Panagiotis Lafazanis, former leader of Syriza’s Left Platform and current leader of Popular Unity, says Greece has become a protectorate of the Troika
Dimitri Lascaris: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News from Athens, Greece. The Real News has returned to Greece for the fourth time in three years to explore the development of the economic crisis and in particular, to examine whether a given current economic reality is, it can be persuasively argued that Greece has began to emerge from that economic crisis. And today we are with Panagiotis Lafazanis who is the leader of the party that was founded in 2015 in the aftermath of the rebellion within the governing Syriza party. That party is called the Popular Unity Party. And Mr. Lafazanis was the leader of the left-platform of Syriza before leaving Syriza to form Popular Unity with other Syriza leftist MPs who were not satisfied with the Tsipras government’s adoption of an austerity program. Mr. Lafazanis was first elected as a member of the Hellenic Parliament in 2000 and was subsequently re-elected on five occasions. However, in the last election in September 2015, which was contested just within weeks of the formation of Popular Unity, the Popular Unity party did not meet the minimum electoral threshold of three percent of the vote and therefore did not win any seats in the current Hellenic Parliament. Thank you for joining us today Mr. Lafazanis. So I would like to begin by asking you about the economic situation today in Greece. According to official statistics, Greece has experienced weak economic growth for two consecutive quarters. And as a result, the government has began to suggest that it’s emerging from the crisis. Do you agree with that assessment? Panagiotis Lafazanis: The effort made by Alexis Tsipras to claim a ‘success story’ in Greece is not in line with reality, and, above all, it has nothing to do with the economy, as experienced by ordinary citizens whose position is getting worse as they watch Alexis Tsipras talk about a ‘success story’. The market is suffocating, incomes are declining, unemployment is essentially on the rise, because although it seems to be falling slightly, this is due to the fact that part-time jobs are increasing; these are not jobs. Each new job currently employs 3 young people for EUR 300 –misery. In the past two quarters, just like you said, the Hellenic Statistical Authority has indeed demonstrated a sluggish, minimal increase in the GNP. But this was also shown last year, and you can see that the final figures from 2016 yet again demonstrated recession; a slight recession, but still a recession of 0.2%. So, let’s wait for the year to end to see how things will develop, see things more clearly, and have a clearer picture. However, in any case, any growth that occurs, if any, will be completely sluggish, imperceptible, and, therefore, incapable of having a positive impact on our society. Greece has entered a tunnel, a deep tunnel. Greece cannot exit such tunnel as long as it remains within the Eurozone and the EU; it will not exit this tunnel. And Greece will not achieve previous growth rates. Greece within the EU and given the current debt that falls heavy on its shoulders, this Greece, will demonstrate either recession, or very slight growth. It will be a Greece under guardianship, under neocolonialism without any prospects. Greece is not the past for the entire Europe or the entire world; it is their future. Lascaris: According to the former Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Greece would be better off within the Eurozone. He acknowledges that remaining in the Eurozone is going to be very challenging for Greece. But he believes that leaving the Eurozone would be more problematic for Greece and for the Eurozone as a whole, and he advocates for reform of the Eurozone, and in a progressive direction. Do you think that, that’s possible? Do you think that it’s possible given the way that the Eurozone is structured, for it to be managed in a way that is consistent with the values of the Left? Lafazanis: Mr. Varoufakis, unfortunately, bears a great share of responsibility for the course taken by our country after the capitulation of Tsipras. Mr. Varoufakis had always opposed the exit of our country from the Eurozone; however, this was the only solution, in order to respond to the Memoranda and annul the Memoranda. It was not possible to remain within the Eurozone and, at the same time, not have a Memorandum. This cannot be done. The Eurozone is not just a single-currency system. There is no single currency though, there are 19 currencies; it only appears that there is a single currency; in practice, there are 19 currencies. So the Eurozone is not just about currency, it is about politics, ideology, program, austerity, harsh neoliberal orientation. This Eurozone cannot be positively reformed or improved. This Eurozone can only be subverted to pave new positive ways for the countries and for the peoples. And it is absolutely necessary and needed, and imperative for Greece to leave the Eurozone so as to implement a radical reconstruction plan. This exit from the Eurozone is both realistic and sustainable, and the only option that gives hope to the Greek people. Lascaris: Last week, Prime Minister Tsipras went to the United States. He met with Donald Trump. And to the surprise of many, particularly on the Left, he spoke about the common values between Greek democracy and President Trump. One might say in defense of Prime Minister Tsipras that Greece is in a very weak position, and it’s necessary for him to, let us say be diplomatic with President Trump. If you were the Prime Minister, how would you deal with this particular president, and would you be inclined to say that his values are in common with the values of Greek democracy? Lafazanis: First of all, Tsipras said that he and Trump have common values and praised the US President, and, in fact, in an unprecedented way. I imagine that Trump would have never even thought of a foreign leader offering him such great praise as Tsipras did. He was taken by surprise, I imagine. Trump has not received such good words from his closest associates. As for common values, first of all, there is no democracy in Greece. And, as far as I know, I may be mistaken, but this is my opinion, I see that the US is also slipping towards the restraint and repression of their democracy and democratic rights under the Presidency of, especially, Trump. Therefore, what are the common democratic values shared between those two? Greece is under guardianship, under the troika, i.e. the EU, the ECB, and the IMF; In Greece, the Parliament has been ‘abolished’; the Constitution has become a worthless scrap of paper. As for Alexis Tsipras, he gave everything to President Trump in the sense that he offered Greece to him as a political-military plot for US strategic plans in the region. Alexis Tsipras appeared as the most willing friend of Trump and the US in the region, with the intent to outperform even Netanyahu, even the dictator Sisi. All I saw them share, but it was not an evenly balanced share, was the fact that Tsipras agreed to give EUR 2.5 billion from an impoverished Greece to upgrade its F-16 fleet, and Trump eagerly accepted this offer by saying that this would generate thousands of American jobs. Never before has our country been such a vassal state as it is today. Today’s Greece is a financial colony of Germany within the EU and a political-military plot of the US. There’s no future this way. You asked me a hypothetical question: how would I deal with the US and Trump, if I were the PM. Look, I am not asking for anything unreasonable, I am not suggesting that Greece declared war on the US. Surely, Greece must have relations with the US, and, in fact, good relations with the US. But, these relations must be based on mutual benefit and promote peace and stability in the region, not the opportunistic strategic plans and military interventions of the US in the region. Greece takes part in all US wars in the region, all US and NATO wars in the region. We backed the US war on Iraq, a dead end; we are backing the US war on Afghanistan, a dead end; we backed the US intervention in Syria, a dead end; we also backed the collapse of Libya and the Gaddafi regime change, the war on Libya, a dead end; our region is on fire. These are things I would not have done as the PM. Greece would have never taken part in these wars. In fact, we would stand against this opportunistic warfare with all of our forces. Moreover, Alexis Tsipras extended the term of stay of the US and the NATO in the military base of Souda –Souda is both a US and NATO military base, and he also promised to upgrade the Souda base as a US base and also provide the US with more military bases. I would never do this. Greece cannot be a mobile asset in US plans for the region. Greece has no interest whatsoever in turning against Muslim countries. Greece has no interest whatsoever in having suspended its diplomatic relations with Syria; we had no differences with Syria. Greece wants to have good relations, relations of peace, friendship, cooperation with all of its neighbors. Greece cannot be Israel’s satellite. Greek territory cannot be used for Israeli military exercises and preparation in the region. There lies no benefit, and, in this policy, there is no prospect for the region, nothing positive; there is only blood and pain in Israeli policy. This is what I believe Greece should be: a sovereign country, an independent country with a peaceful policy, a factor of friendship, stability in our region. Good relations with all; however, no vassal relations; equitable relations, and mutual benefit. Lascaris: In the case of Israel, one might argue in defense of the Tsipras’ government that it’s necessary to cooperate with Israel in order to develop oil and gas deposits in the Mediterranean. You were a minister in the Tsipras’ government whose portfolio included energy. Do you think, given the current crisis, that we confront from a climate perspective? And given the fact that Greece, with its geographical location and its climate is particularly susceptible to climate change. Do you think that the development of oil and gas deposits is something that the Tsipras’ government ought to be pursing? Or do you think that the government ought to be diverting its resources towards renewable energy? Lafazanis: First of all, it is necessary to develop the country’s energy potential based on green RES; one way or the other. We are talking about wind turbines; we are talking about solar energy. This is a large area in which Greece can do a lot, a lot of positive things as regards climate change, its energy safety and self-sufficiency, and cheap electricity and cheap energy. That being said, we share no common energy plans with Israel, we share no borders, or blue borders, with Israel. We share blue borders with Turkey to the East, Cyprus, Egypt, and, of course, with Albania and Italy to the West. We want to have the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) settled throughout this maritime area following a solid rule: the International Maritime Law. International Maritime Law is a very powerful international law, and it is also a law integrated in the EU legal system. Therefore, if, together with all of our neighboring countries, particularly Turkey with which there is a long-standing dispute, we proceed with the settlement of issues related to the EEZ and territorial waters under international law, if we move in this direction, I think that the solution is very easy and beneficial for both countries and, particularly, for regional peace and stability. This is my position on the issue of marine research and hydrocarbon drilling at the bottom of the sea. It is a principled position which, however, responds to the problem. The difficulty here is that Turkey does not want to support a settlement under International Maritime Law. This is why they have not signed the International Maritime Law. But this gives rise to major issues. There is no other basis to settle the dispute, other than international law. This is our position and this is what we support, and we think that this could produce a positive outcome, and it is on this basis that the peoples of Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey will meet. And they will all have a mutual benefit, a great benefit. Lascaris: In the September 2015 election as I mentioned at the outset, that was the first election that your party, Popular Unity contested. The party did not achieve the three percent threshold for representation at parliament. And a poll done in April of this year by the University of Macedonia indicated that the party currently enjoys one percent support amongst the Greek voting public. How do you explain that? Why do you think the party has not been able to achieve more levels of support amongst the Greek electorate up until now? Lafazanis: Indeed, in the September 2015 elections, ‘Popular Unity’, for approximately 6-7,000 votes, failed to achieve the 3% threshold and enter the Parliament. To us this was a blow, a big blow. However, I imagine that this was also a blow for Greece and the Greek people, because, currently, there is no opposition in the Parliament. Currently, there is no parliamentary force to essentially oppose the government through an alternative proposal for Greece to leave the Memoranda and austerity, and take a different path. Why is it that we failed to achieve the 3% threshold? Though, many claim that elections and ballot counting did not take place in the most objective and uncontested way. In any case, why is it that we failed to achieve the 3% threshold? Because these elections were ‘express’ elections and merely took place so that we would not be able to build our program, organization, network, and come up with the financial resources to fight the electoral battle. I left SYRIZA and immediately took over as President of the ‘Popular Unity’. I had not yet realized the change in role, and I had to go into an electoral battle within 20 days. We didn’t have any offices in any place in Greece; we didn’t have any organization anywhere; we had to establish an organization; we had no financial resources so as to fight a decent electoral battle with some sort of credibility and prospect and hope; our ballot lists were prepared in the last minute; all of our pre-election efforts were on how to have our ballot lists prepared throughout Greece. Therefore, you understand that this climate made it very difficult for us to positively address people and earn their trust. Of course, at this point, we should stress the fact that Tsipras purposely held ‘express’ elections, hastily, because the people had not realized exactly what he had done; they had not realized that this was a different Tsipras. The Memorandum was adopted in August while everybody was on holiday, far from Athens or major cities; this is high season in Greece. The people could not have grasped the contents of the Memorandum. And Tsipras was saying, in great demagogy, that if there were some bad things in the Memorandum, he would not implement them and come up with compensatory measures to replace them instead. So, under these conditions, and with the support of all other pro-Memorandum political parties, and with the support of the Media which had excluded us and only screened the pro-Memorandum system, we reached the September elections result. From that point onwards, we took up a hard effort, and please consider that we are ‘gagged’ by the mainstream system, we have no way of making our voice heard; although we have been ministers, MPs, we have been party executives for quite some time, we have no way to address people; so, since then, we have been fighting a tough battle, we have been making hard efforts, and I feel that these efforts have some time ago begun to gain ground despite the fact that what we are saying is rather tough, but true. We do not tell lies or make promises to the Greek people. Polls are not representative, particularly the poll you mentioned. Polls are rigged. These polls are not intended to reflect Greek public opinion, but manipulate it, shape it, and set up the political scenery from the top, not reflect the scenery that expresses society. But again, the latest polls cannot completely hide the dynamics of ‘Popular Unity’. Currently, we believe that we rank high in society. This is what poll makers are saying to us; they are not showing this, but they are saying it to us, and everybody in the world of politics knows that ‘Popular Unity’ is an emerging force, and we are almost certain that in the next elections, our party will do well and will be the new emerging political force which will overturn the scenery, this time with credibility, to give Greece a new prospect. Lascaris: Well, we’ll continue to monitor the development of your party and politics in Greece, and we thank you very much for joining us. P. Lafazanis: Thank you, thank you. D. Lascaris: And this is Dimitri Lascaris reporting from Athens, Greece for The Real News.