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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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‘Hell on Earth’: MSF doctor tells RT of rape, violence, inhumane conditions in Lesbos refugee camp

One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

Alex Christoforou

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Via RT


One toilet for over 70 people, rape, and mental health issues – a doctor from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and an aid worker told RT about the dire conditions in the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Greece.

The overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos, built to accommodate 3,100, houses around 9,000 people. “It’s a kind of hell on Earth in Europe,” Dr. Alessandro Barberio, an MSF clinical psychiatrist, said, adding that people in the camp suffer from lack of water and medical care. “It is impossible to stay there,” he said.

According to Barberio, asylum seekers are subjected to violence “during night and day.””There is also sexual violence”which leads to “mental health issues,” he said, adding that all categories of people at the camp may be subjected to it. “There is rape against men, women and children,” and the victims of sexual violence in the camp often have nightmares and hallucinations, Barberio told RT.

Asylum seekers in Moria “are in constant fear of violence,” and these fears are not groundless, the psychiatrist said. “Such cases [of violence] take place every week.”

There is “one toilet for 72 people, one shower for 84 people. The sanitation is bad. People are suffering from bad conditions,” Michael Raeber, an aid worker at the camp, told RT. They suffer from mental health problems because they are kept for a long time in the camp, according to Raeber.

“There is no perspective, they don’t know how their case will go on, when they will ever be able to leave the island.” The camp is a “place where there is no rule of law,” with rampant violence and drug addiction among the inhabitants, Raeber said.

In its latest report, MSF, which has been working near Moria since late 2017, criticized the unprecedented health crisis in the camp – one of the biggest in Greece. About a third of the camp population consists of children, and many of them have harmed themselves, and have thought about or attempted suicide, according to the group.

Barberio was behind an MSF open letter on the state of emergency in Moria, released on Monday, in which he writes that he has never “witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions.”

Calling the camp an “island prison,” he insisted that many of his patients in the camp are unable to perform basic everyday functions, “such as sleeping, eating well, maintaining personal hygiene, and communicating.”

A number of human rights groups have strongly criticized the conditions at the camp and Greece’s “containment policy”regarding asylum seekers.

Christina Kalogirou, the regional governor of the North Aegean, which includes Lesbos, has repeatedly threatened to shut down the facility unless the government improves the conditions. On Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that Greece will move 2,000 asylum seekers out of the severely overcrowded camp and send them to the mainland by the end of September.

Greece, like other EU states, is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since WWII. According to International Organization for Migration estimates, 22,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Greece since the start of this year alone.

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Greece: “Humanitarian Aid” Organization’s People-Smuggling

Greek NGO evidently received 2,000 euros from each illegal immigrant it helped to enter Greece.

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Authored by Maria Polizoidou of Gatestone Institute:


  • Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) describes itself as a “Greek nonprofit organization that provides emergency response and humanitarian aid in times of crisis….” It has reportedly abetted the illegal entry into Greece of 70,000 immigrants since 2015, providing the “nonprofit” with half a billion euros per year.
  • ECRI evidently received 2,000 euros from each illegal immigrant it helped to enter Greece. In addition, its members created a business for “integrating refugees” into Greek society, granting it 5,000 euros per immigrant per year from various government programs (in education, housing and nutrition).
  • With the government of Greece seemingly at a loss as to how to handle its refugee crisis and safeguard the security of its citizens, it is particularly dismaying to discover that the major NGO whose mandate is to provide humanitarian aid to immigrants is instead profiting from smuggling them.

Migrants arrive at a beach on the Greek island of Kos after crossing part of the Aegean sea from Turkey in a rubber dinghy, on August 15, 2015. (Photo by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images)

On August 28, thirty members of the Greek NGO Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI) were arrested for their involvement in a people-smuggling network that has been operating on the island of Lesbos since 2015. According to a statement released by Greek police, as a result of the investigation that led to the arrests, “The activities of an organised criminal network that systematically facilitated the illegal entry of foreigners were fully exposed.”

Among the activities uncovered were forgery, espionage and the illegal monitoring of both the Greek coastguard and the EU border agency, Frontex, for the purpose of gleaning confidential information about Turkish refugee flows. The investigation also led to the discovery of an additional six Greeks and 24 foreign nationals implicated in the case.

ERCI describes itself as:

“[A] Greek nonprofit organization that provides emergency response and humanitarian aid in times of crisis. ERCI’s philosophy is to identify the gaps of humanitarian aid and step in to assist in the most efficient and impactful manner. Currently ERCI has 4 active programs working with refugees in Greece in the areas of Search and Rescue, Medical, Education and Refugee Camp Coordination.”

In spite of its stated mission and non-profit profile, however, ECRI — according to Greek authorities, has earned considerable sums of money from its serving as a conduit for illegal activities. ECRI evidently received 2,000 euros from each illegal immigrant it helped to enter Greece. In addition, its members created a business for “integrating refugees” into Greek society, granting it 5,000 euros per immigrant per year from various government programs (in education, housing and nutrition). ERCI has reportedly abetted the illegal entry into Greece of 70,000 immigrants since 2015, providing the “non-profit” with half a billion euros per year.

This revelation, however, does not begin to cover the extent of the illegal activities surrounding the entry of migrants into Greece. In 2017, for instance, Greek authorities arrested 1,399 people-smugglers, some under the cover of “humanitarian” operations; and during the first four months of 2018, authorities arrested 25,594 illegal immigrants.

More worrisome than the literally steep price paid to people-smugglers by the immigrants themselves — or that doled out by the Greek government in the form of integration subsidies — is the toll the situation is taking on Greek society as a whole.

According to Greek police statistics, there were 75,707 robberies and burglaries reported in 2017. Of these cases only 15,048 were solved, and 4,207 were committed by aliens. In addition, the police estimate that more than 40% of serious crimes were committed by illegal immigrants. (Legal and illegal immigrants in Greece make up 10-15% of the total population.)

In 2016, Greek prisons reportedly contained 4,246 Greeks and 5,221 foreigners convicted of serious crimes: 336 for homicide; 101 for attempted homicide; 77 for rape; and 635 for robbery. In addition, thousands of cases are still pending trial.

In a recent heart-wrenching case on August 15, a 25-year-old college student from Athens — on a visit home from his studies at a university in Scotland — was murdered by three illegal immigrants while he was out touring the city with a female friend from Portugal.

The three perpetrators, two Pakistanis and an Iraqi ranging in age from 17 to 28, told police that they first attacked the young woman, stealing money, credit cards, a passport and a cell phone from her purse, but when they realized that her phone was “old,” they went for the young man’s phone, threatening him with a knife. When he tried to fend them off, they said in their confession, they shoved him and he fell off a cliff to his death. After the interrogation, it transpired that the three killers were wanted for 10 additional robberies in the area.

In an angry letter to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, members of parliament and the mayor of Athens, the mother of the victim accused Tsipras of “criminal negligence” and “complicity” in her son’s murder.

“Instead of welcoming and providing “land and water” to every criminal and dangerous individual with savage instincts,” she wrote, “should the state not think first of the safety of its own citizens, whose blood it drinks daily [economically]? [Should the state] abandon [its citizens] to ravenous gangs, for whom the worth of a human life has less meaning than the value of a cell phone or a gold chain?”

Although those were the words of a grieving mother, they are sentiments widely felt and expressed throughout Greece, where such incidents are increasingly common.

On August 29, two weeks after that murder, six immigrants in northern Greece verbally assaulted a 52-year-old man on the street, apparently for no reason. When he ignored them and kept walking, one of them stabbed him in the shoulder blade with a 24-cm (9.4-inch) knife, landing him in the hospital.

Two days earlier, on August 27, approximately 100 immigrants, protesting the living conditions in their camp in Malakasa, blocked the National Highway for more than three hours. Drivers stuck on the road said that some of the protestors went on a rampage, bashing cars with blocks of wood. To make matters worse, police on the scene said that they had not received instructions from the Ministry of Citizen Protection to clear the highway or protect the victims. Gatestone was told upon further queries, that there was no official statement from the police or the ministry, just the drivers’ statements.

With the government of Greece seemingly at a loss as to how to handle its migrant crisis and safeguard the security of its citizens, it is particularly dismaying to discover that the major NGO whose mandate is to provide humanitarian aid to immigrants is instead profiting from smuggling them. The recent arrest of ERCI members underscores the need to scrutinize all such organizations.

Maria Polizoidou, a reporter, broadcast journalist, and consultant on international and foreign affairs, is based in Greece. She has a post-graduate degree in “Geopolitics and Security Issues in the Islamic complex of Turkey and Middle East” from the University of Athens.

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Turkey’s Latest Power Grab: A Naval Base In Cyprus?

“If Greek-Turkish tensions escalate, the possibility of another ill-timed military provocation could escalate with them… Moreover, such a conflict might open up an even greater opportunity for Russian interference.” — Lawrence A. Franklin.

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Authored by Debalina Ghoshal via The Gatestone Institute:


  • The possibility of a Turkish naval base on Cyprus does not bode well for the chances of a Cyprus reunification deal, particularly after the breakdown of the July 2017 peace talks, which were suspended when “Turkey had refused to relinquish its intervention rights on Cyprus or the presence of troops on the island.” Turkey has 30,000 soldiers stationed on Cyprus, the northern part of which it has illegally occupied since 1974.

Turkey’s Naval Forces Command has “submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that Turkey should establish a naval base in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” according to Turkey’s strongly pro-Erdogan daily, Yeni Safak, which recently endorsed the proposal for the base in an article entitled, “Why Turkey should establish a naval base in Northern Cyprus.”

“The base will enable the protection of Northern Cyprus’ sovereignty as well as facilitate and fortify Turkey’s rights and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, preventing the occupation of sea energy fields, and strengthening Turkey’s hand in the Cyprus peace process talks.”

Having a naval base in northern Cyprus would also strengthen the self-proclaimed “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” which is recognized only by Turkey. Cyprus is strategically important: a naval base there would give Turkey easier access to the Eastern Mediterranean’s international trade routes and greater control over the vast undersea energy resources around Cyprus. In the past, Turkey has blocked foreign vessels from drilling for these resources; in June, Turkey began its own exploration of the island’s waters for gas and oil.

This is not the first time that Turkey has set its sights on the area’s resources. In 2014, Ankara dispatched surveillance vessels and warships to Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to search for hydrocarbons. This incident took place just before the leaders of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt deepened their an energy-cooperation, “freezing Turkey out.” As soon as the accord was signed, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades blasted “Turkey’s provocative actions,” saying that they “do not just compromise the peace talks [between Greek and Turkish Cypriots]… [but] also affect security in the eastern Mediterranean region.”

At the time, UN-brokered reunification negotiations, which had been renewed after a long hiatus, ended unsuccessfully yet again, as a result of Turkey’s search for hydrocarbons in the EEZ. According to a November 2014 report in the Guardian:

“Turkey’s decision to dispatch a research vessel into disputed waters last month not only resulted in talks being broken off but has exacerbated the row over drilling rights.”

The possibility of a Turkish naval base does not bode well for the chances of a Cyprus reunification deal, particularly after the breakdown of the July 2017 peace talks between Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. The talks were suspended when “Turkey had refused to relinquish its intervention rights on Cyprus or the presence of troops on the island.” Turkey has 30,000 soldiers stationed on Cyprus, the northern part of which it has illegally occupied since 1974.

Another factor that may be contributing to the Turkish Navy’s desire for a base in Cyprus is Israel. Aside from Ankara’s extremely rocky relations with Jerusalem, Israel and Cyprus have been working to forge an agreement to join their electricity grids and construct a pipeline to link their gas fields to mainland Europe. Although they are in a dispute over development rights of one of these gas fields, Aphrodite, they are invested in reaching a solution that will not damage their increasingly friendly relations.

Erdogan’s considerations should concern NATO, of which Turkey, surprisingly, is still a member, and the rest of the West. As Lawrence A. Franklin recently wrote for Gatestone:

“If Greek-Turkish tensions escalate, the possibility of another ill-timed military provocation could escalate with them. The ability of NATO to respond to other conflicts in the area could be affected, as well as NATO air and naval assets based in both countries. Moreover, such a conflict might open up an even greater opportunity for Russian interference.”

Debalina Ghoshal, an independent consultant specializing in nuclear and missile issues, is based in India.

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