has also started working more closely with the Greek Transgendered Support Association, supporting their conferences and bringing their demands in the parliament.
It’s an interesting program…
Yes, but we understand that all this isn’t enough, because homophobia and sexism are well rooted in our society, even among progressive people. Nevertheless things are starting to change and we are determined to assist so that equal rights issues do not get lost under the current main political agenda of economy and crisis.
Which is the position of Syriza on immigrants’ rights?
Syriza takes a strong stand against the demonizing of immigrants and undemocratic measures like concentration camps and border walls. We believe that the issue of immigrations should be dealt with both at a national and at a European level. Greece (being the country the majority of immigrants enters EU from) should increase the speed it processes asylum requests and the objectivity of the process (now it has the lowest rates in the EU), implement a new framework to give legal permits to immigrants (cutting this way the opportunity of criminal networks to exploit them, and also ensuring equal pay and social security for everyone working in Greece), take steps to improve so called “ghetto areas” in benefit of everyone living there, Greeks and immigrants.
But, as you told before, immigration is a European issue…
Europe as a total should take responsibility for the issue, and not just leave southern countries and especially Greece to deal with it on its own. All European directives and treaties on immigration (like Dublin II and the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum) should be revised, so that no country is being turned into a huge prison for immigrants and refugees. In parallel, the EU should create strong frameworks to finance development in Asian and African countries, and also change its foreign policy to one that promotes peace and prosperity in the world, instead of war and the rights of multinational companies.
Speaking of Europe, our continent is experiencing a period of economic crisis, but also a crisis of rights: not only social and working rights are deleted in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy, but also civil rights are threatened by the advance of the extreme right (for example, the new Hungarian constitution or Italian migration policies). Why does the extreme right fascinate so many people in Europe?
When so called mainstream parties, like the Conservatives and the Social Democrats, adopt the extreme right agenda and attack democracy by shrinking civil rights, in order to stop demonstrations and social protest or to blame immigrants and minorities for all the social problems, it’s only natural that a part of the population will turn to the “real thing”, the extreme right. The answer is to do the complete opposite. Europe as a whole should make the decision to exit the crisis by increasing democracy, social and civil rights. But such a policy demands a fundamental change of principles that the European elite isn’t willing to make, since it threatens its dominance but also the profits of the rich. That’s why a shift of the European people to the left is absolutely vital in order to initiate change.
In Greece, extreme right is represented by Xrisi Avgi…
Unfortunately the success of Syriza in the 6th of May elections was accompanied with the entrance of Xrisi Avgi (Golden Dawn) in the Parliament with 7%! We are talking about an openly neonazi party that has been responsible for attacks, stabbings and murders, but always had the protection of the police. It’s characteristic that as we speak, just few days before the elections, the press representative of the party and elected MP, Mr. Kassidiaris (who is also under trial next week accused for a stabbing) is hiding from the police, which has initiated a search to arrest him for attacking and beating during a live TV program two MPs of the left.
How do you explain the success of Xrisi Avgi?
The social problems that the Greek society is facing are a great part of why neonazis got such a high percentage in a country that has suffered so much from Nazism. But it’s not the whole story. A great part of the responsibility lies to Pasok (the socialist party) and New Democracy, and also to corporate media, since for the last year they have been actively promoting the presence of Xrisi Avgi in public life, in order to cut down the increasing support for the left.
Do you think the neonazi success will be replicated in the coming elections?
Many people who have voted for Xrisi Avgi as a means to reject the whole political system seem now to be changing views, but this doesn’t mean Xrisi Avgi will not get a good result. We think that the extreme right phenomenon has already deeper roots and will be an issue that the Greek society will be facing in the next period.