One January day about year and a half ago, the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) came to power in Greece riding a wave of popular support fuelled by anger over austerity and resentment towards Germany, the European Union, and the nation’s traditional political establishment.
This was a historic victory for the Left, although the record of leftist leaders in Europe being able to challenge effectively the global reach of capitalism and the neoliberal undermining of the social state should have given pause to the unrestrained enthusiasm among Greek voters in the ability or willingness of the young and politically untested Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras to carry out his promises: ending austerity, shredding into pieces the bailout agreements, writing off a big chunk of the debt, and providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of unemployed.
Indeed, going back to Charles de Gaulle, it has been leaders of the traditional Right in Europe that have shown to be more in tune with the common good and a nation’s interest than leaders of the social democratic left.
But one can hardly blame the Greek voters.
Economy in shambles
Five years of international bailouts had left the economy in shambles, shrinking the GDP by nearly 25 percent and sending the unemployment rate to stratospheric levels (over 25 percent), while producing unprecedented poverty and causing the collapse of social services, including the public healthcare system.
Under this context, Tsipras’ impassioned rhetoric against austerity had a natural emotional appeal among voters across the ideological spectrum, and only the most astute observers had an inkling of what was in store for the future of the country under a pseudo-leftist, incomparably opportunistic group of individuals (Tsipras and his inner circle) for whom power is indeed the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Tsipras' impassioned rhetoric against austerity had a natural emotional appeal amongst voters across the ideological spectrum, and only the most astute observers had an inkling of what was in store for the future of the country...
After a few months of political theatrics directed against the country’s official creditors, in which one of the main “victories” was to reject the term “troika” in favour of “the institutions”, the Syriza government – and its junior partner, the right-wing and xenophobic party The Independent Greeks (ANEL) – capitulated fully to the euro masters.
It converted itself in record political time into one of the most faithful enforcers of the neoliberal policies behind the International bailout programmes, which include, among other things, the complete liberalisation of the labour market, huge cuts in wages, salaries and pensions as part of a direct plan to bring Greece in line with the standard of living in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, stripping human services and social programmes down to the bare bone, and the fire sale of national patrimony.
In August 2015, the Syriza-led government agreed to a third bailout programme, worth $95.9bn, which was far more ruthless and exceedingly more humiliating than the two previous bailout agreements.
The depth of reforms
And this after a referendum had been held, in which a huge majority of the Greek people took a courageous stance and voted “No” (OXI) to further austerity and additional EU/IMF bailouts.
However, complications arose with the release of funds in connection with the third bailout programme because of a disagreement between the European Commission and the IMF over the depth of reforms and because the Fund insisted on debt restructuring for Greece, an idea that remains an anathema to German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in particular.
Less than 10 days ago, a deal was reached that gives Greece access to a $11.48bn tranche of bailout funds.
In exchange, the Tsipras government agreed to additional pension cuts, imposed more taxes, and promised faster privatisation of public assets.
The nation’s regional airports have already passed into German hands, and Deutsche Telekom owns a huge share of Hellenic Telecom since 2014.
Greece’s notorious privatisation agency, created upon the demand of creditors and modelled after Treuhandanstalt (the West German agency that oversaw the privatisation of assets in East Germany) and currently run by an old Syriza man and a close associate of the Greek PM, includes in its portfolio beaches, islands, hotels, golf courses, Olympic venues, and historic properties.
The only thing missing outside the office of Greece’s privatisation agency is a sign that reads “A Nation for Sale”.
This is probably why the German finance minister said just a few days ago that he is now “optimistic” about Greece.
The Greek bailouts are a “win-win situation” for Germany and the EU.
Virtually all of the bailout loans go towards the repayment of mostly German and French bank loans (of the $262bn in bailout loans that Greece has received from 2010 to 2015, not a single cent went towards the budget), while the country is being turned simultaneously into a neoliberal laboratory and masterfully deprived of its public wealth – now with a helping hand from the nation’s only major political force that could have stopped dead in its tracks the austerity nightmare and the rape of the country.
C J Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked for many years in universities and research centres in Europe and the United States.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.