The Sky News’ Outsiders program last week excelled in absurdity in their zealousness to rejoice in the victory of conservative New Democracy in Greece. The co-hosts heralded the “slaying of the socialist dragon” and began “celebrating the election of a conservative government in Greece, the government of Kyrgios Mitsotakis”, as Rowan Dean announced, instead of Kyriakos, the new Greek prime minister’s first name.
Mr Dean may have thought Nick Kyrgios was the election victor, a shuddering thought.
The Outsiders then proceeded to dance to Theodorakis’ Zorbas theme; the irony being that they were dancing to the music of Communist composer Mikis Theodorakis for a film version of progressive writer Nikos Kazantzakis’ book Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas. This irony was totally missed by them.
The Outsiders’ lack of political insight into Greece’s modern realities and Mr Tsipras’ Syriza Party was in plain sight. Syriza for all its left-wing rhetoric was far from being a “socialist dragon”.
Like many successful modern progressive parties such as the Australian Labor Party during the Hawke Keating years, or Tony Blair’s British Labour government, Syriza ploughed forward with the liberalisation of the Greek economy and its sclerotic bureaucracy. It maintained the austerity program imposed by Brussels and was the first government since the financial crisis to produce a current account surplus. Syriza stumbled often and they were met with disapproval by many who voted for them, for not ending austerity, for adding taxes and for what they saw as acquiescence to the IMF and Brussels.
However, Syriza did steward Greece into the beginning of post-Crisis growth. Greece is again enjoying a resurgent economy and it’s doing so based on the sale of moribund state assets; a boost to services like tourism, and support for technology and other start-ups. This has much to do with Syriza’s liberal, not socialist, reforms.
Unlike their PASOK predecessors, Syriza strengthened diplomatic relations with Israel and did not damage relations with the US especially under the volatile Mr Trump. Syriza importantly succeeded in ending the terrible and damaging argument over the naming issue of Greece’s northern neighbour, The Republic of North Macedonia, with the signing of the Prespes Agreement. This was one of its more marked successes.
The Outsiders equally misunderstood Mr Mitsotakis’ New Democracy. Unlike other big C conservative and right populist anti-EU parties in Europe, New Democracy (ND) is looking at more, not less engagement with the EU.
Most importantly, the citizens of Greece went against the tide of populism witnessed in recent elections across Europe, by slaying the right wing dragons of anti-EU anti-immigration populism. The violent neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, whose anti-immigration anti-EU position secured it 18 seats in 2015, lost all its seats in the Greek parliament in the 7 July elections. That is something we should celebrate.
Greece’s was the only European election recently that saw the demise of the hard right. Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Netherlands, Italy, Britain, Germany, France by contrast experienced a sharp rise in anti EU right-wing populist parties. The most pronounced growth of right wing populists – at over 20 per cent – being in the social democratic nations of northwest Europe like Sweden and the Netherlands. Greece’s population voted for more temperate centre-left and centre-right blocks over the last two elections. Could Greece be a template for Europe in the future? That is hard to say. What is clear is that we’re all relieved that Nick Kyrgios is not the new PM of Greece, regardless of how good a tennis player he is.