The snap parliamentary elections in Greece that will take place on Jan. 25 could lead to the victory of the left radicals, a development that Russia might use to lobby its interests against EU sanctions.
A supporter of New Democracy party before Greek Prime Minister's Antonis Samaras pre-election speech in southern Athens on Jan. 23. All opinion polls on Sunday's closely-watched national election agree: The radical left opposition Syriza party, which has vowed to rewrite the terms of Greece's international bailout, enjoys a lead of at least 4 percentage points over Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' conservatives. Photo: AP
The snap parliamentary elections in Greece that are scheduled for Jan. 25 could be important not only for Athens, the EU and the eurozone, but also for Moscow. In the best-case scenario for the Kremlin, the victory of the so-called Coalition of the Radical Left, or the Syriza party, might lead to the end of European unity in terms of its sanctions campaign against Russia.
In order to understand the risks for the EU and potential advantages for the Kremlin, one should not underestimate the popularity of the radical left movement in Southern Europe.
The 2008 economic crisis as the initial spur for the left radicals
The financial and economic crisis of 2008, with the countries of the European Union (EU) at its epicenter, has led to an increase in protest and opposition sentiments in various parts of the “Old World.”
In the leading countries of Western Europe and in the north of the continent, there has been – at the expense of traditional political players – a distinct increase in the popularity of right populist and even extreme right-wing forces. However, in the region of Southern Europe, the protest sentiments, at the moment, are clearly coming from the left-wing anti-liberal formations.
It is the people and the countries of Southern Europe that have turned out to be the main victims of the global financial crisis. Attempts to resolve this on basis of the traditional neoliberal prescriptions used by the European Commission and the European Central Bank have failed so far in making any serious reduction in unemployment, which affects more than one-quarter of the working population of Greece and Portugal.
On the contrary, these “recipes” only stimulated domestic economic and financial reforms that have exacerbated all of the social contradictions present in the European South, leading to a marked reduction in public spending and a reduction in the sizes of minimum wages and pensions.
Given the fact that public opinion in Greece, Spain and Portugal still retains the unpleasant memories of right-wing authoritarian dictatorships from which these countries freed themselves only in the 1970s, it is logical that the anti-system sentiments in these states is being capitalized on by the leftist parties. However, not by the traditional socialists or communists, who, on the contrary, find themselves in a state of crisis today.
We are talking here about young and ambitious radical left formations that have gained popularity during the crisis of the “old” left-wing parties. In Greece, just such a radical left formation became the Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, which is predicted to win the parliamentary elections on Jan. 25, with possible final results in the 28-29 percent range.
In Spain today, the most popular political party was created just last year. The party “We Can” (Podemos), according to the polls, can now count on the support of more than 28 percent of the voters who are ready to cast ballots.
The phenomena of Syriza and Podemos have “loosened” the domination of the bipartisan system of center-right and socialists, which dominates current politics in Greece and Spain.
Very popular in their own countries are the young leaders of these new radical left parties – the 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras (Syriza) and the 36-year-old Manuel Pablo Iglesias (Podemos). Interestingly, both of these politicians began their public careers in the ranks of the youth organizations of the Communist parties.
Many observers have noted the presence of a strong “populist charge” in the programs of the radical left-wing parties in Southern Europe. In fact, in many respects, the left populist rhetoric has allowed these parties to become the most popular forces in the left movement in their countries, ahead of the “old” communists and the socialists, which are too deeply entrenched in the political system to offer new solutions.
First of all, members of the Southern European radical left are demanding the rejection of “suffocating” conditions for receiving financial support demanded by the EU and its institutions. As the leaders of Podemos have noted, “The austerity and budget cuts strangle our economy and our lives.”
Southern European left-wing socialists are calling for the implementation of tight controls over the movement of capital, the nationalization of private banks, the legal protection of public services and sectors from the threat of privatization, the creation of hundreds of thousands of additional jobs in the public sector, and a raise of both the minimum wage and pensions.
Is it possible to actually implement such radial promises into reality? In any case, it will not be easy, even if Syriza and Podemos in 2015 become the largest parliamentary blocs in the parliaments of their respective countries. The fact is that both of these parties lack sufficient numbers of potential political allies (even on the left), who would agree to see Tsipras or Iglesias as Prime Ministers of their respective countries.
However, if Syriza and Podemos do gain access to the executive branch, it would mean big problems for the Eurocrats. After all, both parties are in favor of a radical restructuring of European integration towards the social side. At the same time, both show signs of exposing to harsh criticism the foreign policy of the EU and its orientation of being too close to Washington.
Some Russian political scientists are calling the two left-wing parties “pro-Russian,” which is not true of course, as neither Syriza nor Podemos are oriented towards the socio-political model that prevails today in Russia.
Why Russia might be interested in the victory of Syriza and Podemos
Nevertheless, the other part of the truth is that in Southern Europe, the Left Opposition today, in relation to Russia, has taken on a friendly attitude. For example, speaking in 2014 about the development of the conflict in Ukraine, Iglesias said: “We should not forget that the EU has supported the illegal change of government in Ukraine and the advent of the neo-Nazi party into the Ukrainian government.” During the recent debates in the European Parliament, MPs from Podemos have demanded a softening of the sanctions on Russia.
Similarly, the leadership of the Greek Syriza party has called Athens’ joining of the sanctions against Russia “catastrophic for Greek agriculture,” accusing the foreign policy of the present government as “continuing to blindly obey the strategies of the Cold War and the Washington and Brussels axis.”
Shortly before the New Year, Syriza stated that, in the event of coming to power, the party would do everything possible to convince its EU partners to abandon their sanctions against Russia, which expire in the summer of 2015. One way or another, and especially in the event of a possible victory of the radical left in Greece and Spain, these countries do expect to see serious, turbulent changes – both in their domestic and foreign policies.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.