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Aris Spourdalakis, member of the Youth of Syriza, speaks out on the debt management and the opportunity for democracy and redistribution in Greece

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The SYRIZA Party in Greece underwent some healthy debate after securing the loan extension on its international debt last week. Almost 40 percent of the central party did not support accepting the terms of agreement that were signed by SYRIZA. But clearly they continue to support the party. Now joining me from Toronto to discuss the political strains among the party’s supporters is Aris Spourdalakis. Aris is a member of SYRIZA Youth since 2007. He attends the University of Athens, where he’s a student of physics and he’s also an activist. Thank you so much for joining us, Aris. ARIS GEORGE-BALDUR SPOURDALAKIS, MEMBER, SYRIZA YOUTH: It’s good to be here. Thank you for having me. PERIES: Aris, so explain to us where the youth wing of the party or the youth of SYRIZA actually stand on the extension of the loan agreement that was signed. SPOURDALAKIS: Well, the common ground within our organization is that the agreement is a very tight–is a very tight area in which we have maneuvering abilities. However, it is a small first step towards ending austerity in Greece. PERIES: Tell me some of the debate that’s going on and the options that are available for SYRIZA. And what is the youth advocating here? SPOURDALAKIS: Well, right now the major opportunity that is given to us is to have a major redistribution within Greece, to try and tackle tax evasion, to try and make a more fair taxation system. And most importantly, to battle corruption. Of course, we’ve had to go back on some of our election–a part of the election platform. Therefore, we can’t but criticize that part of the agreement. However, I think that, like any agreement, it’s between two parties that disagree. It’s a compromise. And we have to see it as such. PERIES: Now, Aris, one of the hotly debated issues is, of course, the Greek exit from the euro. What is the youth wing feel about exiting? SPOURDALAKIS: Well, I would say on a political level we would be against exiting the euro. However, the main slogan that we remain true to is the slogan which states that we won’t have any more austerity simply to save the euro. Therefore, even though a Grexit may not be something that we would aspire to, it might prove to be necessary in the coming months or years of the negotiation. PERIES: Now, SYRIZA committed to more than–no new austerity. They promised to roll back austerity of the previous government. And I imagine that the supporters of SYRIZA, when they voted for SYRIZA, was with the understanding that that’s what they were going to get from SYRIZA. But clearly that’s not what they’re able to deliver, given the current financial situation. What is the discussion about that? SPOURDALAKIS: Well, I think there’s an understanding that the negotiation isn’t over and that in order to make such a big change within an international system, which is so much rigidly in favor of neoliberalism and of austerity, there has to be some time and there have to be major changes. However, what I think is important also to keep in mind is despite the fact that SYRIZA was voted in for the reason that you said, mainly to oppose austerity and to roll back the measures that were taken in the past five years, the majority of the population is also in favor of the euro and remaining within the European Union and the Eurozone. Therefore this is also important to take into account, that SYRIZA didn’t have, wasn’t elected in order to take the country outside the euro on the first sign of trouble. PERIES: Now, the assumption that most of SYRIZA and Greeks don’t want to exit the euro has been contested by some polls that were done actually by the European Union, according to somebody we had interviewed earlier this month by the name of Michael Nevradakis, who actually challenged that some polls actually indicate that Greeks actually do not mind leaving the euro if that’s what it comes down to. What are your feelings about that? SPOURDALAKIS: Well, I think that the main question is the question of policy. The main question is if we want neoliberal reforms and austerity or if we want to roll back austerity and we want democratic reforms in the state. And this isn’t a question of currency. It’s a question of politics, both internal and external. Therefore I think that it’s very difficult to go forward with this program when the international situation is so much against us, regardless of whether we’re within the Eurozone or not. So I think that there is a crucial amount of people who understand this. And I also think that if the negotiation proceeds and if the European Union proceeds with a very rigid line–continue the negotiation–we might come to a Grexit. And I think that people will support the government if it chooses to take this road. However, it’s still going to be very difficult. I don’t think it’ll change the core problem, which is the fact that both inside Greece and internationally the political situation is very much against the program that we want to implement. PERIES: And if Greece takes this path, I understand some plans are underway in terms of plotting a path to an exit within the party. What does that look like? SPOURDALAKIS: There’s really no–there’s no defined outline on what that would mean. There’s no–there hasn’t been big preparation, there haven’t been big preparations about this plan B. And I guess each person or each tendency you talk to who might support exiting the Eurozone has a slightly different view of this. PERIES: So, Aris, in terms of the broader politics and the other issues that are being debated, for example privatization, restoring the labor and public employees that were fired by the previous government, and other issues that are immediately at hand at SYRIZA, what are some of the other issues that the youth front is advocating? And is that more radical than the position that SYRIZA is hoping to implement right now? SPOURDALAKIS: Well, I would say that both SYRIZA and the youth wing are more radical, at least in their positions, than the government is. For example, the youth wing has opened the issues of human rights, the issues of immigration, the issues of equal rights for the LGBT community, and so on. And these are issues which are not popular in the Greek society. And, therefore, the government’s positions, I would say, are less radical than those of the party or those of the youth. And what we’re trying to do is both [incompr.] pressure and check the government into implementing this kind of policy, but also trying to create a movement which will change the view that the society has on these issues. PERIES: And what are some of the issues that are really at heart for the youth movement? SPOURDALAKIS: Well, I would say that a very important issue is, of course, privatizations and stopping the privatizations that are going on right now, for example the mining operation in northern Greece, which has been temporarily stopped, but it hasn’t been brought back entirely. It’s the issue of the concentration camps that were created by the previous government for immigrants and shutting them down. And it’s also the issue of–also the issue of human rights, [human] rights of prisoners. And then, of course, also the LGBT issue of civil union for gay couples. And these are all issues that the government has made some promises on but that remained to be quite–they’re still quite unpopular with the society. The society still is quite conservative on these issues. So what we’re trying to do is create a movement that will both pressure the government into more progressive positions, but will also create sort of a social consensus to back these changes. PERIES: So, other countries, when they’re in this kind of situation of not having very much money in their public treasury to stimulate the economy, has come up with certain economic development plans to develop the local economy by its people with the limited resources it has. Is there any economic plan of that sort being discussed or developed by SYRIZA? SPOURDALAKIS: The program does include cooperative forms of economy and investment. Also, there is, at least in theory, the encouragement for workers to take over closing factories, which–this has already taken place in Thessaloniki in a factory. This has been going on for at least two or three years now. And the program is to support these kind of measures. So I guess the main answer to this question would be sort of cooperative and solidarity type economics, we call it, which is more of a social kind of economics. It’s not a public sector, not private sector, but sort of a cooperative type of investment. PERIES: Aris, I want to thank you so much for joining us today, and I hope you continue to report to us at The Real News about the developments and what the party’s undergoing in the coming years. SPOURDALAKIS: Thank you. It’s very nice of you to have me. AAnd continue doing the good work that you’re doing there. PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Aris George-Baldur Spourdalakis has been a member of SYRIZA Youth since 2007. He attends the University of Athens, where he is a student of physics and an activist.