Syriza has come to power under the banner of hope – this hope, and the potential of its realisation, now rests heavily on its shoulders. This hope is not just that of the Greek population who elected Syriza, but also belongs to those standing against austerity throughout Europe. In Spain, it is the hope of the ascendant Syriza-esque party, Podemos, as it is also of those standing-against austerity in Belgium, France, Italy, Germany and here in Britain. For so many, this election and its fallout represents a crucial juncture in the political trajectory of the continent, and in the determining of the fate of austerity and its neo-liberal attendants. If there is indeed to be hope for the 25 per cent unemployed in Greece, the 50 per cent of young people unemployed in Spain, and for the working population of Britain who have since 2010 taken the biggest slash to their pay in real terms since the Victorian era, then Syriza must be allowed to enact their democratic mandate and bring their country to its feet.
There are, however, many obstacles to this being achieved, and as the leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, made clear in a speech given to Syriza supporters in October, “it is essential that we understand that winning an election does not mean winning power”. This has become increasingly clear in the days following Syriza’s triumph, and as renditions of “bella ciao” were dying down around the streets and squares of Athens, Syriza’s intransigence and insistence on debt reduction had already received the stern “no” of Angela Merkel. A standoff is overdue, and we shall see between now and February 28, the day Greece’s final loan payment of their current bailout programme is due, how each side plays their cards. Already, the new finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has declared he will not negotiate the bailout terms with the ECB-IMF ‘troika’, but instead intends to talk directly with the leaders of the eurozone to whom the majority of their debt is owed.
These talks could conclude in a variety of ways. However, if Syriza maintain their current hardnosed stance and are able to gain concessions – and it remains to be seen if the EU will stretch to their demands, then they will kindle an invigorated confidence in parties and in voters across Europe that another way is indeed possible: in Spain and Portugal, for Sinn Fein in Ireland, and for nascent struggles such as that of the Belgian unions struggling against a relatively new austerity programme. This triumph of leftist values will also act as a much needed counter-balance to the ominous resurgence of the European far-right and their macabre struggle to raise themselves from the grave.
If Syriza’s halt to further privatization, combined with the policies announced – maintenance of the new €751 (£562) minimum monthly wage, the removal of fees for prescriptions and hospital visits, and the re-hiring of public-sector workers – is to last and the bailout terms are to be revised, the people of Greece and their democratically elected government must be defended against the demands of the financial and political elite who caused this crisis. The election has the potential power, in its stirring up of hope, to inspire a generation alienated by political stagnation and punitive austerity with the realisation that their voices matter, that they can be heard, and that they can make a real change.