Dimitri Lascaris: SYRIZA leader’s first act as Prime Minister was to visit the grave site where hundreds of members of the Greek Resistance were executed by the German Nazi forces during World War II


Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Without any delay, Alexis Tsipras was sworn in as prime minister at 4 p.m. on Monday in Athens–without a necktie. The SYRIZA leader had chosen to have a political oath administered instead of a religious one. The ministerial cabinet will be appointed and sworn in tomorrow. Now joining us once again is Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is coming to us from Toronto, and he’s 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. Welcome back, Dimitri. DIMITRI LASCARIS, SECURITIES CLASS ACTIONS LAWYER IN CANADA: Thanks very much for having me again, Sharmini. PERIES: Dimitri, so the most important task at hand is to strengthen the coalition. What is SYRIZA thinking? LASCARIS: Well, they secured 149 seats in the 300-seat parliament, it would appear at this stage. So they fell two short of absolute majority. But as I discussed with you yesterday, even if they had achieved an additional two seats, that would have been a precarious majority with which to operate in the current environment. So they needed a coalition partner. And we talked yesterday about three or four options available to them, one of which was a party by the name of Independent Greeks. And the Independent Greeks secured, it appears, about 13 seats in the parliament. So in coalition with SYRIZA, those two parties would have a comfortable majority. What is interesting about this particular selection is, of the three viable options that were available to SYRIZA, Independent Greeks being one of them, the other two being Pasok and To Potami, the River, this party does not have any real left-wing credentials. It is a right-wing party. It is a nationalistic party. But the one thing that it has very much in common with SYRIZA is an absolute, vehement commitment to the dismantling of this austerity regime, which has caused a humanitarian crisis in Greece. And it’s interesting. Today I read a report in The Guardian where a journalist was commenting that effectively what SYRIZA has done is set up a situation where major concessions to the architects of austerity are likely or almost certain to result in the collapse of the government. So they put themselves in a position–I think, quite consciously–where they are going to have to be very difficult with the architects of austerity in negotiations to come. This sends a very clear signal in that regard to Europe. There are other interesting aspects about this party, Independent Greeks, which is not likely to engender affection in the Merkel regime, and that is the Independent Greeks believe that Germany owes Greece a very significant sum of money in reparations for the rather brutal occupation of Greece during the Second World War. PERIES: So, Dimitri, early this morning the markets opened with some dithers but then settled down. And I understand that Mr. Juncker of the European Commission also called to congratulate the new prime minister and then Tweeted that the European Commission stands ready to continue assisting Greece in achieving these goals, that he also referred to promoting sustainable jobs and growth was also a part of their mandate and commitment. What do you think of these comments? LASCARIS: Well, I think these comments and other comments you’re hearing–for example, from the leader of Belgium, there was a conciliatory statement. I understand that François Hollande, the president of France, called Mr. Tsipras to congratulate him warmly. Those and other reactions suggest that there is a new reality confronting the architects of austerity, and they understand that. And there was naked fear mongering going on. And now that that has not succeeded, they are adapting to that reality. And it is a new reality, a very dramatically new reality. I mean, one thing that was very interesting about today–it had immense symbolic significance–is that Mr. Tsipras’s first act as prime minister, reportedly, was to go to a memorial in Athens that was established years ago for 200 communist resistance fighters who were slaughtered by the Nazis in 1944. That was his very first act as a prime minister. And he has deep roots in the left, in the radical left, as do many, many members of SYRIZA. And we are now dealing for the first time in a long time in Europe with a regime that is deeply and profoundly progressive. And the leaders of Europe appear to have woken up this morning to that new reality. Now, how that will play out in the very difficult negotiations to come is certainly unclear, but the signs thus far are promising. The other one other aspect I would mention in regard to your question is the reaction of the markets was quite telling. I understand they actually increased modestly on the day, so that all of this talk about a collapse of the financial system or panic within the financial system if SYRIZA were to come to town power turns out to have been enormously off the mark. PERIES: And do we have any idea who will be the finance minister? LASCARIS: Well, I’ve seen various reports. The one name that surfaces, one of the names that surfaces repeatedly, is that of Yanis Varoufakis, who has been an outspoken critic of austerity, who has also argued extensively and repeatedly that it is possible within the current legal structure of the European Union and the Eurozone for the central bank of Europe to take steps necessary to help the Greek government fund its operations. And I think that there is a good prospect that Mr. Varoufakis will be given the portfolio of finance minister. If he’s not, I’m sure that he will have a very important role to play in future negotiations. And his attitude is unmistakably one of let’s try to keep the euro together, the Eurozone together, but let’s make it a fundamentally more humane regime and one that adapts to the realities of the disparate economies and societies within the union. And, hopefully, his and other similar voices within the party will be heard in negotiations to come. PERIES: Dimitri, as we turn to the plight of the people of Greece and the sufferings that they have been undergoing under austerity, what do you think will be the priorities of the SYRIZA government? LASCARIS: Well, certainly their immediate priority, I think, is going to be to relax the more draconian aspects of the austerity regime. For example, once such aspect, which I touched on yesterday in my discussion with you, is a law was enacted which required the electricity to be cut off to households whose property owners failed to pay property taxes, irrespective of whether or not they had the capacity to do so. And so a lot of people had been living without electricity for some time in Greece. And it appears that SYRIZA is–one of its immediate priorities is to restore electricity to the homes of these people and also to provide food stamps to the many people who have been rendered homeless or impoverished or barely able or unable to feed themselves. So those are certainly two immediate priorities. Another one is going to be the very corruptive relationship between the media and the banking industry and the industrialists in the Greek society, which, broadly speaking, SYRIZA refers to, I think quite rightly, as the oligarchy. And one of the steps they can take there–I don’t know if this one of their immediate intentions, but is to break up the concentration within the media industry and force people to confine themselves or owners of media outlets to confine themselves to one or two media outlets, also to force them to have to pay for licenses, significant amounts of money, which they haven’t had to do up until now. And these types of steps will go a long way towards diminishing the power of the oligarchy and its sway over public opinion and its manipulation of public opinion within Greece. And many good things can flow from that. So I think that is likely to be a very near-term priority of the government. PERIES: Right. And Dimitri, there’s some speculation that in governing Greece, and in spite of SYRIZA’s very radical and left views of the world, that it would be forced to move further right as they renegotiate the debt and try to address some of the serious problems that the country’s having, that they will need revenue. So whether we like it or not, they’re going to have to work with the oligarchy and the banks and the European Union. What do you think of those comments? LASCARIS: I think that inevitably there is going to have to be a degree of compromise. I think that that’s simply the reality that the new government faces. The question at the end of the day is going to be whether they have achieved sufficient reform, sufficient movement away from this draconian regime in order to satisfy the electorate, that it was worth all the trouble, and that this is a government that deserves to be in power. And I think they have this excellent prospect of doing that. But nobody should have any illusions about their being able to achieve each and every plank of their agenda. Greece is in a very difficult position economically and politically right now. It depends on funding from the European Union to function. Its banking system depends on liquidity provided by European authorities. So those realities are going to have to be taken into account. But at the end of the day, we’re dealing here with a party that is comprised largely of people who are profoundly and passionately committed to progressive principles. And I watched Leo Panitch’s interview today, and he talked about this very same issue, and he was comparing SYRIZA to the Democratic Party in the United States, and one which is and always has been–or at least in recent memory has been committed to the whole notion of American empire. This is not what SYRIZA is. It is a deeply and profoundly leftist organization. And so, while compromise will be inevitable, there are going to be limits, very serious limits, on the extent to which leadership of the party can compromise on these fundamental points. PERIES: Dimitri, this morning in The Financial Times, one of the headlines read, will Alexis Tsipras be the next Lula or the next Hugo Chávez. Your thoughts? LASCARIS: I suspect he’s going to be a little bit of both, frankly. You’re going to hear some of–within the party and I think within the leadership of the party, there is a very anti-imperialist strain. That’s a strain that’s existed within Greek society for decades, and on and off it’s been suppressed to varying degrees. And that’s going to come out in the months ahead, I think, in the way they deal with foreign powers. And to that extent it’s going to be like Hugo Chávez. But at the same time there’s going to be a recognition, I would expect, of the precarious situation that the country finds itself in, the limited leverage that it has, and there’s going to be some degree of conciliation and compromise offered by the leadership. It’s simply a necessity that they’re going to have to confront. So I would think at the end of the day we’re going to be dealing with a little of bit of both of Lula and Chávez. PERIES: So we’ll keep the conversation going. And I hope you join us. LASCARIS: I’m happy to participate. Thanks a lot, 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.