Can Syriza reform Greece?

It is interesting to note that media coverage of Greece has almost disappeared. For a couple of weeks in July, Greece and its troubled negotiations with the Troika was front page news, with rolling minute by minute reporting from Brussels and Athens. What most motivated this frenzied coverage seemed to be the prospect of a massive failure, with all the political bloodletting that would result. Great for selling newspapers and filling TV programmes. The main question was could Greece stay in the Eurozone or even in the EU or was the much talked about Grexit about to happen? When a last minute deal was somehow agreed the media quickly lost interest in the whole thing. The complex negotiations over a new long term deal for Greece is way beyond the interests or competence of our media. This tells us a lot about the media and its love of simplifying and bidding up any story. The latest media frenzy – the migrants at Calais, confirms yet again the failures of our media.

However this post is about Greece and the prospects for real change.  By whatever circuitous route it has been achieved it looks like Syriza is on the verge of securing a long term financial deal that will provide the country with support and stability over the coming few years. That this is a poor deal and not good for Greece is at one level, besides the point. For what Greece needs above all else is radical change, and only Syriza is in a position to ensure that this radical change is of a progressive and transformative nature. But in order to do this Syriza needs time and this is why a new financial package is so important. Syriza needs the time and space to turn away from negotiating deals with the Troika and get fully engaged in the serious business of transforming Greece.

This is in large part the key message from a longish article by Stathis Gourgouris on Open Democracy, entitled The Syriza problem: radical democracy and left governmentality in Greece. It is well worth reading in full as Gourgouris outlines in some detail the complexities both of Syriza as a coalition and of the challenges facing the government. The success of Syriza is vital for the people of Greece, but not only for Greece, but for the prospects of successful radical change elsewhere in Europe.

While most of the media attention is on the euro, the real challenge facing Syriza lies in Greece itself. As Gourgouris puts it: “Syriza needs time so as to set in motion the governance of its essential task, which is not so much the settling of accounts with the EU but, above all, the radical reorganization of Greece’s long term corrupt social and political institutions.”

It is in this context that reaching a deal that will bring stability to the country’s finances is of such importance. In the long run transforming Greek society away from the clientelist institutions and practices that have gone on unchecked for decades will do more for the people of Greece than anything else. It is also worth noting that even in times of great austerity, radical change can take place. Perhaps the immensity of the austerity that will be forced on Greece may even help win political and popular support for implementing the kind of radical change Greece so desperately needs.

The prospects for this are quite encouraging. As Jan-Werner Müller reminds us in an article for the London Review of Books, Syriza was elected on a platform not just to end austerity, but to tackle and change the root causes of the underperforming Greek economy. Austerity has not ended but much can still be done in reforming Greece. And as Müller points out, “Given his overwhelming support among citizens and the collapse of the conservative New Democracy and Pasok, Tsipras has a chance to become a great reformer.”

If Syriza is to achieve this then it needs all the support it can get. Tsipras and Syriza remain popular in Greece, but continuing support from the rest of Europe would no doubt be welcome. This support should include the left. We need to go beyond bewailing the nasty Troika and support whatever practical measures Syriza can enact to begin the radical transformation of Greece.

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