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Greece: A meeting with SYRIZA's Alexis Tsipras: 'It's a European crisis, a capitalist crisis, not a Greek crisis ...'

May 14, 2012 -- Coalition of Resistance -- Britain's Greece Solidarity Campaign's recent delegation to Athens met with Alexis Tsipras, leader of SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left and president of Synaspismos. The delegation meeting him included national representatives from several trade unions UNITE, the Communication Workers Union, the Fire Brigades Union and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association.

Tsipras described as "catastrophic" the impact of austerity on Greek society, describing public hospitals on the brink of collapse with a shortage of medical supplies, and there were no new books at the start of the school year, so parents were forced to photocopy old ones. He said "it’s only a matter of time before the next social explosion".

Tsipras told the delegation that if austerity is the "prescription" to cure the economic crisis, it is "the medicine of disaster" and that the policies being imposed by the International Monetary Fund/European Union and World Bank are destroying social cohesion, destroying the political system and destroying the economy.

Paul Mackney (left), chair of the Greece Solidarity Campaign, with Alexis Tsipras (far right) and other comrades from SYRIZA.

He described how the imposition of these policies, being implemented by a government with no electoral mandate was a "violation of the democratic establishment" and a "loss of national sovereignty".

Background to austerity in Greece

The representatives from Synaspismos described some of the build up to the crisis. They outlined how national income through tax had diminished year on year, even in the "development years" when there was economic growth.

They told the delegation that 110 billion euros were lost through avoidance and evasion of tax on profits by richest in Greece, with tax evasion by the rich on a grand scale in the last 10 years. Instead of collecting money owned by the wealthy, an indirect tax (VAT) of 23% has been levied, affecting the poorest most. An example of this was given: Greece has the biggest merchant fleet in the world, but the fleet owners pay less in tax that the entire immigrant population in Greece.

They described how for two and a half years the banks, bailed out in 2008, have not paid back the money that they owe the Greek people. Tsipras described the ESKRO off-shore account created outside of Greece by the Greek government, which will pay banks and other international creditors first, and whatever is left will go to meet the social needs of Greece. Forty billion euros of capital has left Greece in the last year.

Representatives talked about their efforts to counter the incorrect arguments that single out Greece as the cause of the crisis – the "black sheep". They described their view of the causes of the crisis are because of the neoliberal economic policies followed across Europe and beyond, making it a "European crisis, a capitalist crisis, not a Greek crisis….not a war between people and nations but between classes".

The problem is "not the cook making a bad meal but the recipe", said Alexis Tsipras.

They described the austerity policies as "shock neoliberal measures" that were a socio-political experiment – using Greece to see how much a society can take, how far resources can be privatised and a new  supply of cheap labour be created, to export to neighbouring countries.

What needs to happen?

Alexis Tsipras talked about the need for the left to create a climate of social justice and campaign for alternative policies. He said that the government had no mandate to sign the two memoranda, and questioned their legality. He said the first job of a new government with a popular mandate should be to renegotiate the memos, on the agreed principle that Greek society cannot take the policies of the two memos. Furthermore. They felt that the key question was not in or out of the eurozone, but rather exploiting being in it to support renegotiation.

Regardless of any renegotiations their view is that there needs to be a reorganisation of social and economic structures. Key features of this include socialisation (nationalisation) of the banking system and redistribution of wealth through a radical change in the taxation system – taxing big capital not poverty.

Tsipras told the delegation that political figures on the left and ex-PASOK needed to create an electoral alliance. He said that this hasn’t been possible so far, because of different traditions and party interests. However, he said that SYRIZA was an initiative trying to create this alliance, to include ex-PASOK members. He said that such an alliance could allow the left to come second in the forthcoming elections.

What can a solidarity movement do?

The delegation was told how important the initiative of setting up a solidarity campaign in the UK is in supporting those opposing austerity in Greece.

The Synaspismos representatives stressed the need for solidarity action that challenges the notion that this is a problem with Greece and the slurs about Greek people. They described how the situation was impacting on Greek people in two ways – making them feel isolated and under attack, but at the same time, some believing the politicians and the media that say the Greek people are to blame. The delegation was told how important solidarity support from the UK could be in overcoming both of these things.

"It is very important to the Greek people that there is such an initiative as this in Britain. It is important to the Greek people to understand that they are not alone and there other people with them against the attack taking place", said Alexis Tsipras.

The delegation was told about the importance of the international links made in the "squares movement" – with Occupy Wall Street and the Arab social occupation movements – and the need to link up with movements such as these, and build on the connections already made.

Representatives stressed the importance in Greece of the trade unions being in the forefront of opposition to austerity, and that this meant it was vital for international solidarity to include union to union links and – ultimately – coordinated international action. An example of such action was the day of action in Greece on February 29 supported by solidarity action organised by the trade unions in Portugal and Spain.

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Interview with SYRIZA MP

By George Gilson

Athens News (http://www.athensnews.gr/issue/13495/55489)

The unprecedented success of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), displacing Pasok in votes, surprised many in Greece and abroad. Some foreign press sources attributed this to the charismatic qualities of its head, Alexis Tsipras, whom a preelection survey named the best opposition leader.

In an interview with the Athens News, newly-elected MP Nadia Valavani, a trained economist and author who is an acknowledged expert on Bertolt Brecht, argues that Syriza’s current and future success lies in its grassroots mobilisation.
 
Valavani, a former communist who was jailed by the junta for being present at the 1973 Polytechnic uprising, says the electoral result broke the stranglehold of two-party clientelism in Greek politics.
 
 
Athens News: What are your sentiments after Syriza’s electoral success?
 
Nadia Valavani: Like most others, I had not foreseen its extent. A wind of liberation from a stance of life that depended on clientelism and terrifying dilemmas blew for hundreds of thousands of people. I do not believe that the huge rise in votes for Syriza can be explained away as a protest vote. I know this from many pre-electoral meetings for 25-30 people held at the homes of people who almost always had no connection to Syriza and planned to vote for it for the first time. They came largely from Pasok; many were from New Democracy, including two ND youth group members who were at university. They were not interested in how we got into the crisis, but rather in what to do about it. I heard similar phrasing in all meetings - that they wanted to transcend their earlier political allegiances and outlook on life. I witnessed a captivating liberation of people.
 
Syriza went from four percent of the vote in 2009 to 16 percent now. Are the new voters mainly leftists?
 
There were former leftwing voters who had gone over to Pasok or ND over time. They were people who had never had a leftist culture until now. To keep them, we must create a framework for people who now want to be active citizens to express themselves. We must refound Syriza, because the party of 16 percent is very different from a party with a 4 percent base. We must create new institutions. We must respond to the pressure from people who want to have a say in shaping policy and tell us what must be done. For four days, beginning on May 11, we will be inviting interested people to assemblies. When a mass interest develops, there will be open-air meetings. I will be making an introduction to the May 11 gathering at the central square of Elliniko and then we will hold a Syriza assembly so people can speak out. As a radical leftist party, we do not want just voters. Transcending the Greek society’s crisis requires broad popular participation, not just acquiescence to a policy. We cannot do it with the political forces of the left alone, even if our polling numbers were to rise in a second [repeat] election.
 
Our invitation to other leftwing forces - including extra-parliamentary ones - is of a strategic nature. The divisions within the left do not permit a political programme common to all, but we can achieve an understanding, as we did in Syriza - the party includes almost 20 groups, each with different visions of the future, but beyond that there are thousands of people belonging to no group or party. I am in Syriza, but I belong to none of its component groups. I was in the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) when I was around 18 and spent my most productive years there.
 
Today, there is a very mature demand among leftists for common action. That does not entail a common programme from now until the arrival of socialism. The base simply wants the left to be at the centre of a front of social and political forces that can offer solutions to problems. For as long as leftwing party leaders do not respond, they will face difficulties. The leftwing citizens are pushing towards that direction. I am in four groups exploring the left - the leftist forum, the forum for dialogue and common action in the left, the initiative to form a national debt auditing committee, and in two groups of artists.
 
It’s the first time there are groups looking to build unity in the left that include some, though not many, members of the KKE. It is also the first time the KKE has not expelled those members who participated in groups looking for cooperation with other leftists. The party tolerated this, whereas four years ago it would not have done so. I think times are changing. The memorandum brought many people together to achieve common aims without abandoning their political positions. So the gamut goes from parliamentary leftist parties to extra-parliamentary leftists, who play an important role in these efforts.
 
Do you personally and does Syriza believe Greece should stay in the eurozone?
All of us in Syriza are Europeanists - in the real sense of the word. We are internationalists. We want to fight alongside the peoples of Europe. None of us believes Greece can take a lonely, brave and proud road and become self-sufficient in a period of globali­sation. The dividing lines that pass through the entire Greek left exist in Syriza as well. Some seek radical improvement of the existing European unification process. Others believe we should stay within the framework of the existing unification, but see the currency issue in a different light, with a plan B [possibly leaving the euro] if things get out of hand. Others believe that the future of European peoples is outside the existing EU. No one speaks about returning to the drachma.
 
Is staying in the EU and the eurozone a top priority for Syriza?
 
Yes, it is. There is a joint view on the currency: “No sacrifice for the euro”. That is the official position of Syriza, as expressed at the last meeting of the nationwide assembly, in November 2011.
 
You want to be in the EU with no sacrifice for the euro. Is that realistic?
 
It is a reality that we can fight for. The strategy is to stay in the eurozone, but within certain limits. That limit is very simple: the Greek people must be able to survive.
 
In the year after the first memorandum, there was silence in the media, because it was considered a one-way street, inevitable. Whoever had a different view was seen as a harbinger of disaster who wanted to destroy Greece. Two years later, however, we reached a real catastrophe. We are warned of chaos, but chaos has already reared its head in Greek society. We want to stay in the euro, but also to relieve the great majority of working people in Greek society, who are facing grave difficulties. Our problem is not what will happen with the currency. Our problem is what will happen to the people. We want the euro, as a tool. If that prevents people from breathing, then we will have to see things differently.

Party tonedown?

Sensing that the climate for a revolution or a government of the ‘pure’ left was not right, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras gradually toned down his rhetoric on May 10, shifting his emphasis from the repeal of the whole bailout loan pact and austerity programme to the cancellation of its controversial “internal devaluation” component, namely the recent wage and pension cuts and the dismantling of collective pay agreements.
 
“We can’t realise our dream to form a government of the left,” Tsipras told Syriza MPs before handing back the mandate to form a government to President Karolos Papoulias. “But we shall continue to be at the forefront of the struggle.”
 
The five points that form the basis of a Syriza government platform are:
  • Cancellation of pending bailout measures of further cuts to private sector wages and pensions.
  • Cancellation of laws abolishing collective labour agreements.
  • Abolition of MPs’ special privileges and immunity from prosecution as well as reform of electoral law.
  • Immediate publication of the audit performed on the Greek banking system by BlackRock.
  • An international auditing committee to account for public sector over-indebtedness, with a moratorium on all debt servicing until the publication of the audit findings.

SYRIZA MP: Greece 'can do better' than German deal

Video at http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2012/s3503667.htm

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 15/05/2012

Reporter: Emma Alberici

SYRIZA MP Euclid Tsakalotos joins Lateline to discuss the policies of the left aimed at reforming the economy of the troubled country.

Transcript

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: And to discuss the Greek crisis I was joined a short time ago by Euclid Tsakalotos, economics professor at the University of Athens. He was elected to parliament in the May six elections as a member of the left coalition SYRIZA party, and he's considered a close confidante of leader Alexis Tsipras.

Euclid Tsakalotos, thanks for being there for us.

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS, SYRIZA PARTY MP: My pleasure.

EMMA ALBERICI: As we go to air, SYRIZA and the other main parties in Greece are having talks with a view to forming a government. What is the prospect that that might be achieved by the end of today?

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: It's very difficult to tell at the moment. They're speaking just behind my back at the presidential palace, the leaders of the main parties - the president of the republican has suggested a government of technocrats, like Monti in Italy. Whether the parties of the centre left and the centre right will support that, or the democratic left, I'm not sure. I really cannot predict it at this moment. It looks less than 50/50, but...

EMMA ALBERICI: What about your party, SYRIZA? Does it support a government of technocrats?

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: No, no, we think the issues are political. We think that the people of Greece voted for a big change. The Eurozone, as you know, is in crisis. We have these austerity policies that are leading to recession and they lead to greater austerity measures. That's a dead end for Europe, it's a dead end for Greece and the Greek people are increasingly supporting a different program, different social and economic priorities - which we think are good, not just for Greece, but for working people in Italy and Spain, in Portugal.

EMMA ALBERICI: Look, if we assume that the deadlock can't be broken and Greece will go to the polls again, given you've got only 17 per cent of the vote so far, how do you increase your share of the vote? What is it that you offer to voters as an alternative to austerity?

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Well, we offer a different program based on very different social and economic priorities: income redistribution, social welfare. We really have a program the old labour parties and the social democrats used to have, who used to represent labour on a program of jobs, on a program of wages and pensions and social welfare. We'll be going to the European Union should we win the election, or win it as part of a coalition, and really ask for what Germany gained in 1953 when it had a debt problem. It gained a Marshall plan, it gained some cutbacks in the debts, and it also gained - and this is very significant - that countries like Greece and Spain and Italy and Portugal should only pay back their debt, if and only if they have the growth and exports to justify repayment. In other words, our creditors are not our first responsibility. We do not want not to repay all of our debt, but we're only willing to pay that debt should the economic and social conditions allow for it. At the moment the Eurozone is at risk, not because of the Greek radical left - it's at risk because it has an architecture, a financial and economic architecture that is evidently unable to deal with the crisis in the eurozone, and we think part of the solution is a change in that architecture.

EMMA ALBERICI: Let's dissect what you've just said one bit at a time. The Marshall plan that you talk about post-war was all about rebuilding economies devastated by war. It's generally agreed that the problems with the Greek economy are self-inflicted. I mean, the damage in Greece was that you borrowed too much - you'll find it hard, won't you, to convince your neighbours in Europe that profligacy makes one eligible for charity?

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Well, as you know, in the 70s and 80s we had a third world debt problem, and eventually the creditors realised when you lend too much, half the problem is with the people who borrowed, and half the problem is with the banks that lend too much. And that's why we had the Brady bonds, and we had an international solution to the debt crisis of the south. So we're saying something very similar. It's all very well saying that it's just the Greek people who have been profligate but there's a crisis in Spain and in Portugal and in Italy, and part of the problem was the banks made an awful lot of money during those periods, and now that they're not making money the rest of society is socialising their losses. Quite frankly, that isn't capitalism, is it? It's not a capitalist solution that every time the banks don't make money and make losses, the rest of society pays for it. Thus we think that to get out of this crisis we have to have a very different banking system that invests in the real economy; we have to have growth, Germany cannot get out of this crisis if it doesn't expand its economy - it's no longer a small open economy, and it can't run its macroeconomic policy as if it doesn't care what's happening in the south. If it continues to do so, as many economists in the Financial Times and the economists in the New York Times have said, the eurozone will collapse, and it will collapse because of bad German economic policies and a bad architecture that cannot deal with the recession.

EMMA ALBERICI: All that aside, would you agree that Greece - if we look at just Greece for the time being - there might need to be some cultural shift in your country that there can't continue to be an attitude that says paying tax is an optional measure; and also this idea that people are entitled to a pension in their 50s, where virtually everywhere else in the world we wait until our 60s?

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: You're listening a little bit too much to the creditors' point of view. But that having been said, you're quite right. Nobody in the left in Greece suggests that we should go back to the pre-2008 situation. You're quite right, we need to expand a taxable base. We need to have important reforms in the public sector, we might want to make the public sector more public and not be a field for private interests and private gain. We have a big program which is not a return to the pre-2008 program. We were very critical of the model of development that was based on lending and big projects in the pre-2008 period, so you're actually preaching to the converted. But, on the other hand, we also need a model that has a regulation of the banks, that deals with social inequalities, that deals with regional inequalities - and that is what the Greek left is saying. And we're appealing to progressive forces in Spain and Italy and France that there is no reason why the eurozone should always be the eurozone of Merkel, why it should always be the eurozone of the banks, why it should always be the eurozone that restricts democracy, that doesn't allow peoples to vote on alternative policies - which says more or less you can vote for anything you like as long as you vote for what Merkel and Schauble says is right. That can't be a permanent just equilibrium for Europe.

EMMA ALBERICI: The Germans have a very persuasive view and that is that money talks. The Germans have put something in the order of $600 billion into the stability fund - the financial firewall, so...

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Of which all these loans they are making.

EMMA ALBERICI: They tend to have a view that gives them...

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: They haven't given us...

EMMA ALBERICI: ...that that gives them a bigger say.

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: There's two issues there. The first issue is that Germans have not put any money into Greece which they're not profiting from. Even German newspapers you will read and understand how much profit they've made from loans to all the southern European economies. Not just now in the crisis but before the crisis as well. The second issue is that after every crisis of capitalism - in 1929, in 1974 - we never returned to the status quo. All these arguments that we're hearing - that we must go out of this crisis by reducing wages, reducing the public sector - we heard in the 1930s, and no economy in the 1930s got out of a recession or reduced its debt-to-GDP ratio through austerity. It was true then, it's true now, and unless there's going to be a settlement that will have to be imposed on Schauble and on Merkel, and by what I see in German election results they're losing ground, and people are discussing euro bonds, they're discussing a different European Central Bank, they're discussing a very different macroeconomic strategy; the discussions, the debate has opened. I will just tell you what very many leader articles and opinion makers have been saying in the main financial papers: the eurozone will either change in a more progressive direction, or it will collapse - and it will not collapse because the Greek left got 17 per cent of the vote, it will collapse because it didn't understand what the economics of monetary union are and that you cannot reduce your debt through recession.

EMMA ALBERICI: Mr Tsakalotos, they're tough words you speak, but the fact remains that the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank have sent you a very clear message - you being Greek society. The $170 billion bailout money is not negotiable: it comes with conditions and conditions of severe austerity?

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Well, because I'm a professor of economics and I've studied economic history, negotiating positions can change when the balance of forces change. Obviously, I wouldn't expect Merkel and Schauble to say anything else before negotiations, but if the peoples of the south change the balance of forces, difference social forces come to the fore - as they did in the 50s and 60s. In the 50s and 60s, after the recession of the 30s, no economist who had been saying these things about the necessity of austerity was in power. They had all been marginalised because people came back after the war and said and, "We will not return to the devil's decade of recession, unemployment, hunger marches; we can do something better". And we're in this situation again. We can do something better. And if Merkel and Sarkozy and the others don't understand that, I think they will have to understand it when the balance of forces changes.

EMMA ALBERICI: I think it's Hollande now you will be dealing with, not Mr Sarkozy. But at what point do you countenance a Greek exit from the Eurozone?

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Well, we're not actually proposing a Greek exit. We're proposing different kind of proposals for economy and society which are good for Greek people and for the peoples of Europe. We have no intention of leaving by our own accord monetary union, and as very many economists have been saying, the eurozone cannot withstand a Greek withdrawal. It's rather like adultery. Once you've done it once, the temptation to do it again is greatly increased. If they throw Greece out, investors will know that Portugal or Spain or Italy will be the next, and the eurozone - this is in professor Krugman's blog of this week - once Greece go, the probability of another country goes is very, very strong, and that's what gives us bargaining power against what the Germans are saying and against what the IMF is saying.

EMMA ALBERICI: Mr Tsakalotos, we have to leave it there, thank you very much for your time this evening.

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: Thanks very much, it's been a pleasure.

Alexis Tsipras: 'Greece is in danger of a humanitarian crisis'

Alexis Tsipras interview: 'Greece is in danger of a humanitarian crisis'

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/21/alexis-tsiparas-greece-interview-syriza

The leader of Syriza, the party spearheading the anti-austerity backlash, says Greece is descending into 'social hell'

  • guardian.co.uk,
Alexis Tsipras
Alexis Tsipras: 'we can't insist on a programme that has proved catastrophic and ineffective.' Photograph: Yorgos Karahalis/Reuters

The Greek radical left leader, Alexis Tsipras, is making his international debut, holding talks with European leftists and government officials in Paris before moving on to Berlin. He spoke at length before his departure to Helena Smith, our correspondent in Athens.

This is the interview in full.

Helena Smith: The European parliament president, Martin Schulz, emerged from talks with you here in Greece saying you are not as dangerous as you might seem, Mr Tsipras. Is this true?

Alexis Tsipras: We had a substantive and a rather constructive talk, and I think the first thing that is necessary is to start a real dialogue. Because, you know, if you don't talk, you can't find a solution.

HS: And this hasn't happened to date?

AT: So far, I believe there hasn't been any real discussion, just as there was no political negotiation in Europe before the memorandum [of bailout conditions] on the terms and ways of confronting Greece's fiscal problem. The memorandum was a political decision that was taken without consulting the Greek people, and it has proved catastrophic. The decision to place the country under [the supervision of] the IMF was taken by Mr Papandreou [the former prime minister] without any prior consultation and in full absence of any real political attempt to make any demands of the European Union.

And we've got to the point where it has been proved disastrous. After two packages of financial support that were accompanied by very harsh measures, recession remains at monumental levels, unemployment has soared, social cohesion has collapsed, and Greece is in danger of a humanitarian crisis. And on top of this, we're not seeing results. Neither is the debt being reduced effectively, nor is the deficit; and nor is recession subsiding. Consequently, we can't insist on a programme that has proved catastrophic and ineffective.

HS: You have spoken of the memorandum as a path that will lead to hell. How far off is this hell?

AT: We have never been in such a bad place. After two and a half years of catastrophe, the Greek people are on their knees; the social state has crumbled; one in two youngsters is out of work; there are people leaving en masse; the climate psychologically is one of pessimism, depression, mass suicides. We cannot accept that this is the future of a European country. And precisely because we recognise the problem is European, and it will spread to the rest of Europe, we are sounding the alarm bell and are appealing to the people of Europe to support us in an effort to stop this descent into what can only be called social hell.

HS: I was told by one of your assistants that you were born on the same day as Hugo Chávez. Do you have a good relationship with him?

AT: That is true, but he must have been born a few years before me. I have never met him but I have communicated with him because as a municipal councillor of Athens in the past. I travelled to Venezuela as part of a Greek monitoring mission overseeing elections there before I became president of the Left coalition [Syriza's main party] in 2008. And since then I have met with its foreign minister, and we have a good relationship with the Venezuelan ambassador.

HS: Is Chávez one of your heroes?

AT: I don't believe there are heroes or saviours in politics. I don't feel like a saviour: salvation can only be found by people en masse when they understand they have power in their hands. I totally disagree with the notion of a nation looking for heroes and saviours, especially a nation that needs a saviour. Whenever I am in contact with people who tell me of their woes and say "Save us", I always say that we are the only people who can save ourselves, altogether, when we realise the power that we have in our hands. It is a mistake to put salvation in the hands of individuals.

Right now, I represent a political party that works collectively, and which represents the struggle and anguish of a great part of the Greek people. Someone else could easily represent it. Since I am in this position, I will try to do my best but I know that my power is not dependent on my own capabilities or strengths but on the trust and strength that people will give us through their vote.

HS: Are you worried? In the event of Syriza emerging as the first party and you are put in the position of governing the country, would you be afraid?

AT: I would be afraid if this didn't happen and Greece continued on a path of catastrophe and unhappiness where our children, and my own children, live in a country that has been destroyed, one in which they basically can't live and are forced to move abroad. That is my worry. All these years, we allowed the people who governed us to destroy this country. And we have to stop them.

HS: You were born on 28 July 1974. You are from a generation that never experienced dictatorship, but democracy. Was the country you were born in the one you, and your parents, hoped for?

AT: I was born four days after the return of democracy. It was a definitive moment for Greek society, a moment of progress when it threw off a seven-year yoke [with the collapse of military rule]. I grew up at a time when there were huge hopes in Greek democracy and the political system.

I was very young but I do remember the period of "allagi" [change] after 1980, when Pasok took power. My parents at that time voted Pasok; a lot of people who came from the left did in 1981. But I also remember the expectations that had been created and the contribution of the left and particularly Harilaos Florakis [the late leader of the long outlawed KKE communist party] and Leonidas Kyrkos [the late leader of the communist party of the Interior] to the cultural and political renaissance that was happening in Greece.

But things changed in the 80s and very quickly visions of democracy and social equality were replaced by scandal, vested interests, a miserable public sector, [and] a state that lacked meritocracy, where to find work you had to go around MPs offices in the hope that they would find you a job. It was a system that did not give opportunities to young people.

HS: Did you feel this personally?

AT: I lived, and live, in this country, and in that sense of course I felt all of these things. But I am lucky that I managed to study at a very important university [Athens's Polytechnic] and to do postgraduate studies there. And I believe, despite the difficulties in Greek political and social life, that there are certain good things, such as our universities. But in recent years, the political system led us to an impasse.

New Democracy and Pasok, the two parties that were in charge of the fate of the country all these years, and took it into the eurozone, worked on the basis of easy profit on the stock exchange, easy loans and the false consumer needs of the Greek people. They didn't leave anything behind, any infastructure, when for over a decade, between 1996 and 2008, Greece had a record of positive growth – rates that before the [2004] Athens Olympic Games were at 7% or 8%. Where did it go? It went into the pockets of certain corrupt and wealthy [individuals] and banks, to those who were paid kickbacks for defence procurements and constructions for the Olympic Games. It didn't go into building a better social state. We didn't build better schools or better hospitals, and now Greek people are in a much worse place to confront the crisis than, say, the French, the Spanish and other Europeans.

HS: Are Greeks one step before social explosion?

AT: Greek people have shown great maturity, huge maturity. Given all the terrible things they have suffered, I am amazed there has not been a social explosion. With dignity Greek people have protested, filling the streets and filling the squares. With dignity they have been teargassed in Syntagma and other squares around the country. With dignity they have gone and voted, and with great dignity they are have resisted all this scaremongering [about Greece exiting the eurozone] and have not gone to banks to withdraw their small deposits, unlike big-time businessmen and the lobbies of ship-owners and industrialists here, who have been, and are, involved in a dirty game of profiteering.

HS: Are you against the euro or are you against the policies being conducted in the name of the euro?

AT: Of course we are not against the euro or the idea of a unified Europe or monetary union. We believe that resolution of the problem is not found in friction or in the struggle for competitiveness between different nations. We have to understand that when we have a common currency we owe it to every member state that it has the right of last lender. If California has a huge problem with its debts, Congress and the Fed aren't going to decide to expel California from the dollar or the US. Instead, the Fed assumes the cost of it being able to borrow cheaply until it the state can borrow again on markets. If we want a strong Europe and a united Europe we've got to show our teeth to the markets. When you create an EFSF that resembles a yacht when it is trying to pass off as a cruise ship, markets are not going to be appeased.

HS: Polls show Syriza is very likely to emerge with the greatest number of votes in the coming election. Have you thought about what you might do in government?

AT: I have thought about every [scenario], and it will of course be unprecedented in contemporary Greek politics for a party, in the space of a month, to go from less than 5% as the opposition to being in government. But what we have been experiencing in Greece these past two years is also unprecedented. The absurd thing would be if the Greek people didn't react and allowed destiny to take its course. No one has the right to reduce a proud people to such a state of wretchedness and indignity. What is happening in Greece with the memorandum is assisted suicide.

You ask if I am afraid? I would be afraid if we continued on this path, a path to social hell. Defeat is the battle that isn't waged, and when someone fights there is the big chance of winning; and we are fighting this to win. Lost battles are battles that are not fought.

HS: Is your enemy Germany?

AT: No, no, not at all. The war that we are experiencing is not between nations and peoples. On the one side, there are workers and a majority of people, and on the other are global capitalists, bankers, profiteers on stock exchanges, the big funds. It's a war between peoples and capitalism, and Greece is on the frontline of that war. And, as in each war, what happens on the frontline defines the battle. It will be decisive for the war elsewhere. Greece has become a model for the rest of Europe because it was chosen as the experiment for the application of neoliberal shock [policies], and Greek people were the guinea pigs. If the experiment continues, it will be considered successful, and the policies will be applied in other countries. That is why it is so important to stop the experiment. It will not just be a victory for Greece but for all of Europe.

HS: But isn't this very risky? Greece is receiving loans on which its economic survival depends.

AT: But who is surviving? Tell me. Greeks are not. Banks are surviving, but Greeks are not surviving. In reality, we have the salvation of Greece with the destruction of the people of Greece. What, ultimately, is Greece if it is not the people who live in this country? It's not the mountains and the plains. We can't say we're saving a country when its people are being destroyed. The loans are going straight to interest payment and banks. We don't want to blackmail: we want to persuade our European partners that the way that has been chosen to confront Greece has been totally counterproductive. It is like throwing money at a bottomless pit.

They gave the first assistance package in 2010, the second in 2012, and in six months we will be forced to discuss a third package, and after that a fourth. They have to be aware that what they are doing is not in the interests of their own people. European taxpayers should know that if they are giving money to Greece, it should have an effect … it should go towards investments and underwriting growth so that the Greek debt problem can be confronted. Because with this recipe, we are not confronting the debt problem, the real problem.

HS: You are visiting Paris and Berlin as of Monday. Who will you be seeing?

AT: Of course, I won't be seeing Merkel. We will have meetings with the French and German left and social democrats and various representatives from the governing parties in France and Germany.

HS: What message do you want to pass on to representatives of the governments in Germany and France?

AT: That they understand the historic responsibility that they are under and don't press ahead with a crime against the Greek people, a crime that is also a huge danger for the people of the rest of Europe. Mrs Merkel has a huge historical responsibility, and she should be conscious that as leader of Europe she cannot obstinately insist on a choice that is leading Europe into danger. I also want to send the message that they have to respect democracy, which is the basis of European law. Greece gave democracy to the rest of the world. With the change of political balances here after the [6 May] vote against the memorandum, we are seeing democracy again. Europe has to understand that when a people makes a democratic decision, it has to be respected. We are at the same crossroads as we were in the 1930s, after 1929. In the US, we had the policy of Roosevelt and the New Deal, a completely different development. In Europe, we had the rise of National Socialism because of the insistence on harsh fiscal policies, and the result was the second world war.

HS: Does Europe need a Roosevelt?

AT: Europe needs a New Deal and a Marshall Plan and expansionary monetary policies like those being followed by Obama. It doesn't need disastrous financial policies

HS: If you are to negotiate with Europe, will you start on the basis that you no longer accept the memorandum [bailout conditions]?

AT: It's not that we, Syriza, don't want it: the Greek people don't want it. If you have a sick patient, and you see that the medicine you are giving him makes him worse, then the solution is not to continue the medicine but to change the medicine. It's only logical.

HS: But then what happens after you have rejected the memorandum and creditors say: "OK, we are not going to give you the next loan"?

AT: Then they will be acting unilaterally because we have no desire to make any unilateral move. We want to convince them, to come to some mutual understanding. If they make a unilateral move, one that is the equivalent of blackmailing us, then we will be forced to react.

HS: Perhaps they will consider rejection of the memorandum, which Greece signed up to, a unilateral move.

AT: This memorandum is a law of the Greek state, and the state has the right to change its laws when balances change in the parliament … a different plan for fiscal adjustment can be voted in the parliament. The memorandum was a political choice, and those who made that political choice [New Democracy and Pasok] no longer have the majority. To vote a different law in parliament is not a unilateral move. A unilateral move would be to renounce commitments we have signed up to via European treaties and conventions, or if we stopped paying our creditors.

HS: But how will you pay creditors if you don't have the money?

AT: Europeans have to understand that we don't have any intention of pushing ahead with a unilateral move. We will [only] be forced to act if they act unilaterally and make the first move. If they don't pay us, if they stop the financing [of loans], then we will not be able to pay creditors. What I am saying is very simple.

HS: Is Greece in a much stronger position that people think?

AT: Yes, it is. Keynes said it many years ago. It's not just the person who borrows but the person who lends who can find himself in a difficult position. If you owe £5,000 to the bank, its your problem; but if you owe £500,000, it's the bank's problem. This is a common problem: It's our problem; it's Merkel's problem; it's a European problem; it's a world problem. The euro is the second strongest currency in the world, and no one has the right to play games with it on the basis that it is they who are strong and have power.

HS: Some would say Syriza, and you personally, are playing with fire. What do you have to say to that?

AT: It is not us who are scaremongering. Pasok and New Democracy are scaremongering, and it is very dangerous for the economy. In order to survive politically, all of them are scaremongering with all this talk that we are leaving the eurozone. As a result, since the beginning of the crisis €75bn has been withdrawn from banks. It's criminal, what they are doing.

HS: Are fears overblown, then, that Greece could leave the eurozone?

AT: From what I know, there is no institutional possibility to eject a country from the eurozone, and they know this very well. Greece could leave the eurozone only if Greeks themselves choose to leave the eurozone. And given that our aim is not the exit of Greece from the eurozone but to remain there as an equal, Greek people have no reason to fear being kicked out. The only thing they have to fear is the continuation of policies of austerity.

HS: Do you agree on the need for structural reforms?

AT: Of course, absolutely. We always said there was a need for corrective reforms, and we have always pointed out that Greece's productive base and economic policy is dysfunctional. First of all, we have to combat tax evasion. It's not in our genes that we can't combat it when everywhere else in Europe it is successfully combated. The truth is, no one in this country has ever wanted to

combat it, and as a result the rich have got away with not paying taxes. Reforms are definitely needed. The political system never pushed ahead with them all these years because the two main parties, Pasok and New Democracy, were mired in corruption.

HS: What will your priorities be if you get into government?

AT: Our first priority will be to put a break on this downward spiral by stopping the measures and starting a real dialogue at a European level to find a common solution to the basic problem that should be discussed, which is the debt. It's not only Greece: Italy, Spain [and] France all have debt problems.

Our second priority will be to proceed with changes that will remedy the system such as changing the tax system to change the redistribution of wealth. I am not going to say, as [former PM] George Papandreou said, that "money exists": money does not exist. Without growth, we won't find money; and without necessary corrective reforms, we can't boost productivity.

HS: Syriza is an alliance of 12 different groups ranging from communists to socialists. What would you say you are?

AT: In this most neoliberal phase of capitalism, in the depths of this crisis, it's a bit oxymoronic to speak of labels. Syriza believes in social justice, democracy and equality in a society where there is no exploitation of man by man: the basic rights that were fought for from the French revolution and in Greece from the 1821 war of independence. We have a vision of socialism in the 21st century, and we don't believe in investing in wretchedness. A fair society can be created by taking positive steps. Which is why we believe this downward spiral has to stop.

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