SYRIZA cannot govern Greece by running from reality
We do not wish to be misunderstood here. Our intention is not to convince people who they should vote for, but to inform. We must also note that an alternative to Nea Dimokratia would make a far better government for people arriving in Greece (and the country as a whole) than the country’s current administration. But SYRIZA’s most recent statements on refugees reveal a deeply worrying combination of lack of political talent, and lack of courage. This will spell disaster, in the short-term or the long, unless the party immediately improves.
Offering yet another worrying indication that the party has neither the political talent, nor the courage, to govern Greece responsibly, SYRIZA has sought not to show the Nea Dimokratia policy towards and actions against refugees to be illegal, expensive and self-defeating, but instead to attempt to ‘out-securitise’ the party.
As anyone paying attention for the last four years is aware, the current Greek government’s ‘policies’ on people arriving in Greece seeking safe places to live, learn and work, are vicious, brutal, barbaric and illegal.
They have systematically stripped, beaten, robbed, in many cases sexually-abused and in some cases killed men, women and children, pushing back tens of thousands since 1 March 2020.
What Greece – and Europe – needs in response is a strong argument against these activities because they are despicable, immoral, and illegal. What SYRIZA, Greece’s ‘party of the Left’ has delivered instead is a claim that Nea Dimokratia has not done and will not do enough to stop people seeking safety from war, chaos, terror and death.
Responding to questions regarding Nea Dimokratia politicians’ (most specifically Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis) claims that SYRIZA opposes the extension of the Evros border wall, the party’s spokeswoman Popi Tsapanidou had the perfect opportunity to give a short, truthful and sensible answer.
She could have said:
‘Of course we oppose the extension of the wall. Because it is illegal to use walls to prevent people from entering countries to seek safety, and in any case no border security measures are effective in doing so. Instead, we will work with the wider EU to ensure that safe transport on safe routes is available to all who require it, and to ensure that people coming to the EU are able to reach the destination of their choice within it.’
She might have added:
‘Everyone in Greece knows that the country is in severe danger demographically, to the extent that within 50 years we will have too few workers to pay the pensions of the retired population of the country. If people are trying to get here to live, learn and work, we should be welcoming them, and helping them into education and jobs, even if this was not our legal and moral duty, which it is. It is what is best for Greece and everyone in Greece, and we as a country must recognise this and act upon it.’
But this response would have taken either some political nous and talent, or at the very least a tiny modicum of courage, because it would have meant SYRIZA would actually have had to address and overcome a wave of bigotry and racism from a small but extremely vocal section of the Greek public.
And SYRIZA – or at least ka. Tsapanidou – simply does not have that degree of either talent or courage.
Instead, she launched into a promise to be more racist, more exclusionary, more immoral, and more illegal even than Nea Dimokratia.
Speaking on Saturday (1 April 2023) night’s main news show on Alpha, she said:
‘Mr. Mitsotakis is trying to scare the world with the communication show he has built around the Evros issue. He is trying to make the citizens believe that SYRIZA-P.S. supposedly he will leave the country unripe vine. But it is not convincing.
‘It was said that SYRIZA-P.S. and our MEP, Dimitris Papadimoulis, pushed for an alleged end to EU funding for the fence. It's not like that at all. It is a decision of almost the entire European Parliament. In fact, Kyriakos Mitsotakis was left alone, with half of the European People's Party and the far-right, turning his back on a pan-European decision.
‘All political groups in the EU have rejected funding for fences across the EU. Not of course because the European border is a thorny vine, but because more comprehensive solutions need to be promoted.’
Which is kind of true, in as far as it goes, but hardly an encouraging opening to what could and should have been a simple and punchy riposte and stance against the despicable policies of Greece’s far-Right (of which on people movement, Nea Dimokratia is certainly a part).
But worse was to come.
She went on:
‘Fences are not enough. For SYRIZA-P.S. the security of the country is above all. We follow the European line, but also the American one, because in the USA the discussion about fences is similar to the one that takes place in our country and in the EU.
‘We need to strengthen our borders with the technological means at our disposal – cameras, drones. We need boats and patrols for our sea borders and a serious discussion with Europe and a Euro-Turkish agreement is needed that will bind Ankara to commit to control migration and refugee flows.’
Now. We must be as fair as we can and note that this message was not delivered by an actual elected member of SYRIZA. Tsapanidou is a party staffer, who has only been in the job for a short period (since early January this year). It is to be hoped that she spoke out of turn and that other party representatives might step forward to set the record straight (though none have done so so far) and assure us that SYRIZA’s policy is not as absolutely awful as she has claimed.
Equally, one might hope that if it is a party of little political talent and zero courage, SYRIZA might be simply lying to the electorate and have absolutely no intention of following such an abysmal path.
The arguments in favour of the latter possibility are that even Nea Dimokratia, a party with a long history of open racism against people arriving in Greece from the country’s south and east, has not stooped this low, and it is hard to believe SYRIZA is more bigoted and racist than the current Greek government, as well as that the policies she suggests will be extraordinarily expensive, as well as entirely ineffective, and SYRIZA cannot genuinely believe that the rest of the EU’s Left will stand by it if it embarks on this campaign of illegality and immorality.
The problem with such a ‘gambit’ is that telling the people of Greece that they are right to be racist, and then not doing what those racists want, may work once but will eventually lead to a situation in which Greek people believe (because all the parties supposed to represent them tell them it is) that racism is a reasonable and legitimate political position, and trust ‘mainstream’ ‘elite’ political parties even less than they do now, turning instead to ever more (far-) Right ‘solutions’ to problems which do not, in fact, exist. This is, for what it is worth, precisely what led to Brexit in the UK, and the ongoing stranglehold the Conservative Party’s most Right-wing iteration in at least 200 years, has on the country.
But for what it is worth, to address her comments directly, the problem is not that ‘fences are not enough’. It is that fences used to prevent people entering a country to apply for asylum are illegal, and immoral.
The second problem is that all border technology is expensive and delivers almost nothing in times when people need to escape war, terror, chaos and death.
Even Nea Dimokratia’s gratuitous violence against cold, tired and hungry men, women and children only appears to have had an impact because Covid prevented people from travelling for a long period of time (From Sunday 1 January to Tuesday 28 March this year, some 2,850 people had arrived in Greece by sea, more than three times the 908 who had arrived in 2022, and 3.75 times more than to the same period in 2021), and there is no evidence whatsoever that any ‘border security’ measures would have been effective in preventing the roughly 1.1m people who entered (and travelled through) Greece in 2015-16.
That is, not only are such border ‘security’ measures illegal and immoral, they are extremely expensive and they are ineffective.
As for ka. Tsapanidou’s ‘plan’ to force the Turkish government to ‘control migration flows’, not only has the EU shown very little ability (and the Greek government even less) to do anything of the sort in the seven years the EU-Turkey Statement has been in operation, it is of course simply a demand – again – from an EU member state that Türkiye must break the law, and behave despicably towards people in need, so the EU (and in this case Greece) doesn’t ‘have to’.
We should probably also note that the Turkish Coastguard has prevented more than one in every two people who have attempted to reach the Eastern Aegean islands since March 2016, from doing so. It is very far from clear that this can be increased in any meaningful way.
In short, we must hope that this is not SYRIZA’s position on refugees and people movement, because if it is, it is actually worse than that of Nea Dimokratia. Greece urgently needs to be rid of the latter, but it also needs a government in its place that will behave better – in both the moral and pragmatic sense of the word – than it does.
What SYRIZA has laid out here is very far from that.
We must also hope that the party very quickly finds some courage, otherwise if it wins the election on Sunday 21 May 2023, it must either carry out some of the worst border policies in European history, or risk empowering Greece’s far-Right even further.