Syriza Victory in Greece Delivers Crushing Blow to Brutal Austerity

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras speaking in May, 2014. (Photo: Lorenzo Gaudenzi/flickr/cc)

Syriza Victory in Greece Delivers Crushing Blow to Brutal Austerity

Greece "is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain," Syriza's Tsipras says at victory rally.

Update 6:26 PM: News agencies are reporting that the leftist Syriza party led by Alexis Tsipras has won Greece's general election, with over three-quarters of polling results in.

Tsipras told a crowd of cheering supporters, "Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind the destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain."

Center for Economic and Policy Research Co-Director Mark Weisbrot called the win "a great example for the rest of the eurozone."

"Voters have rejected prolonged mass unemployment and elected a new government with a mandate to negotiate a better deal. And this new government will have bargaining power. A government that is willing to stand up to the European authorities can really help Europe move away from economic policies that have been a miserable failure," Weisbrot said.

* * *

Earlier: Greeks headed to the polls on Sunday in a decisive election poised to see a win by the leftist Syriza party and deliver an anti-austerity message that could reverberate across the eurozone.

Final polls issued Friday showed the leftwing Syria party, led by 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras, favored to win against incumbent Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' conservative New Democracy party.

Speaking from Athens on Saturday, attorney Dimitri Lascaris told the Real News Network that Syriza's win appears inevitable; the question is whether it would garner a large enough majority in the unicameral parliament.

As Reuters reported, a Syriza win "would produce the first euro zone government openly committed to canceling the austerity terms of its EU and IMF-backed bailout program."

"Democracy will return to Greece," Tsipras said as he cast his ballot. "The message is that our common future in Europe is not the future of austerity."

He later told the BBC that "the vicious circle of austerity is over."

Reporting from Athens, France 24's Christophe Robeet said that "one thing is sure--everybody here is telling us that whether they like Syriza or whether they don't like Syriza, this is a crucial election, which will have a very big impact on the future of Greece."

The Associated Pressreported: "Syriza has promised to renegotiate the country's 240 billion euro ($270 billion) international bailout deal. It has pledged to reverse many of the reforms that international creditors demanded in exchange for keeping Greece financially afloat since 2010."

Those "reforms" imposed by the Troika--the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Union--have been denounced by Tsipras as "national humiliation." Others have criticized them as brutal cuts that have taken a severe toll on the population.

Fifty-four-year old Panagiotis, a self-employed electrician who had just voted for Syriza, told the Guardian, "There has to be change, big change. The economy has collapsed. Poverty has reached proportions ... People, ordinary people like you and me, are poking around in dustbins to get food to eat. The young can only find work abroad. Syriza is Greece's hope."

Panagiotis is far from alone is his assessment.

"The 'demonstration' of brutal cuts and austerity has been--by all accounts--an abysmal failure," sociology professor Mike-Frank Epitropoulos writes at Dollars & Sense. He continues:

The conditionality of the "bailout" loans to Greece has been based on severe austerity and theoretical free-market discipline. This has included massive cuts to health care, education, and infrastructure; layoffs of public and private workers, wage cuts (averaging 30%), pension cuts, and the massive privatization of Greek national properties and operations. The results:

  • The beloved measure of mainstream economics, GDP, has declined 29% since the onset of budget-cutting austerity;
  • Unemployment stands at 25% for the Greek population as a whole, and over 60% for Greek youth. In 2010, I wrote about the "EUR600 generation" that people worried about. Now, we are literally down to the "EUR300 generation"(minimum monthly youth wage)--in the name of "competitiveness", according to the current government;
  • There are up to 300,000 Greek households without electricity, due mainly to the fact that the Troika and its Greek government partners tied newly implemented property taxes to electric bills;
  • Greek sovereign debt stood at 113% of GDP in 2009 and with the Memoranda's mandatory austerity program has not reduced that, but has increased that debt to 175% of GDP.
These numbers alone are worse than the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States.
Democracy, in terms of rights to protest and fight back, has been curtailed. The government has cracked down on unions, and public broadcasting has been broken into pieces by the oligarch-backed ND-PASOK coalition (along with the small "Democratic Left--DIMAR" party for a short while).
Beyond that, the human toll of despair is characterized by a record number of suicides, and record levels of homelessness and poverty. There are tragic stories of teachers and doctors eating out of garbage cans and of many people abandoning the cities to return to their home villages where even less opportunity exists. Large numbers of unemployed youth have been migrating out of the country, seeking opportunities abroad as their forefathers and mothers did in previous generations. Those left behind are tasked with keeping the country together and rejuvenating the economy and society.

Epitropoulos concludes: "A victory for SYRIZA this Sunday will have great symbolic value for Greeks and for others in Europe and around the world. An anti-austerity left party will have been elected in the rubble of cut-throat capitalism, and in the face of threats and propaganda. People will have been elevated, by their own will, as more important than money. But this will not be the end--this will be the beginning of an untested demonstration project."

As Tsipras said ahead of the voting, "There are millions of people across Europe who are watching Greece and pinning their hopes on us."

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