Dimitri Lascaris says breaking up the troika and the power of oligarchs that control Greece is not going to be an easy task


Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. SYRIZA Party leader Alexis Tsipras claimed a jubilant victory for his party in Athens, Greece, on Sunday. VIDEO PLAYS Whether it is clear majority is yet unknown at this time, but it is clear that the Greek people have won the battle of reversing austerity economic policies. With me to discuss all of this from Athens is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a board member of The Real News Network. Dimitri is also a partner with the Canadian law firm Siskinds, where he heads the firm’s securities class action practice. Thank you so much for joining us, Dimitri. DIMITRI LASCARIS, SECURITIES CLASS ACTIONS LAWYER IN CANADA: Good to be back, Sharmini. PERIES: So, Dimitri, you just got back from SYRIZA headquarters and listening to the victory speech. What did you think? LASCARIS: Well, the celebration began at around 9:30. At that point a lot of journalists and SYRIZA supporters from around Europe–which I’ll get into in a moment–were packed into a tent in a square across from the university in downtown Athens. And Greek TV announced the results of the preliminary exit polls. And while I was standing there waiting for the results, I noticed again, as I had on the first night, Thursday night, when I attended the rally, sort of the pan-European mix in the crowd. There were three young Germans holding up signs making it known that they were from Germany and they were supportive of SYRIZA. There was a young lady who’d identified herself as being from the French Communist Party. There were a number of people speaking Italian. And it really was a European affair. And then, when the results appeared on the screen and it became quite clear at that stage that SYRIZA was going to win and the preliminary results were pointing to a significant majority, of course the room erupted. And within minutes of the eruption, people started chanting the name of Podemos, the party in Spain that is taking a similar approach to the austerity program, the upstart party, as is SYRIZA here. So people waited and lingered and partied at the tent for a while as the numbers became clearer. And then eventually (I think it was around 10 o’clock) Antonis Samaras conceded. His coalition partner, the leader of PASOK, conceded. And then Mr. Tsipras appeared in a square, which was packed, thronged with thousands of people, and, I think, didn’t get too much into the specifics of the tasks that lie ahead–understandably so at that particular moment. I think he was just savoring what was a historic victory. PERIES: So what were the key points in his speech? LASCARIS: Well, he talked, I think, about the humiliation that the Greek people have experienced over the last five years. He talked about the subservience to the dictates of Brussels and Berlin and the IMF. He talked about the return of hope and dignity. He talked about, quite clearly, a rejection of the austerity. And he pointedly said that the troika–the IMF, the ECB, and the EC, with whom Greece has had negotiated over the last few years–is a thing of the past. Those were the words he used. So he laid down a gauntlet, as he has done repeatedly, and, I think, made it clear that his position going forward is going to be a rejection of the austerity program that has been imposed upon Greece and has created a humanitarian crisis here. PERIES: Now, he’s a very charismatic leader, Dimitri. He obviously [can a pulse (?)] a crowd, and particularly a jubilant victory crowd. But do you think he’s going to be able to lead? LASCARIS: Well, that is the key question. And there was a really telling moment today. Earlier in the day, I attended at the polling station where he voted. It was an elementary school on a quiet side street in the quiet neighborhood of Athens. And outside this school–and I’m sure the neighbors were amazed to see this–there was this massive throng of international media waiting for him patiently, jostling for space. And when he arrived, this horde of journalists, of which I was a part, followed him upstairs into the voting room. And when he came down, they quickly came down after him into the lobby, where he stopped to make a speech. And the throng was so large that it was almost about to crush him. And he had this kind of bewildered and bemused look on his face, as though he was saying to himself, what have I gotten myself into? And I think it wouldn’t at all be surprising if that’s precisely the question he’s asking himself tonight. The task that lies ahead is a Herculean one. There are going to be a lot of people in the halls of power in Europe who are not going to want to see SYRIZA succeed, not simply because of the implications it would have for the billions and billions of dollars that Greece owes to its creditors, but even more importantly for the implications it might have for larger European economies, such as Spain, and how the success of series might inspire the Spanish people to put Podemos in power. PERIES: Right. Dimitri, getting back to Greece, now, at this point of the evening it is still unclear whether Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA will have a majority in Parliament. Tell us more about the numbers involved. LASCARIS: So the Greek Parliament consists of 300 seats. The winner, in terms of the popular vote, gets a 50-seat bonus. So what this means, practically speaking–I’m just going to consult my little cheat sheet here, this sheet. This is the most recent numbers that the government has released. SYRIZA is projected to have 149 out of 300 seats. The New Democracy Party, really devastating a loss for them–they’ve been reduced to 77 projected seats. After that, the numbers drop off dramatically. The third-place party, albeit at a great distance from SYRIZA and from New Democracy, is, regrettably, the Golden Dawn Party the neo-Nazi party, half of whose leaders are in prison. And despite that fact, they managed to garner enough support to earn a projected 17 seats in Parliament. And then the following party, with a projected 16 seats, close behind, is To Potami, which means The River. This is a center-left, centrist party that was formed last year. And its agenda is not entirely clear. I’ll come back to that in a moment. After that there is the independent Greeks, which is a right-wing party, although not nearly as right-wing and as frightening as Golden Dawn. And followed by that is PASOK, which has been reduced to a projected 13 seats. And that was the coalition partner in New Democracy. So in this grouping, technically speaking, if SYRIZA were to eke out another one or two seats as the final votes come in–and I think we’re now at about 75 percent of the votes having been counted–it would have a technical majority. The fact of the matter is, though, particularly when you’re confronted by the contentious issues that this government is going to have to deal with, a one-seat majority is not adequate in order to implement your agenda. I mean, all it would take is for one of your party members, one of your parliamentarians, to be sick or to resist and be unwilling to vote in favor of a particular legislative initiative for the whole thing to go awry. So the party would need, even if it achieved 151 seats, a coalition partner to give it a buffer, some zone of comfort within which to operate. Of the parties I mentioned–so there were four after New Democracy that would give SYRIZA that buffer. Golden Dawn is off the table. Obviously, this is a neo-Nazi party with which SYRIZA will want nothing to do. The most likely candidate is To Potami, which has, as I said, a projected 16 seats, and they have said clearly that they’re open to having a coalition. The problem that could arise with Po Potami is that it’s said unequivocally that its number-one priority is to keep Greece in the Eurozone and it would sacrifice–the noises it’s making is that it would sacrifice on a number of important planks of the agenda of SYRIZA if it had to to keep Greece in the Eurozone. PASOK, of course, is another party which characterizes itself as center-left even to this day, although it was an enthusiastic supporter of the austerity program, along with New Democracy. In theory, they could they could form a coalition partner, but I suspect that Mr. Tsipras and his colleagues are not going to want to bring them into the fold, given their support for austerity in the past. And then there is that interesting party I mentioned, Independent Greeks. They are viscerally hostile to the austerity program and would give SYRIZA all of the support that they might desire in terms of bringing and end to the austerity regime. However, there are other aspects of their agenda, Independent Greeks, which would conflict significantly with that of SYRIZA, particularly when it comes to the treatment of illegal immigrants for–just ethnic minorities generally. I mean, this party, Independent Greeks, for example, wants an education system here to be built around Greek orthodox principles. Again, these are things that are not going to be compatible with the agenda of SYRIZA, which happens to have a very antinationalistic perspective. However, as I say, at the end of the day, SYRIZA might be inclined to bite the bullet in that regard because they might think that it’s more important for the people of Greece at this time that they have someone on their side who is adamantly opposed to the austerity program. PERIES: And that one other party, the Communist Party, which might seem like a likely ally and that Tsipras and some of the leaders of SYRIZA actually came with a background in the Communist Party, is that a potential ally? LASCARIS: That would be very surprising, and I think that’s because the Communist Party claims to want nothing to do with SYRIZA. I think the Communist Party has even gone so far, its leader, as to characterize Mr. Tsipras rather unfairly I think, as an agent of the banks. So whatever his view may be, the Communist Party seems not to be enamored with SYRIZA and not to be persuaded that ultimately SYRIZA is going to implement the changes that are required, from its perspective. And to be fair to the Communist Party’s perspective on this, in the last few months, SYRIZA has moderated its tone considerably. And in particular it seems to have stated that it’s taking an exit from the Eurozone for Greece off the table. And some people have commented (I think, fairly) that–. PERIES: Dimitri, was that election strategy in order to go as far to the center as possible? Or do you think this is the nature of such parties coming to power? LASCARIS: Well, it could be either of those things. One must recall, however, that SYRIZA has emphasized the integrity of its approach. And if it’s in fact inclined to risk an exit from the Eurozone if that is necessary in order to bring an end to austerity, I think it has an obligation to tell the voters precisely what it has in mind. And also, in terms of its negotiating leverage with the troika, if it’s being told, if the party is saying publicly to its constituents that it is not going to even contemplate an exit from the Eurozone, then that is going to diminish its leverage in its dealings with the troika. So, I mean, ultimately we’ll have to see how all of this plays out. And if in fact the troika is as adamant as the German government has been in terms of insisting upon performance of the obligations that prior regimes entered into, then SYRIZA may find itself in a position where it’s simply going to have to go down that path. But officially that option has been taken off the table. So the tricky thing is going to be, in going forward, how are they going to substantially relax the rigors of the austerity program if they aren’t going to be willing to take that step. Now, having said that, there’s a lot that the party can do for the good of the country without substantially relaxing the austerity program. And one of those things is to go after the oligarchy, and in particular to break up the unholy relationship between the media and the banking industry and other industrialists in this country. It’s hard to see why the troika would want to stand in the way of that. And even if that were the only thing that SYRIZA achieved during its tenure, the breakup of the oligarchy, that would be a dramatic change for the better in Greece going forward. PERIES: And throughout this week we saw lots of suffering Greeks still waiting in food lines, still waiting in employment lines, still hoping that the situation will be changing. Did Tsipras address them in his victory speech? LASCARIS: Absolutely, when I think he spoke about the national humiliation and he couched it in terms of humanitarian crisis, I think he and his colleagues remain deeply committed to ameliorating the suffering of the most vulnerable members of Greek society. And in that regard he could make–the station of so many Greeks has been reduced to a condition of penury that he could make a very significant improvement in their lives about massive expenditures. In fact, some of them have been costed out–for example, restoring electricity to homes where electricity has been cut off because people were unable to pay their property taxes. And he’s–the figure that the party has–it’s calculated that [what] these preliminary measures would cost is about 11 billion euros, which is a relatively small proportion, quite small proportion of the overall debt that Greece owes. And that money could be generated by fairly modest relaxation of the austerity regime. So he could make a very significant difference in people’s lives even without radically altering the structure of the austerity regime. PERIES: Right. I know it’s very late for you there, Dimitri, so let’s wrap up for now. And we expect you back tomorrow to give us some analysis of what’s happening in Greece over the next few weeks to come. LASCARIS: I look forward to it. Thank you, Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Dimitri Lascaris

Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer that focuses on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic of the Green Party of Canada and is a board member of the Real News Network.