Crisis in Greece: Europe’s helpless leftists

Syriza’s politics was a proposal for the system to show good will. This was both naïve and impassioned.

Alexis Tsipras‘ Syriza government risks a showdown. Foto: ap

German unemployment at its lowest since 1991, binge drinking among teens on the decline — and to top it all, the real summer kicks off.

The agencies only had tip-top news from Germany. So who cares about some Greek guy who can’t live off his pension, let alone pay for his medication? Prevailing logic claims that a state should only pay its people as much money as it can afford. And if that’s not enough to live off, then that’s just tough.

Traditional and new leftists in Europe are opposed to this lethal logic, while glitzy groups like the Italian Five-Star movement, but also extreme right-wing populists, continually raise new arguments in its favour that elicit incredulous headshakes from politicians in Berlin, Brussels and ultimately Paris, Rome and Warsaw too.

He who pays the piper calls the tune — and he who has debts should be grateful if he’s allowed to wash dishes for slave’s wages. The rest of the tongue-wagging that goes on is either priggish, dangerous, but mostly laughably feeble — the kind of talk that extreme left- and right-wing crackpots have always liked to indulge in during their lavish free time. The constraints of the past are the lack of alternative of today.

Dieser Beitrag ist die Übertragung eines Kommentars von Ambros Waibel zur Griechenlandkrise. Deutschsprachiges Orginal.

The principle is at stake

The Greek Syriza government has not only gone against this logic; it has risked a showdown. The results of its domestic policies are not relevant in its evaluation: true, Tsipras has barely touched the military budget, but he has launched a policy to grant Greek citizenship to foreign immigrants. As far as Berlin is concerned, however, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other: principles and politics are at stake.

The wobbles over the future of the EU and the euro have already lost more money on the stock exchanges than Greek sloppiness could ever fritter away: 287 billion euros alone this Monday according to figures. But those are costs that real-life liberalism writes off, so that the Greek government’s „irrational” behaviour and its kind remains a one-off episode.

And it will probably succeed too: the left-wing populist movement is still under construction in Spain, almost non-existent in Portugal, and not one significant left-wing party exists in Italy anymore. Over there, as in France, criticism of the neo-liberal system is articulated mostly by the right, whether it’s the Front National or Lega Nord, who have largely modelled themselves on their French counterparts over the past few years. Syriza’s politics was a proposal to the system to show good will. It was both naïve and impassioned, as is always the case when human dignity is at stake.

The next attempt for alternative politics, at least in the EU, will be a few illusions poorer.

Translation: Lucy Renner Jones

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Geboren 1968 in München, seit 2008 Redakteur der taz. Er arbeitet im Ressort taz2: Gesellschaft&Medien und schreibt insbesondere über Italien, Bayern, Antike, Organisierte Kriminalität und Schöne Literatur.

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