Syriza on the Brink

Get ready for a potential “shot heard round the world”–or at least round Europe–on Sunday, when the Greek elections are held. As the Guardian‘s Helena Smith reports, the odds of a victory by the party austerians everywhere fear, Syriza, have actually grown since the beginning of the short campaign:

Greece’s anti-austerity party of the left, Syriza, has stretched its election lead to six points, putting it on course for a historic victory in Sunday’s crucial elections.

With the incumbent prime minister, Antonis Samaras, warning of economic catastrophe if Syriza prevails, and Europe looking on nervously, the shortest election campaign in Greek postwar history concludes on Friday.

Barely four weeks after the failure of parliament to elect a president, triggering the ballot, Greece’s fate now lies in the hands of 9.8 million voters. All the polls show, with growing conviction, that victory will go to Syriza. A poll released by GPO for Mega TV late on Thursday gave the far leftists a six-percentage-point lead over Samaras’s centre-right New Democracy, the dominant force in a coalition government that has held power since June 2012. A week earlier, GPO had the lead at four percentage points.

Buoyed by such figures, Alexis Tsipras, the young firebrand who has overseen Syriza’s meteoric rise from the margins of Greek political life, pledged “historic change” as he gave a triumphant speech to thousands of supporters in central Athens on Thursday night.

“History is knocking at our door,” he said, appealing to Greeks, young and old, to participate in the “overthrow” of an establishment widely blamed for bringing the bailed-out nation to the point of economic and social collapse. “Hope isn’t coming. It has arrived. Nothing can stop it now,” he said, attacking Samaras as “a merchant of fear”.

Now would be a real good time to read or re-read Paul Glastris’ interview with Tsipras, published by the Washington Monthly in 2013. Here’s what Tsipras told Glastris he wanted to convey to Americans about his party’s purpose:

What I want to explain to U.S. citizens is that Greece and citizens of Greece have become in the last few years a kind of guinea pig on which violent and ineffective political choices were used. These policies have borne no fruit and after a certain point they have wrecked Greece and are now threatening to destabilize Europe and pose a danger to the global economy. There is a common interest to both sides to put an end to this madness. Otherwise a recession will be unavoidable in the U.S. in spite of very good handling of the situation financially here on this side.

Remember this when Tsipras is described as some sort of Marxist devil-figure in the international conservative media next week.

UPDATE: I initially overlooked this final graph in Smith’s account, which mentions what has become the international anthem for the anti-austerian movement:

If there was any question about whether the anti-establishment rebels had ambitions of plotting a similar course elsewhere in Europe, it was firmly dispelled when Tsipras was joined on the podium by Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s anti-austerity Podemos movement. To the strains of Leonard Cohen’s First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin, the duo punched the air and Tsipras, putting his arm around Iglesias, announced that the anti-austerians were poised to challenge the old order across the continent.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.