'Blackmail, terrorism and tension' - Greek left turns up rhetoric


Greece is a country where economic crisis has given way to social crisis.

Alexis Tsipras At 37, Tsipras is Greece's youngest political leader

The far right on the march, tube strikes have paralysed the capital. Now there is growing political violence.

The police have moved to clear out anarchist squats. Political party offices have been firebombed.

Last month, someone fired a Kalashnikov at the HQ of the ruling party, New Democracy.

Now the opposition leader Alexis Tsipras has upped the ante, accusing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government of pursuing a "strategy of tension", akin to that allegedly pursued by the Italian secret service in the 1970s.

Speaking to a packed audience at an Athens theatre on Monday, he said:

"In 1969, a bomb in Piazza Fontanta in Milan left 17 dead.

"This was the dawn of a long period where far right and fascist groups, in total collaboration with the Italian secret services, the parallel state, and the state within a state, developed what came to be called 'the strategy of tension'.

"Today the manuals of European extreme right have become the gospels of present Greek government."

So far the coalition government - which includes conservatives, social democrats and a small ex-communist party - has managed to stabilise the fiscal crisis, winning key concessions from the IMF and EU.

But if - amid political tension - the coalition were to fall, Mr Tsipras would be in with a serious chance of becoming Europe's first far-left prime minister of the post-Cold War era.

I met him in his offices in the Greek parliament on Tuesday. I asked him: "Are you seriously saying the Greek state is pursuing a secret strategy of creating violent tension?"

"It's not exactly a secret strategy," he says. "I think that it's now obvious that this government is the most right-wing and the most extreme government this country has ever had since the political changeover after 1974.

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An already hostile Greek media is asking if Syriza is a party that could ever run the Greek state”

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"It's obvious that the prime minster, Mr Samaras, is trying to establish an agenda which intensifies political conflict and aims at creating a sense of fear within the Greek society, in order to achieve two separate goals: firstly, to get people not to think of the economy, to scare them and have them thinking primarily of their own safety - about the dangers related to the immigrants or demonstrations.

"And secondly, to try and bring together the most conservative parts of our society, in order to establish a stable basis for his own political sway.

"But this strategy, I believe, is a very dangerous one for democracy itself."

The "strategy of tension" refers to the dark days of European politics in the Cold War.

After the Piazza Fontana bombing, an anarchist being questioned died in custody. Numerous trials - of leftists and far-right activists - in the ensuing decades, failed to establish a perpetrator.

The allegation at the time, as far-left and far-right terrorism took off in Italy, was that the violence was being fomented by the "secret state", to justify curtailing democracy.

So for Mr Tsipras to use this phrase in the Greek context is, to put it mildly, cranking up the political stakes - because there is real political tension in Greece.

This month, four anarchists were caught trying to rob a bank. The police Photoshopped their arrest mug-shots because the injuries they received made them barely recognisable.

The injuries were allegedly received while in police custody. Meanwhile, police have recently made arrests of people allegedly connected to a terror group called Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire and found arms caches.

Golden Dawn supporters Mr Tsipras says he would have 'zero tolerance' with Golden Dawn

Amid this, the challenge for Mr Tsipras's party, Syriza, is what would you do if you gained power? About Golden Dawn? About anarchist bank robbers?

An already hostile Greek media is asking if Syriza is a party that could ever run the Greek state.

"We will implement the law," Mr Tsipras tells me. "We will rigidly follow the letter of the law. And we shall have zero tolerance towards Golden Dawn, which is a gang, violating the law.

"We shall also uproot all Golden Dawn cells located within the [police and civil service]. We will not tolerate illegal behaviour from anyone or any group.

"And all those groups using violence, claiming that they belong to the anarchist field - a fact I personally do not believe in, because I believe that the use of violence is the most authoritarian act one can exercise - those groups too, will be facing the legal repercussions."

Public support for Syriza, and Mr Tsipras, dipped when the opposition party publicly backed a tube strike that paralysed Athens.

Though they scored 27% in the elections, and nearly won, their opponents see Mr Tsipras's complaints about democracy as crying wolf.

Thanos Veremis, Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, told me:

"The paradox here is that Mr Tsipras is crying wolf.

"His party is going down in the polls and that has caused some panic among the party cadres.

"It's a fact that recently the government is taking advantage of throwing Tsipras's own statements back at him, in order to convince the undecided voters. Mostly because the undecided voters are not radicals - the radicals are where they want to be, whether of the left or right."

I ask Mr Tsipras whether the Syriza should now admit that the coalition has stabilised the fiscal situation, and that Syriza's proposed policy - of a selective moratorium or default - would have just crashed the Greek economy?

"No serious person could admit something like this. Look at the data," he replies.

"In Greece, in the last three years, in order to reduce the Primary Deficit of the government by 25bn euros ($33bn, £21bn), we reduced the internal demand by 70bn euros - that is the Greek economy shrunk by 70bn euros.

"It's like having seen a snake in a tree and deciding to burn the entire forest, to get rid of the snake."

Mr Tsipras has been on the offensive since the IMF admitted it had miscalculated - ie underestimated - the negative impact of spending cuts and tax rises on the Eurozone economy. He is scathing about this controversy about the so-called "multiplier effect":

"They admit that they failed to calculate correctly the multiplier. But, please, allow me to say that if this kind of mistake was to be revealed in any company, and if the people who made the mistake came forth and admitted it, the company would have at least reimbursed the client and would have fired the employees who made the mistake.

"Here we have the following sadistic absurdity: the IMF admitting that they have made a mistake, but continuing with the plan, without even an apology."

"And what's even more absurd, it's that the client does not protest! The Greek government is saying 'no problem, you made a mistake and we continue with this mistake'."

(File photo) Syriza party members wave flags outside a rally Syriza is Greece's second-largest political party

Mr Tsipras has been feted in Rio, Buenos Aires, and even the think-tank circuit in Washington recently.

But his own supporters are restive. There is a growing minority within Syriza which supports leaving the euro.

And the rank and file see the growth of the far right and fear that, while the far right are expressing raw anger, Mr Tsipras and the party's new MPs, look more and more like mainstream politicians - who on the Greek streets are despised.

I ask him: "Who are you? Are you the man of the parliamentary opposition or are you the man who is going to lead the strikers out here into a mass uprising against this government?"

"I think that this is exactly our biggest advantage. We can be at the same time the parliamentary opposition and tomorrow the government. At the same time we can be down in the streets, fighting and mobilising the masses.

"This is probably what they cannot accept, the political, the economic and the media authorities in Greece. Because in Greece we are governed by an oligarchy. It's the oligarchy of the media and of the plutocrats.

"So, we do have this advantage. We can participate in a protest, motivating people to defend their rights, while at the same time, we can be in Washington discussing with the IMF, the State Department or in Germany, conversing with Schauble, in order to voice the fair demands of the Greek people.

"We have one and a half million people unemployed, one and a half million people with a monthly wage lower than 600 euros.

"And the main question for me and for all of us involved in politics is how will all those people survive? How will these people live?

"And in order for those people to live, they need to defeat the fear and claim their rights. That's why I am here. I'm here to help those people claim what's theirs."

Not forgotten

On the night Syriza lost the election I was in the party's cramped HQ.

One of the party's activists told me: "We lost, that's great for us." The assumption was that, as the economic crisis deepened, it would be Syriza next in power.

Watch Paul Mason's full interview with Alexis Tsipras

But the governing parties, through their PR teams, are relentlessly forcing the issue with Mr Tsipras: parliament or the streets? Syriza activists privately admit the party is reeling under the pressure.

But Mr Tsipras knows that - even if the country's finances are stabilized - with relentless austerity the governing parties are acutely vulnerable to issues raised by the past.

"If our government and Mr Samaras believe that he can run this country for ever, using blackmail, terrorism and the tension strategy he is sadly mistaken. Because the Greek people have a long tradition of democracy and struggle."

By raising the half-forgotten events of Italy in the early 1970s, Mr Tsipras is reminding Greeks of never-forgotten events: the anti-Nazi Resistance during World War II, the Civil War, the military junta in the 1960s and its overthrow in 1974.

It is another throw of the dice in Greece, a country whose crisis is nowhere near over.

Paul Mason Article written by Paul Mason Paul Mason Former economics editor, Newsnight

End of an era

After 12 years on Newsnight, Economics editor Paul Mason has moved on to pastures new and this blog is now closed.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Your links are not ignored at all.Where I dissagree is that you see the corruption and the wrong mentality of some people in Greece as the only reason for this crisis.
    Also why are you talking all the time about 1973 and junta?It was a time where unelected military generals where in power by force and took wrong decisions.Why do you think this represents Greece and Greeks themselfs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    The economic experts of the Troika didn't know:sack people & lower wages, the govnmt looses income+people don't consume; loss. They didn't see sacking public servants doesn't solve a problem when there are no private sector jobs other than in the buy/sell trades, and such jobs close down anyway. So the effect was so bad. Wrong multiplier as they didn't bother to find out the situation. They rule!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    #109 paps

    -- It is frustrating for discussion when my links are ignored --and 400chrs.

    After my `fact finding´in Greece (before and after the Junta) --both South and North Cyprus (and Turkey) were next.

    -- Enossis, Makarios, Samson, Eoka and Grivas were not unknown to me.

    --If we can choose one issue at a time it may be easier for you to understand my critical judgments on Greece.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Good point,However Germany was a country completely destroyed, suffered from 2WW and was half governed from USSR and half from the US,but here it is the "strong" of Europe

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    qot @83,105

    "Link provided", a 'funny article', against deficit finance per se, sneakily asserting that on past 'Greek performance', no-one would be "willing to hand out or lend money" for development

    Misses "an important detail", the need to change 'Greek performance' not by encouraging suicide but by work-for-all in equal partnership

    Securely equal, citizens could make their work the best

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Please at this moment in time support the Greeks (This is about the people rather than the concept of the nation). Start a petition to go to the leaders to state that this is not the way the EU should treat people in the EU. The austerity that was enforced was the wrong kind and not effective. The terrible outcome of the multiplier effect happened because the measures caused huge recession.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    -Agricaltural expansion,Greece has the ability to produce top-class olive oil cheese milk etc(I live in UK and I hate when I see the M&S "greek olive oil")
    - One of the biggest shipping fleets in the world!
    -Archeological research (e.g. adikythira mechanism)
    -Contribution of Greece in arts,poetry,music

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    @103 Think a little:
    -In Greece we dont have neighbours like France and Holland,instead we have Albania,Fyrom and Turkey that threats war
    -We didnt built our infostructure periodically during the last 200-300 years like UK,there was nothing here 50 years ago after the wars,do u have any idea the cost of building a country in 50 years?To build roads & bridges in mountains?Do u think its like UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Do any of you fellow posters know the despair and how frustrating and angry you can feel at watching these EU cruel people, incompetents or face savers make decisions that have such disasterous & mistaken effects and yet not be able to do a thing about it? It seems that this was the united Europe some people dreamed up for others to live in. There must have been another, more healthy union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    #94 Silvia

    "Hence the accuracy of Mr T's analysis."

    --the Greek society (and its problems) existed long before Tsipras -

    --therefore he is /was totally inaccurate.

    --The Greek society caused the economic problems --nothing else !

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Paul, your argument falls over in your first point.
    The 'Italian strategy of tension' is not a myth, it is a historical fact.
    The bomb in Piazza Fontana was planted by the fascists in collaboration with the secret service, as was the bomb at the Bologna train station in 1980.
    There is tension in Greece for the same reason as in Italy in the 70's. A restive working class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I wasn't trying to avoid the conversation.
    -Hotel units and tourism projects were made with great success & there is the field for greek tourism to be top-level.
    -The Greek banking was and still is "healthy" and succesful,greek banks faced problems due to greek gvmt debt(e.g. in spain it was the other way around)

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    "what solution possible"?

    Straightforward, 'easy', permanent 'solution', a shared future of peace & prosperity & human joy, would be 'agreed equal partnership', within one or more agreed 'viable' entities, accepting and building on collective reality

    The answer otherwise, within the range: "whatever 'we' can get away with", the 'we' being the concentrators-for-now of wealth & power

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    -Greece and its islands has importand geostrategic location in mediteranean
    -Aegean & ionian sea is full of resources such as petroleum and gas
    -Greece is one of the worlds top tourist destination
    -Its beautiful country,safe & with modern infostructure for everyone to come.
    -Ancient Greece stills inspire todays people through sciense and literature.
    -Many other reasons-do ur research

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Please support Greece. It is no longer theories. Its about incompetence or cruelty or politicians who while admitting their mistakes want to save face. They do not know what they have done. If they had wanted to change Europe, thay should have used a different route. Please support Greeks by asking the EU/IMF to change tack now we all know the mistake. They have ruined to concept of united Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    #102 QueerEZ

    " as everyone knows the IMF/EU (at their own admission) made a great and unforgivable mistake in ther calculations, they are still insisting on sticking to this 'mistaken' plan."

    --Read the link provided in #83.

    --you comment is a prime example of the nationalistic misinformation published on blogs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Please support Greeks. The really big problem is that they see no hope. The 'great' mistaken plan was an opportunity for an unscrupulous section of the EZ use a bad situation and make in worse to make money with no compunction. Please support Greeks and stop arguing about rights and wrongs of economies, If the latter is your concern, then you should be worried about what the EU/IMF has caused.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    #100 st

    As you can see (your link #98) --I attempt to treat ALL undeserved Nationalism with equal disdain.

    -- with added proof.

    #68 paps --

    "Because Greece has a lot more to offer compared to Bulgaria/Romania in so many ways!I can write plenty about that "

    --has still not provided evidence for his/ her arrogant statement !

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Biggest point that perhaps shows the EU and Germany don't really want to save Greece's economy is that much as everyone knows the IMF/EU (at their own admission) made a great and unforgivable mistake in ther calculations, they are still insisting on sticking to this 'mistaken' plan. Perhaps Germany needs the crisis to lower the Euro and the New Europe is not the prosperity-4-all one. Cruel race.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Let's all look at it this way and ask what solution is possible: 60% unemployment in youth; 27% unemployment; High VAT; High petrol and heating; EU/IMF wants more sackings making it v unlikely for the Greek government to collect; Unemployment benefit 9 mths at 300E; Loans given, but any spare money has to go on paying back interest - none to the local economy. Germany makes money on others' backs


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