SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Just a few days in power and the new Greek SYRIZA government of Alexis Tsipras is under criticism for moving from its foundational radical platform.
Now joining me from Athens is one such critic, Michael Nevradakis. Michael is a host of Dialogos radio program in Greece, and he’s contributed to several publications, including Truthout.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Michael.
MICHAEL NEVRADAKIS, RADIO HOST, DIALOGOS: Thank you for having me.
PERIES: So, Michael, you charge SYRIZA of having this very radical election platform and then moving away from it right away. Why are you making such a case?
NEVRADAKIS: Well, SYRIZA actually began to move away from its radical positions after the 2012 elections. They’ve been moderating their position since then. And a lot of what is in SYRIZA’s platform right now was announced by the current prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, at the Thessaloniki trade fair in September. And that is the event that is sort of the equivalent of the state of the union address in the United States. Its where all the political leaders from the major parties go and give sort of their major annual space. So at that event in September, Tsipras announced what essentially was their election platform. And elections hadn’t been called yet, but when early elections were called in late December, SYRIZA basically adopted those positions.
Now, SYRIZA used to be in favor of a number of rather radical issues. They were in favor of bank nationalizations, they were in favor of renationalizing industries that have already been privatized with the previous government. They were in favor of a unilateral write-down of Greece’s debt. There were many members in SYRIZA, including Mr. Lapazanis, who you mentioned, who were very much in favor of Greece leaving the Eurozone and returning to a national currency. There were many in SYRIZA who were talking about forming a committee to perform an audit of Greece’s debt to determine what percentage of that debt is odious and perhaps illegal or illegitimate. And they’ve backed off from a lot of those positions, and they’ve really moderated their positions in a lot of ways.
And using the currency issue as an example [incompr.] Grexit, as a lot of people call it, Yanis Varoufakis, the new finance minister, has repeatedly said in recent days that SYRIZA will not even bring a Grexit to the table, to the negotiating table, not even some negotiating tools. So they’re not even considering this. And even Lafazanis, who was in favor until very recently of a Grexit, has moderated his tone.
Another economist that was elected in SYRIZA, Costas Lapavitsas, was also an economist who was known for being in favor of Greece leaving the Eurozone. He presented his radical economic proposal just a few months ago, in October. And now he is going on BBC and talking about how SYRIZA’s platform is the most sensible of all and that what it is is basically a form of mild Keynesianism.
So they’ve really backtracked on these issues. Tsipras has said that Greece will pay in full bonds that are maturing at the end of March. So that is really quite a difference from stating that there will be a unilateral stoppage of payments or a write-down of the debt. So they’ve really backed off from this issue. And they’ve adopted, I should say also, a lot of the same rhetoric that New Democracy and PASOK, and also much of the Greek media that supported those two parties, they’ve adopted a lot of their rhetoric with regards to the dangers of what a possible Grexit would bring for Greece. And in essence they’re doing the same thing that the previous government was doing.
PERIES: Okay. Let’s unpack this one by one. Let’s take the Greek exit for example. Now, it appears that various polls have indicated that the Greek people actually had anxieties about exiting the euro. So the SYRIZA position was more reflective of what the Greek people wanted. Is that not so?
NEVRADAKIS: I’m glad you mentioned that, actually, because one of the most contentious issues in Greek politics in general, and not just on the Grexit issue, are the opinion polls that are published. So to answer your question, there have been a lot of polls, all throughout the past few months, really, the past couple of years, that have indicated consistently that a majority of the Greek populace supports remaining within the Eurozone. These are polls that are conducted from major television stations, major newspapers. And usually they find a percentage anywhere between 60 to 70, even 75 percent of Greeks supposedly favoring remaining in the Eurozone.
There was one poll, for instance, Proto Thema newspaper, I believe, about two or three weeks before the elections. And Proto Thema is kind of a tabloidy paper and was supportive of a previous government, it should be mentioned. Actually, not Proto Thema–Eleftheros Typos. My mistake. But Eleftheros Typos is a very conservative paper that supported the previous government, which said that 75 percent of the Greeks that were polled want to remain in the Eurozone at all costs, in that in fact this percentage increased by 10 or 11 percent compared to 2013.
So someone, an observer from outside seeing this might say, well, it’s an open-and-shut case, the Greek people don’t want to leave Eurozone, SYRIZA doesn’t want to leave Eurozone program, so really there’s no issue here.
The problem is that the polls in Greece, the opinion polls, are often used as tolls of political manipulation. The companies that conduct these polls do so on behalf of media outlets, major newspapers, major TV stations, that were all, without exception, favorable to the outgoing government of New Democracy and PASOK. They are very pro-austerity, they are very pro-euro, they are very pro-memorandum, and not just with this issue, but also looking at the polls that were taking place before the elections in terms of voter preference, in terms of what people were planning to vote for. What those polls were saying did not reflect the reality that we saw in the results on Sunday.
To give you an example, polls before the elections on Sunday were saying that the difference between SYRIZA and New Democracy was about 2 percent, 3 percent, maybe 4 percent. The actual difference was about eight and a half, 9 percent. Those same polls were saying, for instance, that the Independent Greeks, which are SYRIZA’s coalition partner, would not even enter parliament. I saw them as low as about 1.5 or 2 percent. I mean, you need 3 percent of the vote to get parliamentary seats in Greece. And they ended up getting 4.7 percent. They finished ahead of PASOK. And no polls before the elections predicted that, either the 4 percent or the finish ahead of PASOK. And this has been an ongoing story. We saw this 2012. We saw this again before the European elections last May. And we saw this before the elections on Sunday.
To give you an alternate perspective, there was a different poll. It’s a survey of Europeanness. And it’s conducted by Gallup International every year, apparently, and it’s conducted across Europe, so not just in Greece, but in many other countries as well, countries that are within the Eurozone and countries that are also outside Eurozone. And in the latest survey that was released in late 2014, so only about a month or so ago, that poll actually revealed that 52 percent of respondents in Greece actually desired a return to a national currency to leave the Eurozone. And no one in the media in Greece talked about this poll. No one from any of the political parties talked about this poll–New Democracy and PASOK; the outgoing government certainly didn’t touch it. But SYRIZA has never mentioned this poll result either. And I think the fact that there’s so much silence surrounding this poll–and I can tell you with good information that in the past, newspapers and media in Greece did actually write about some of the other results that would come out of this poll, because they asked a number of different questions pertaining to politics and the economy. This was a poll that was often reported on every year, when the numbers would be revealed. But this year, with the 52 percent figure, no one, no one from the media outlets and no one from the major political parties, including SYRIZA, talked about it.
PERIES: Right. And wouldn’t, though, that be a very sort of a rational point of view for SYRIZA to have, in the sense that you don’t get off the gate saying you’re going to exit the euro, first economically, and in terms of the debt crisis at the moment? SYRIZA needs Europe, SYRIZA needs the European Union, in order for growth and to deliver on the promises that were made to the voters.
NEVRADAKIS: Well, I think that it would be very difficult to actually achieve those promises within the Eurozone. And there’s a number of reasons for that that a number of economists, both in Greece and outside of Greece, have talked about. And I think the number one reason that should be mentioned is the fact that the Eurozone, and in general the European Union, have certain regulations in place which restrict, for instance, a country from having a deficit that exceeds 3 percent of that country’s GDP. So that essentially means that a country can’t spend its way out of a crisis, which is what the United States has done, which is what China has done, which is what countries typically have done in periods of crisis. In the Eurozone, however, that’s not allowed. You have to have a deficit that is no larger than 3 percent of GDP. And if you exceed that, then your country can face perhaps even fines from European Union.
So Alexis Tsipras, in his victory speech on Sunday night after the elections, when it was clear that he had won, actually came out and said he pledged that the SYRIZA government would fulfill these obligations–in other words, that the SYRIZA government would maintain the Greek deficit at below 3 percent. And, indeed, Varoufakis and some others from SYRIZA have said that they will try to maintain a balanced budget. And that might sound good, but keep all this in mind: the Greek GDP has declined by 25 percent in the past six years of crisis in Greece. And that is an unprecedented figure for a country in the post-war period, in a time of peace. So we’re talking about a GDP that has shrunk by one-fourth.
And now we have the European Union regulations which say that you can’t spend more, your spending can’t exceed more than 3 percent of your annual GDP. So we’re talking about a shrunken GDP, and we’re talking about restricting spending to a small percentage of that shrunken GDP. So a lot of these promises that SYRIZA has made will be very difficult, if not impossible, to actually deliver upon within these confines, within the confines of the Eurozone, not to mention the fact, of course, that the Eurozone oversees national budgets. It wants oversight and it has oversight over Greece’s budget, for instance. So SYRIZA can’t just go making decisions unilaterally without the German finance minister and the Eurogroup and the European Commission signing off.
PERIES: So, Michael, how SYRIZA’s going to deliver on their end to austerity measures, let’s take that up in our next segment.
NEVRADAKIS: Wonderful. I look forward to it.
PERIES: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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