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“The SYRIZA Wave”: An account of leftist betrayal or an account of “activist tourism”?

Helena Sheehan’s “The Syriza Wave” chronicles the dramatic rise of SYRIZA and its first months in power, up until it overturned the July 2015 referendum result. But can the Greek left be reconciled with unwavering support for the EU?

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Sheehan, Helena. The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016. 229p. Reviewed by Déborah Berman Santana.

Helena Sheehan is an academic, journalist, and eurocommunist” activist from Ireland. Like many Europeans, she has had a lifelong love affair with Greece, firstly due to an idealization of Ancient Greece as the root of European civilization, and secondly through many visits to Europes favorite vacation spot. Sheehan recalls that the custom among many left academics was to finance  “sun, sea, sex, and socialism” trips through conference appearances and writing articles for newspapers and scholarly/activist journals. As a supporter of European integration and new” social movements, she felt closest to the Greek left groups that in 2004 formed the Coalition of the Radical Left: SYRIZAFollowing the global financial crash of 2008, she became interested in how it was affecting countries such as Ireland and especially Greece, where the International Monetary Fund (IMF) began to bring its policies of austerity and structural adjustment from the global south” to Europe. Especially after 2012, Sheehan wrote (her) way through multiple trips” to Greece. 

After SYRIZA won the January 2015 elections, Sheehan received a book contract from Monthly Review Press. By Sheehan’s own admission, others were perhaps more qualified to write this book, because they were Greek or were more knowledgeable about Greece, or knew the language, or had appropriate academic training; nonetheless, the publishers agreed that her experiences and reflections might “contribute to a big-picture understanding of the crisis in both Ireland and Greece.” (Her “right” to speak about events in Greece appeared to be a sensitive topic, as she dedicated six pages to defending herself from real or perceived attacks.)

Her main sources of information were interviews with English-speaking Greek and foreign leftists, as well as English-language publications and social media. At least two of the books six chapters are based on articles that she had already published. Half of the book deals with the aftermath of the referendum held on July 5, 2015, when nearly two-thirds of Greece’s voters rejected the proposed third memorandum between the Greek government and the “troika” (the European Union-EU, European Central Bank-ECB, and the IMF) to impose yet more austerity measures in exchange for another bank “rescue.” The book’s narrative ends in July 2016, one year after that famous “oxi” (no) vote.

Sheehan recounts what may be described as a chronicle of a death foretold. From its birth, SYRIZA sought to represent feminist, environmentalist, and other concerns identified with “new” social movements, while class politics (the central feature of the “old” left) appeared to be de-emphasized. Defense of national sovereignty — for which Greek communists heroically spearheaded resistance against German occupation during World War II — was rejected as “fascist.” Despite its radical left profile, the coalition’s support of mainstream policies, such as adoption of the euro and EU subsidies that diminished Greek agricultural independence, would later blind the SYRIZA government to possible ways out of the crisis via recovering national sovereignty.

Sheehan contrasted her frustration about the Irish left’s failure to organize resistance to austerity policies, with enthusiasm for the “heroic” Greek protests. She expressed the hope that many European leftists felt when SYRIZA captured 26.9 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections – dramatic increase from 4.5 percent in 2009 – which made it Greece’s second largest party. While some of her Greek colleagues expressed concern (in hindsight?) about the party’s sudden growth due to defections from the corrupt former ruling PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Alliance) party, they anticipated that such growth meant that the “radical left” would soon take power. Also forgotten was the unease that some felt when, two years later, SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras announced a party platform that lacked clear anti-capitalist content.

Sheehan was thrilled to see friends being appointed to various ministries in SYRIZA’s government following the January 2015 elections. She rationalized the election or appointment of right-wing politicians to positions such as President and Minister of Defense as “necessary” political concessions. She applauded the rehiring of the Finance Ministry’s housekeeping staff in Athens — who had been fired in response to the troika’s demand to reduce public sector employment — while ignoring continuance of significant public sector cuts throughout Greece. In articles, interviews, and conferences she struggled “to vindicate the trust so many placed in SYRIZA,” even after an agreement in February with the troika where Greece’s promise to pay the debt in full and not take unilateral actions provoked angry denunciations from SYRIZA’s “left platform” (who did not quit the party, however). She lauded her government ministry friends’ support for community-based cooperatives to “open up” public services such as education, health, and communications. She did not, however, mention visiting those groups; had she done so she might have learned that government support often silenced their criticisms.

Sheehan continued to participate in European “solidarity” groups for Greece, while agreeing that Ireland “needs a SYRIZA and we need it now.” She participated with thousands of supporters in Dublin in rallies supporting “no” (oxi) on the July 5, 2015 referendum, while noting that “there were many such solidarity rallies elsewhere in Europe.” And she expressed shock and grief when less than a week after the Greek voters said “oxi” to a ruinous third memorandum, the SYRIZA-led government signed – and most of its parliament members ratified – an even harsher agreement with the troika.

Déborah Berman-Santana (left) and Helena Sheehan (right) participating in a panel at the Resistance Festival in Athens, moderated by Errikos Finalis of the “Dromos tis Aristeras” newspaper, September 30, 2017 (Photo: Michael Nevradakis)

Sheehan described several academic conferences in which she participated during the time period of the book. None, however, was so contentious as the “Democracy Rising” conference in Athens in July 2015. Planning for the conference began just after SYRIZA took power; by the time it took place following SYRIZA’s betrayal of the “no” vote on the referendum, she wrote, “Democracy Collapsing seemed like a better name.” Conference speakers from the government either failed to show up, or claimed to reject the agreement while remaining in SYRIZA and keeping their seats in parliament.

Sheehan finally turned against SYRIZA only after Tsipras expelled the “Left Platform” from the party in preparation for new elections in September, which SYRIZA won despite – or perhaps because of – an unprecedented 44 percent abstention rate. Her friends hurriedly formed a new “Popular Unity Coalition” party, which failed to unify enough groups and win enough votes to enter Parliament. She ended her book on a pessimistic note, observing that the world was “no longer watching” Greece, but still hoping that support for similar movements such as represented by Podemos in Spain, or Jeremy Corbin in England, indicated that “reflection on the SYRIZA story could be an essential element in moving the global narrative onward.”

Even within Sheehan’s linguistic, political, and cultural limitations, her choices of “left” organizations and activists appeared to be more selective than necessary. Notably, she did not interview or even mention any person or group that clearly and consistently called for leaving the Eurozone and European Union. One example, the United Popular Front (EPAM), was born in the plaza occupations of 2011. EPAM has often been shunned because it calls for restoring national sovereignty, and some of its members are not “left.” But she also ignored the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), which had been part of the SYRIZA government — although she mentioned that their newspaper, “Way of the Left” reviewed her book.

Some readers may also find her frequent descriptions of her tourist activities to be distracting. Nonetheless, Helena Sheehan’s personal account of the Greek and European left,who rode and crashed on the SYRIZA wave, is both fascinating and disturbing, and should raise many questions about where “radical leftism” is going.

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Paranoid Turkey Claims “Greece, Israel, & Egypt Are Part Of Khashoggi’s Murder Plot”

A new Turkish narrative has been launched claiming that Greece, Israel and Egypt are part of the murder plot of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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Via Zerohedge


As we noted previouslythe conflict over gas in the eastern Mediterranean is intensifying.

The dispute concerns gas blocks, with Turkey furious about the energy cooperation of these Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt in the East Mediterranean Sea. While Turkish warships have been active, it appears Turkey is taking a new approach to this hybrid war.

As KeepTalkingGreece.com reports,a new Turkish narrative, based on paranoia and conspiracy theories, has been launched claiming that Greece, Israel and Egypt are part of the murder plot of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggipresumably in an effort to garner global opinion against their energy-hording neighbors.

This unbelievable allegation has been claimed by Erdogan’s close aide Yigit Bulut, who is famous for his delirium and ravings, during an appearance on state television of Turkey.

“Greece, Israel and Egypt are part of murder plot involving slain Saudi Arabia journalist Khashoggi in Istanbul,” Yigit Bulut said in TRT Television, where he is a frequent guest.

Enlisting the ‘good old traditional perception’ that Turkey is surrounded by enemies, KeepTalkingGreece notesthat Bulut said:

“a belt extending from Europe to Israel has always harbored hostility towards Turkey they never wanted Turks in this region. Europe even made Turks to fight unnecessary wars against Russia.”

It is worth noting that Russia and Turkey have come closer recently due to Syria, a cooperation sealed with armament sales to Ankara triggering the anger of US and the NATO of which Turkey is a member.

Bulut vowed that Turkey will continue oil and gas exploration in the East Mediterranean off-shore Cyprus.

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Turkey vows to make ‘sea bandits’ drilling gas off Cyprus pay, like ‘terrorists in Syria’ did

Ankara claims jurisdiction for offshore research in the East Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich with natural resources.

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Via RT


Ankara will not allow any “sea bandits” to roam free and tap the disputed natural gas reserves off Cyprus, Turkey’s president has vowed, while commissioning a new warship to challenge competitors militarily, should the need arise.

“We will not accept attempts to seize natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean through the exclusion of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC),” Erdogan said Sunday, according to Daily Sabah. While claiming that Turkey has no ambitions to annex any “territories,” Ankara promised to protect “the rights of our country and of our brothers.”

“Those who thought that they could take steps in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean despite [this] have begun to understand the magnitude of their mistake. We will not allow bandits in the seas to roam free just like we made the terrorists in Syria pay,” Erdogan said at a ceremony transferring the TCG Burgazada corvette to the Turkish Navy.

The exploration of hydrocarbon resources off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus has become a sensitive issue for the international community, ever since the first gas deposit discoveries were made off the coast in 2011. While the Republic of Cyprus belongs to the EU community and is recognized by the UN, TRNC, the northern third of the island, has been occupied by Turkey since 1974. As a result, Ankara continues to claim jurisdiction for offshore research in the East Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich with natural resources.

The region has recently witnessed an escalation in tensions, after the Turkish Navy intercepted a Greek frigate which tried to interfere with a Turkish research vessel’s seabed exploration on October 18. The incident prompted a diplomatic row with Greece, which traditionally supports the ethnically Greek government of the Republic of Cyprus. While Greece denied interfering with the Turkish research vessel, Ankara has cautioned its neighbor and longtime opponent not to stir trouble in the region.

To ease tensions, Cyprus’ President Nicos Anastasiades has offered Turkey on Friday to cooperate on exploiting the East Mediterranean’s potential oil and gas wealth, stressing that the ethnically split island nation should be reunified. All previous international efforts to unite the island have failed. To avoid any further intercommunal tensions and hostilities the United Nations continues to maintain a buffer zone there.

“We will continue with our goal of exercising the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus, as an independent state – member of the European Union, proceeding seamlessly with our energy planning for the benefit of all the legitimate inhabitants of the country, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots,” the president noted.

US-based ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum have already been licensed by the Cypriot government to undertake seabed exploration of Block 10. Last month, Nicosia also invited France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and ExxonMobil to explore Block 7. ExxonMobil’s Stena IceMax drillship is scheduled to arrive in Cyprus on November 12. Turkey, meanwhile, started conducting its first deep-sea drilling off Antalya’s shores on its Mediterranean coast this week.

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After Embarrassing Defeat, NATO, EU and the West Try to Alter Reality in Macedonia

Amidst all the faux cheer and public displays of confidence of the pro-NATO/EU crowd, a palpable sense of unease hangs in the air.

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Authored by Aleksandar Pavic via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Although the September 30, 2018 name-change referendum in Macedonia, which was supposed to set that ex-Yugoslav federal republic on a path to (certain) NATO and (blithely promised but much less certain) EU membership, failed miserably, with only 36.91% of the voters turning out, well short of the 50% + 1 necessary for it to be valid – one would never know it from the reactions of its Western proponents and impatient beneficiaries. Indeed, a new term may be needed to adequately describe the reactions of the key pillars representing the reliquiae reliquiarum of the Western-led post-Cold War unipolar moment. Fake news simply doesn’t do them justice. Fake reality anyone?

The US State Department was firmly in denial, releasing the following statement“The United States welcomes the results of the Republic of Macedonia’s September 30 referendum, in which citizens expressed their support for NATO and European Union (EU) membership by accepting the Prespa Agreement between Macedonia and Greece. The United States strongly supports the Agreement’s full implementation, which will allow Macedonia to take its rightful place in NATO and the EU, contributing to regional stability, security, and prosperity. As Macedonia’s parliament now begins deliberation on constitutional changes, we urge leaders to rise above partisan politics and seize this historic opportunity to secure a brighter future for the country as a full participant in Western institutions.”

EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn wasn’t to be outdone in his contempt for the 63% of the Macedonian “deplorables” who stayed home in order to voice their disagreement with renouncing their perceived national identity and country name (it was to become “Northern Macedonia”) in exchange for the double joy of a) becoming NATO’s cannon-fodder in its increasingly hazardous game of chicken with Russia and b) the EU’s newest debt-serfs: “Referendum in Macedonia: I congratulate those citizens who voted in today’s consultative referendum and made use of their democratic freedoms. With the very significant “yes” vote, there is broad support to the #Prespa Agreement + to the country’s #Euroatlantic path. I now expect all political leaders to respect this decision and take it forward with utmost responsibility and unity across party lines, in the interest of the country.” He was seconded the following day, in a joint statement, by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the EU Commission.

Understandably, as the most direct public stakeholder, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was particularly (hyper)active. As the disappointing results began to roll in, Stoltenberg went into immediate damage control, tweeting“I welcome the yes vote in Macedonia referendum. I urge all political leaders & parties to engage constructively & responsibly to seize this historic opportunity. #NATO’s door is open, but all national procedures have to be completed.” He reinforced his delusional missive the next day, releasing a similar statement co-signed by EU President Donald Tusk. And the day after, during a news conference, Stoltenberg even offered lightning-quick NATO accession to the unwilling Macedonians – January 2019, to be exact – if they would just be so kind as to urgently implement the very agreement that they had just so emphatically rejected. When NATO says it promotes democratic values – it means it!

But that wasn’t the end of the “democracy mongering” surrounding what may well prove to be NATO’s, the EU’s and the rest of the end-of-history West’s Balkan Waterloo. For example, the EU Parliament’s Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, although “regretting that the turnout was less than 50%,” nevertheless hailed the referendum’s results and “call(ed) on the opposition to respect the expressed will of the majority [sic] of voters.” The Group’s leader, Udo Bullmann, while also maintaining that, somehow, a voter turnout of under 37% still represented a “majority,” additionally used the occasion to chastise Macedonia’s President for having the nerve to call for a boycott of the referendum (he committed the crimethink of referring to it as “historical suicide” during his UN General Assembly address), as well as to decry – what else? – “reports about Russian interference in the electoral process.” It goes without saying that Bullmann offered absolutely zero proof for his assertion. On the other hand, according to numerous media reports, as September 30 approached, while no high Russian official was to be seen anywhere in the vicinity, a veritable procession of Western political bigwigs made the pilgrimage to Skopje in order to reveal to the natives their “true” best interests: Sebastian Kurz“Mad Dog” Mattis, the indefatigable StoltenbergFederica MogheriniJohannes HahnAngela Merkel. No meddling there, obviously…

Speaking of Angela Merkel, she also joined her fellow Western democrats’ show of unanimous disdain for the Macedonian voters’ majority opinion, urging the country to “push ahead” with the implementation of the majority-rejected accord, citing voters’ “overwhelming support” [sic], and arguing through the mouth of her spokesman that the required 50% + 1 turnout was actually “very high,” as voter registers purportedly included many people who had long since left the country.

Coincidentally (?), the same argument was used by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who opined that the “yes” votes cast in the referendum do, in fact, “represent the majority despite the low turnout because Macedonia does not have the 1.8 million voters entered into its electoral rolls but just 1.2 million since 300,000 people have left the country since the voter lists were last updated 20 years ago.” The fallacy of his reality-challenged claim is easily exposed if we just take a glance at the results of Macedonia’s last parliamentary elections (December 2016), in which voter turnout was just under 1.2 million (1,191,832 to be exact) or, officially, 66.79%. If we were to believe Kotzias and Merkel (who lodged no objections at the time), that would have meant that the turnout for the 2016 elections had been 99% – a figure that would make any totalitarian dictator blush with envy. On the other hand, since those elections did produce the “desired result,” enabling the current heavily pro-NATO/EU government led by Zoran Zaev to be formed, that automatically made them “valid” in the eyes of the high priests of democracy in Brussels, Berlin, London and Washington.

Needless to say, Zaev joined his Western patrons’ charade, hailing the referendum as a “democratic success,” and announcing that he would seek the Macedonian Parliament’s support to amend the constitution and get the agreement with Greece ratified (according to the so-called Prespa Agreement, the Macedonian Parliament must adopt the necessary constitutional amendments by the end of 2018) so that the Greek Parliament can do the same, which would seal the deal. However, Zaev and his Albanian political partners are currently well short of the necessary two-thirds majority (reportedly, they can count on 71 deputies, or 9 short of the needed 80), and will have to call early elections if they don’t soon succeed in securing it.

Yet, let it not go unsaid that Zaev was singing a rather different tune prior to the referendum, assuring that “citizens will make the decision,” and that Parliament would vote on the necessary constitutional changes only if the referendum is successful. But that was then, when confidence was still high that the usual combination of Western pressure, money and overwhelming domination of the media spectrum would get the job done. And then reality struck on September 30…

Still, amidst all the faux cheer and public displays of confidence of the pro-NATO/EU crowd, a palpable sense of unease hangs in the air. As a Deutsche Welle opinion piece put it, the “low voter turnout for Macedonia’s referendum is a bad starting point for the country’s future development.” And, according to DW in Serbian, a Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commentary warned that “politicians who otherwise ceaselessly talk of democracy as a ‘special value’ should not call on the parliament in Skopje to accept the voting results.” In other words, Macedonia’s people (read – a large majority of the majority Slavic population) have “voted with their feet” and rejected the agreement, and no new parliamentary election, no matter the results, can change that unpleasant-but-immutable fact. That alone will delegitimize any Western-led effort to “manufacture consent” by ramming the agreement through the present or future Parliament – although, as we know, NATO doesn’t put too much stock in referenda anyway, while the EU is not averse to making citizens vote as many times as needed to obtain the “right” result.

But the West has lost more than just legitimacy in Macedonia – it has damaged its reputation, perhaps irretrievably. In the words of former presidential advisor Cvetin Chilimanov, “The West has humiliated us… Macedonians have rejected this media, psychological, political and propaganda aggression against the people, and that’s the tragedy of these days, that a large percentage of a people that had been genuinely oriented towards the West has changed its mind and stopped looking at the West as something democratic, something progressive and successful… That is the reason for the boycott. Pressure was applied against Macedonia, a country that had always been open to ties with the West, but which did not want to make this disgusting compromise and humiliate itself before the neighboring countries, before Western countries. We did not understand why that humiliation was needed so that we might become a member of Europe. What’s worst, perhaps that is now the thinking of a silent majority of the people, that they won’t forget this insult and this attack on Macedonia.”

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