Alexis Tsipras, head of the far-left Syriza party, was sworn in as Greece’s prime minister after winning a stunning victory in the general election over the weekend.
The new leader says he expects his victory to have resonance well beyond the borders of Greece. “Our future in Europe is not the future of austerity. It is the future of democracy, solidarity and cooperation,” Tsipras told the media on election night. To reach the widest possible audience abroad, he spoke in English.
Syriza is known for its plans to defy Brussels and Berlin, and roll back some of the budget cuts and economic reforms imposed on Greece in return for the country’s $280 billion bailouts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
Syriza believes that when Greece throws off the yoke of German-inspired austerity, other heavily-indebted southern European countries will follow. “Change in Greece is going to be the beginning of a change all over Europe, starting, of course, from the South where the problems are bigger,” says John Milios, Syriza’s chief economist.
Syriza claims Spain, Portugal and Italy will also jump on the anti-austerity bandwagon. George Katrouglas, a member of the European parliament for the party, says: Don’t blame Greece if the EU falls apart. “It could break up, but not because of us, but because of the German insistence on policies that have clearly failed,” Katrouglas says.
Not everyone sees Syriza as a dynamic new force that’s leading the charge against Germany’s crippling rigidity, nor as a new broom that will sweep away corruption and pork-barrel politics at home.
“They appear to be something new … but they’re not,” says John Loulis, a leading Greek political analyst who is not impressed with Syriza or Greek politicians in general. “The people who get involved in politics are the pits,” says Loulis. “If they were not involved in politics, they would be unemployed.”
Many Syriza activists come from the Greek public sector, he notes, which is not a guarantee of efficiency or dynamism. As the new government prepares to do battle over austerity on the European stage, millions of Greeks can only hope that, this time, Loulis is wrong.
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