Interview to @DimitrisBounias
What have been the lessons learnt from the EU parliament election campaign, your first?
That time is valuable. There was little time in the European parliament elections and Athens B is a large region. Now there’s even less time. There’s no time to do what you have to do, which is having direct contact with people.
How can you manage to keep in contact with so many people in just twenty days?
You can’t. There are 1.5 million people. There is an indirect interaction, if you are exposed to the media, slightly through social media and by meeting as many people as you can find by taking a walk.
Does it help that the rival side doesn’t campaign on the street? Does it allow you to catch your breath?
In theory, yes. But again, the time is so limited and the size of the regions is so huge…an election period of 20 days is unprecedented. Furthermore, they are being held mid winter with temperatures in Athens close to zero-this last happened in 1965 in February and they were the last elections for the next ten years.
Even though we see a fair share of “scaremongering”, do you feel things are different than 2012?
The climate of fear has broken because the threat of further pain is practically innocuous. People don’t understand what more pain could mean. Getting bombed with napalms!?. I don’t know.
So you believe the fear bluff won’t work this time?
It’s not a bluff. It’s a weapon. It’s a threat. What you, the Left, is promising, is not to take us back to the time in 2004 and 2005 when people enjoyed themselves, taking out bank loans to go on vacation. There is no way this can happen. The country is bankrupt. And not only it is bankrupt, in the last five years a large part of the country’s debt is private… And many households have been ruined. Around half of the population is almost in a situation of asphyxiation.
So if you’re wise, you can’t expect to go back to those days. Those days have passed. You must go to another situation where, on the one hand, relief is provided to those that have suffered and, on the other, the country’s productivity and the State are set up to operate in a more rational way, more efficiently and, primarily,in a more just way.
In theory, there is a line between a journalist and a politician. The journalist presents the problems and the politician tries to solve them. Why did you jump from journalism to politics? What moved you?
Firstly, there’s a turning point in the lives of people when they must make a decision.Secondly, it’s a choice I made and I don’t think it is a permanent one. I don’t think, the way things stand now, that I will be involved with politics over the next ten years. And this also depends on getting elected. It’s not something you determine. I’m not a professional politician, a member of any party, and I don’t intend to become one.
What did you see in Syriza?
It’s a one-way street for the country at the moment. It may have faults and weaknesses, but the way things are now, its the only road that can open up a new historic cycle.
Do you think the fragmentation of the center-left will pose a threat to Syriza or will this polarisation make people choose between Samaras and Tsipras as well as between their respective parties?
First off all I don’t believe there is a centre left. To have a centre left, it must revolve around Syriza. The rest is a Centre which, in the last three to four years, I would call an extreme Centre, characterised by misanthropy and liberalism. It’s kept nothing of its socialist characteristics.
If you could choose, which party would you form a majority government with. The Greek Communist party (KKE) or Potami (The River)?
I would choose the KKE but it wouldn’t want to. I know this. It would do it good, but it doesn’t want what’s good for it, nor what’s good for the Greek people.
In that case, it means you’re stuck with this «extreme center», What would happen then?
It could lead to elections again which is something many people fear. Syriza doesn’t fear this prospect but it’s a huge thing to go to a second election. Nonetheless, this happened in 2012 and nothing happened to the country. The country needs stability one way or the other.
The first thing Syriza say it wants to do is to tackle the social crisis. How do you envisage that happening in the Athens B (aka wider Athens) region?
The Athens B region is very heterogenous . It’s home to some of the richest areas in Greece, but also the poorest.
How do you win them over? Is it easier now that the middle class seems more open towards Syriza?
Syriza is first in Athens B and does very well in other middle class areas.So there is a turn. The crisis showed the class inequalities in society and this was apparent in the elections of 2012. A number of people with a conservative background will vote for Syriza out of dignity. It’s a matter of dignity now and national pride. They believe the country has become a colony of debt. They believe the state treats them like a tyrant and a tax collector and offers them nothing. I think even conservatives will take a risk for a change and they will vote for Syriza.
How can Syriza lessen the acute polarisation that has gripped the country in recent years?
I think that if Syriza wins the elections, which it will win, the first priority of Tsipras will be to lower the tone and persuade everyone that he is prime minister of all the Greeks, that he will govern not just for the benefit of Syriza voters but for everyone. Of course, we can’t deny there are class divisions and different interests involved. But there are certain minimum requirements that we must secure such as the just state and a vibrant and functioning democracy which has also suffered in recent years. If we can secure these minimum requirements then we can envisage social cohesion. Different groups can compete but there shouldn’t be the sort of conflict we have seen recently.
How will Syriza find a balance between the pressures from the country’s lenders and the demands of people who will be expecting results from day one?
There are two fronts. The first front is the lenders, which is difficult. I hope this front can become more rational. It’s not only Germany which is the dominant power that we have opposite us, but there are others also that carry a certain weight. It’s not the Greeks who are sick, within an otherwise healthy Europe. The eurozone is currently suffering from deflation. The negotiations may last a few months rather than a few weeks. The second front is the kleptocratic oligarchs and a dysfunctional state . Syriza can’t afford to back down on these two. It must rebuild the state and there are many examples in Europe we can follow. We must remove the clout of certain families and certain interest that, through the media and other ways, control the country’s political life. This has led to a cultural and political bankruptcy. These are the most important issues for Syriza.
Can Syriza survive without support from the country’s elite?
Not all industrialists and businessmen are kleptocrats There are many examples of good businessmen and industrialist who pay their taxes and take care of their employees. A left government has no other option than to support healthy business.
Will Syriza find scorched earth? How will it rebuild the country?
We will work with the civil service and set up a framework which will allow employees to do the best they can. You don’t need geniuses everywhere, you need a framework to get the best out of the average person.
The workers movement is one of humanity’s and democracy’s most important achievements but in the late 20th century the workers movement was distorted. everyone looked out for their own interests and not the collective interest. This created great inequalities among different workers groups.There is a problem with trade unionism the way it has developed.
Everyone is talking about the economy. How important are policies that deal with human rights in Greece. How high does Syriza hold these priorities?
They are a very high on our list of priorities. We will help these issues with the proper legal framework. All these issues will be moved up in the agenda.
Are the Europeans ready for Tsipras and Syriza’s programme?
The Anglo Saxons have understood this better than others. The Financial Times and the New York Times have understood that Tsipras could offer a win win situation, so that Merkel would not appear to be backing down and so that the country is not crushed.
In a negotiation, it’s give and take. It’s correct to ask for more to get more and better than asking for little to get little. Europe is ready for a change, to move away from these policies of austerity. The Germans have an obsession with the protestant work ethic and and the strict adherence to rules. But history has shown that rules can be changed when needed. You can’t go against the flow of the river, you’ll drown. The Germans have shown historically to be hard head. There must be a balance. It’s an opportunity for both sides to win. We need an adaptation for everyone’s benefit. Europe is ready for a change and this could translate politically. We have a very strict right wing in Germany pursuing austerity and on the other side of the border the right wing in France is dominated by (Marine) Le Pen’s Front National, which is against the European ideal, against austerity and could possibly sweep the French elections. In addition, Le Pen’s party is anti-German. Le Pen could cause a lot of problems for Europe and it is something (Francois) Hollande and (Angela) Merkel know very well. As Greece served as a guinea pig at the beginning of the crisis, now it can serve to facilitate a new adaptation and a new direction.