Greek banks have reopened after weeks of closure. The patient and orderly way customers queued outside to use ATMS during the big shut down was an impressive sight, especially for those people who are fond of considering Greek people as somehow incapable of doing things right.
But nothing is harmonious. The queues outside the job centres are as long as ever, while many of the shops that shut down at the same time as the banks, still haven’t reopened. Anti-austerity and anti-governmental protests have started to take place for the first time since Syriza came to power. Dozens were arrested as the Greek parliament voted to accept a new bailout deal from Europe, based on the very terms that were rejected just days earlier in a national referendum. Fresh riots took place as the parliament passed a law that allows the confiscation of people’s homes.
As Syriza burns its bridges with the general public, life for the majority of people has returned to hopeless normality – indeed, many people have spent more time talking about the wildfires that have broken out around the country than the troika in the past few days.
Greece’s ruling party might be called the coalition of the radical left but it seems to be rejecting a basic argument put forward by activists at that end of the political spectrum for years: It is impossible to transform this unequal, structurally and physically violent world into a better place if you try to do it via the institutional route. State governance, the parliamentary system, prime ministerial meetings and the rest are all the enemies of meaningful change.
Perhaps to a certain extent Syriza’s leaders were aware of the risks they were taking when they sought to continue negotiating with Europe. They could end up crossing the political spectrum to join the rest of the austerity governments or, less likely, be overthrown for failing to comply with the requests of creditors and international bankers.
Players in the neoliberal system have never been afraid of drawing blood – and Greek history has quite a few examples. The left has often been brutalised in order to protect capitalist forms of governance. This is what happened during the military coup of 1967. And although such extremes are unlikely these days, the bailout debacle has introduced Syriza’s leadership to real politics.
Just after prime minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to the terms presented to him by Greece’s international creditors, the IMF, itself part of the deal, spoke out against what was on offer. Greece, it argued, would never be able to pay its debts under the terms being put forward. Very soon followed the German minister of finance who made it publicly known that he does not think the programme proposed by his own government will work.
And yet this was the route taken by EU leaders. Syriza argues that the Greek government chose these new catastrophic terms and conditions instead of a much more catastrophic option. This is precisely how high-level politics works behind closed doors. There is blackmail and there are threats. One can only wonder why Syriza would have expected anything else.
Many believe Tsipras was forced into agreeing to the terms but Syriza is not innocent in this situation. It continues to glorify the eurozone and still prioritises paying back a supposedly national debt that ends up bailing out the Greek and European banking sector.
Moreover, Syriza’s belief in national unity also reflects the mistakes long made by the Greek left. The Greek population includes both massively impoverished social classes and a corrupted few who get richer every day. The latter group has no interest in an even slightly fairer system than extreme austerity for the poor and state generosity for the rich.
At least amid all the confusion there is clarity in one respect. Voters are seeing that Syriza’s parliamentary victory does not mean the end of austerity and poverty. Even Syriza’s own youth group publicly denounced the new loan agreement.
The deep division between the government and people is opening again. Since Syriza’s election in January 2015, significant parts of the grassroots movement that opposed austerity – from solidarity and protest groups to immigrant support initiatives and unions – had remained somewhat inactive. They had slipped into a lethargic state, expecting a smoother state of affairs with Syriza at the helm of the austerity-ridden country. But the scales have fallen and those who were sympathetic to this new government are losing again faith in politics from above.