Sinn Féin, and others, agitating on behalf of “the Syriza experiment” following the recent elections in Greece, has more to do with positioning to blame the current Irish Government for the likely outcome [added link] than any professed desire for a resolution in Ireland’s favour.
But there are a few things to note about the rise of the various Eurosceptic and anti-establishment parties across Europe [Who “will ultimately chose financial and macroeconomic stability over revolution? – Ed]. Perhaps…
Firstly, domestic democratic pressures are universal. As are democratic mandates. And that includes Germany…
To criticise the German-bashing bandwagon is not about painting the country as a victim. It’s about whether you believe that lazy cliches distort rather than help us understand the real nature of the political crisis at the heart of Europe. Blaming an evil German empire can be a convenient excuse for democratically elected southern European governments who don’t want to take the flak for unpopular decisions at home. It also deflects attention from other austerity hardliners such as Finland or the Netherlands. It suggests that there is an easy solution to the Greek sovereign debt crisis, when the reality is far more complex. [added emphasis]
There is an admirable romanticism to Podemos shaking up a sclerotic political scene. But behind its utopian energy there is more cold-blooded realpolitik than meets the eye. Podemos portrays itself as giving a voice to the ordinary citizens consulted on the internet or through hundreds of spontaneous assemblies called “circles”. Yet once the online voting has happened, the overall message is decided by a 10-member coordination council, nominated by Iglesias. At its worst, Podemos could resemble something like Leninist-centralism-meets-the-digital-era.
Explaining his communication strategy, Iglesias once pointed out how in 1917 Lenin “didn’t talk to the Russians about ‘dialectical materialism’, he talked to them about ‘bread and peace’”. The Podemos leader also believes that “Heaven is not taken by consensus, it is taken by assault.” Such statements have made it easy for critics to accuse Iglesias of authoritarian tendencies, influenced by outdated ideologies.
Iglesias and his close circle of friends in the Podemos leadership have spent time in Venezuela and Bolivia in the last decade, some of them acting as advisers to regimes whose democratic credentials aren’t exactly solid. Questions have been raised in the Spanish media about financial dealings from the regime of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, whom Iglesias has expressed admiration for. Podemos has since toned down its rhetoric about Bolivarian revolutions; it now claims to want to mimic northern European social democrats instead.
But the impression of ideological muddle endures. During the Maidan protests in Ukraine, Iglesias largely came down on the side of Putin’s propaganda. And when Syriza formed a coalition with the antisemitic, far-right Independent Greek party, Iglesias defended it as “a programmatic choice”.
Podemos has successfully captured a mood of popular protest in Spain, but it is now aiming to structure itself as a credible and reassuring political party. It claims to renew democracy, yet it knows complex issues cannot always be addressed via online petitions. It has the ambition of a mass movement but is run by a tight circle of professors. It talks about hope but its casta narrative is very Manichean.
Sounds familiar… [Apart from the “professors”! – Ed]. You might very well think that… And, as today’s Irish Times editorial notes, there may be another reason why we’ve heard less about Podemos from certain parties.
Podemos has used social media to channel and amplify the raw fury of the indignados street movement of recent years to a much more heterogeneous public. By broadly targeting the political establishment it has become both magnet and stimulant for social discontent. Ironically, the party has probably also siphoned off some social radicals from the burgeoning Catalan and Basque independence movements, thus potentially easing one of Spain’s biggest challenges. [added emphasis]
ANYhoo… back to Greece…
All eyes turn to next week’s informal summit in Brussels and Tripras’s first meeting with Merkel. The German leader is waiting for the new Greek leader to run himself out, say allies. Explaining her reserve to date, they cite the chancellor’s favoured maxim: “In der Ruhe liegt die Kraft” – strength lies in calm.
Merkel knows that the bridging loan Athens wants could be a bridge too far for her centre-right Christian Democratic Union. Any further concessions to Greece would allow the Alternative für Deutschland party, with its pro-Grexit campaign, peel away more of her conservative members.
With her attention focused on Ukraine, the German leader knows that resolving the Greek crisis is a balancing act that goes beyond single-currency concerns: too much leeway risks exhausting the patience – and finances – of Greece’s neighbours; too little leeway could force Athens to look elsewhere for financing.
“The only reason I think Greece is still in the euro is the fear of driving them into anyone else’s arms, like Russia,” says Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Europe think tank, in Brussels.
After a week on the road Greece faces a complicated campaign with many moving parts and national interests. It has some sympathetic but noncommittal allies to its cause and may yet win a hearing from sceptical capitals in Berlin’s camp, such as Vienna and Helsinki. Even though Finland faces an election in April, with eurosceptic populists relishing a renewed Greek crisis, the Finnish foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja, admitted on Wednesday that it was “in the general European interest to get along with the new Greek government”.
Between the two fronts are former programme countries such as Ireland and Portugal, torn between applauding and upbraiding Greece for taking on the troika for a better deal.
After many twists and turns the Greek crisis has reached its most dangerous bend in the treacherous mountain road. As the rest of the euro area looks on, Athens and Berlin are racing towards each other, each claiming in public – and hoping in private – that the other has more to lose by not yielding. But as the pressure builds in both capitals, the same poisonous accusation has seeped into the political discourse of the other: blackmail. [added emphasis]
Don’t forget to tune in next week! [For another exciting episode… – Ed]