NEW YORK – The timing of the A.S. Onassis Program in Hellenic Studies at New York University could not have been better. As Greece’s new Tsipras government and its lenders were engaged in furious negotiations over the Greek loan agreements, the Program hosted noted writer and filmmaker Tariq Ali, who spoke about “SYRIZA vs. the Extreme Centre.”
The large audience of mainly young people at NYU on February 20 was welcomed by Dr. Liana Theodoratou, Professor of Hellenic Studies, the Program’s Director.
Theodoratou said “it is time for a serious discussion of the situation in Greece,” and that she was extremely honored to provide a forum for Ali’s “sharp perceptions.” In her introduction she noted Ali has written more than two dozen books on world history and politics. His works include: The Extreme Centre, The Obama Syndrome, and Speaking of Empire and Resistance.
An editor of New Left Review who lives in London, Ali has visited Greece many times.
He began by addressing the American media’s failure – although he cited New York Times columnist Paul Krugman as an exception – to describe crisis’ humanitarian dimension, which he said was caused and not merely exacerbated by the austerity programs imposed by the Troika.
Ali provided historical background by summarizing the distorting effects on Greece’s economic and political development of the Civil War, the Cold War, and American interventions.
Among the crimes of Greece’s post WWII rightwing governments was their failure to pursue reparations and forced-loan repayments from Germany, and Ali praised Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for spotlighting that issue.
SYRIZA IS EUROPEAN ELITES’ NIGHTMARE
Ali recounted the panic among Europe’s elite over the rise of SYRIZA. The EU continuously signaled to the people of Greece not to vote for the far-left party, especially trying to “frighten the sick and the elderly.”
He noted that SYRIZA’s rise was also facilitated by young people’s abandonment of the failed establishment parties. Some opted out of politics completely, others joined the ranks of far right Golden Dawn, but many were thrilled with the way Syriza challenged the Troika.
Ali hopes Greeks will be given a chance to make a serious choice about the memorandum and the nation’s future through a referendum. And among the things he believes Tsipras should explore – he has drawn numerous brilliant economics from the Diaspora to his endeavor – is a dual currency regime.
In Greece, as in other struggling European countries, what he calls “the extreme center (centre)” has “wrecked the country,” and through the degeneration of the EU he believes democracy has been replaced by an authoritarianism that attacks anyone who criticizes the establishment.
He suggested that the EU leadership, terrified by the possibility of SYRIZA’s success, which would strengthen parties like Spain’s Podemos, see SYRIZA’s program as an infection and they have resolved to crush Tsipras.
Their strategic plan, Ali says, is to force the Greek leader into many tactical retreats – forcing him to accept even unnecessary things – that will add up to a betrayal in the eyes of his supporters.
When TNH asked Ali about distinguishing between reforms demanded by neo-liberals (Europe’s rightists) and modernizing reforms, Ali declared the EU also needs modernization.
He reserved his most blistering criticism for the EU, which he said has evolved into a Federation run by Germany, but he added that even Germany’s sovereignty is undermined by U.S. dominance of NATO and Wall Street.
Ali said the European crisis – and Greece’s suffering – “is the direct result of the 2008 Wall Street crisis of financial capitalism” and condemned EU officials for spending trillions on bank bailouts instead of economic stimulus.