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Syriza’s Moment


Photo Credit: Theophilos Papadopoulos via Flickr

Greece’s far-left may have reached its day of reckoning far faster than anticipated.

As negotiations between Greece and the troika came to a screeching halt last week over the terms of a multibillion-euro bailout — a few days before the country is expected to vote on the troika’s terms and conditions for a bailout — the country’s already-weakened economy has come to a standstill. Just hours before the deadline for the country’s 1.6 billion euro debt payment on Tuesday, markets were relatively calm, but capital controls to prevent cash from flowing rapidly out of the country have been in full effect. Banks have been forced to close as well and will remain so until July 7, and withdrawals, if one can find a working ATM, are severely limited.

But for Alexis Tsipras and his party, Syriza — both of whom rode into Athens on a wave of popular frustration with Greece’s pro-austerity political establishment — what comes next will be the make-or-break moment for the party’s ability to lead in difficult times.

As far as leadership is concerned, Tspiras’ motives for backing such a referendum are clear. Putting the creditor’s offer to a vote takes some of the weight of his shoulders and opens up the opportunity for the party to lead the country through a time of trial without (presumably) as much backlash. In essence, it’s a way of saying: Whatever road we choose to take, we’re all in this together.

It’s no surprise, then, that Tsipras has presented the referendum not as a vote on Greece remaining in the eurozone, nor as a vote between the euro or the drachma. Rather, for Tsipras, the referendum is a democratic imperative — an exercise in sovereignty before all else.

“Greece, the birthplace of democracy, should send a resounding democratic message to the European and global community,” he said in his address on the referendum on June 27.

“I am absolutely confident that your choice will honor our country’s history and will send a message of dignity worldwide. In these critical times, we all have to remember that Europe is the common home of all of its peoples.”

Whether or not the referendum is a practical exercise has been the matter of some controversy. Those opposing the referendum, including a number of former Greek government officials, have framed the vote as “yes” or “no” to Europe. Even Former Prime Minister George Papandreou — who carried out a similar referendum in 2011, which he has since defended — has repeatedly condemned the July 5 referendum, referring to it as a “tactical ploy” and a sort of negotiating weapon.

Still others have argued much of the blowback comes from the fact that the European project wasn’t all that democratic to begin with. Writing in The Guardian, economist Joseph Stiglitz noted, “[W]hat we are seeing now, 16 years after the eurozone institutionalized those relationships, is the antithesis of democracy.” European leaders, Stiglitz continues, want Tsipras and Syriza out, and they want a Greek government in power that is willing to accept the terms and conditions of eurozone membership without a fight.

What happens on July 5 is up to the Greeks, and only the Greeks, to decide. No matter that outcome, it’s impossible to deny that this is the moment for Syriza. Tsipras’ government is young, but it’s already had its share of fights. They’ve already confronted the EU — but will they capitulate?

“More than ever we must be clear that there is no middle course between confrontation and capitulation,” wrote Stathis Kouvelakis, a member of Syriza’s central committee, after the party was elected in January 2015. “The moment of truth is at hand.”

Those words couldn’t be more relevant now.



Hannah Gais
Hannah Gais

Hannah is assistant editor at the Foreign Policy Association, a nonresident fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and the managing editor of Her work has appeared in a number of national and international publications, including Al Jazeera America, U.S. News and World Report, First Things, The Moscow Times, The Diplomat, Truthout, Business Insider and Foreign Policy in Focus.

Gais is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, where she focused on Eastern Christian Theology and European Studies. You can follow her on Twitter @hannahgais

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