Thursday, December 3, 2015

Interview with Zoe Konstantopoulou

Former president of the Greek Parliament (February-October 2015)

Published in El Punt Avui newspaper in November 29th, 2015

Full version (in English)

" Tsipras has betrayed a lot of people, a lot of things, a lot of ideas in many ways"

"When we talk about viable alternatives [to the debt crisis], we should underline that what is now being implemented is not viable"

"The memoranda regime is a death penalty not only for the Greek society but also for democracy and European societies"

"I would say there is a huge, an ample future for the left in Europe provided that the people from the left do not accept selling their souls and their common values and principles"

A.B. - Since the victory of Syriza last January we've seen a lot of things happening in Greece. Ten months later, we have a leader who took power promising to put an end to austerity, currently implementing the measures he vowed to reject.

Z.K. - For a lot of us, the fact that the Greek people gave us the mandate to do away with austerity and the memoranda regime, is a binding contract with society. It is inconceivable to do the opposite of what you promised the people and it's unacceptable to undertake to implement the harshest, the most anti-social, the most neoliberal programme ever introduced in the European Union.

Unfortunately, Mr.Tsipras, who was leading, and is leading the government, decided to do the unacceptable. He decided to undertake what is inconceivable: to implement the harsher measures, to bring more austerity upon a destroyed society and to pretend that he has been forced to do what he doesn't agree with.

There was, and there always is an alternative for Europe. For the European people and for the Greek people, to believe that there isn't one just because a leader proved short of our expectations is not what we should do. We should still fight to protect the Greek society and the European societies from this extreme and so suicidal programme.

A.B. - Do you consider him a traitor?

Z.K. - It is sure that he betrayed the people who trusted him. He betrayed his comrades, us, who trusted and supported him and made extreme efforts in order to implement our programme and proved, a lot of us proved, that there was, that there absolutely is, a possibility to implement a programme which is friendly to the society, a left-wing programme. And he betrayed also the traditions and the legacy of the people who have fought to protect rights and freedoms and to restore democracy in our country. Oh yes, he has betrayed a lot of people, a lot of things, a lot of ideas in many ways.

A.B. - Was there a viable alternative to the bailout?

Z.K. - First of all, when we talk about viable alternatives, we should underline that what is now being implemented is not viable. It is not acceptable to have one out of two children living below the poverty line, one out of two pensioners living below the poverty line or having unemployment among the young which reaches 72% among young women and 60% among young men. This is not viable. It is not viable to ask for the Greek society to pay with the blood of the people and to give away whatever has been cherised as public property just in order to repay a debt which has been proven to be unsustainable and illegal.

A viable solution is a determined solution about the debt and abolition of the debt which is already proven to be unsustainable, illegal and odious. A viable solution would be to let the society breathe through different economic modalities. A viable solution would be and still is to reinforce institutional democracy and the democratic procedures at all scales. A viable solution is to demand that democracy is protected and implemented within the European Union.

It is true that we have creditors who are playing an extortionate role, they are blackmailing the society, they are blackmailing the people. It is never a solution to condone to blackmail, it is never a solution to subject your people to this blackmail; it is a solution to demand a restoration of legality, it is a solution also to demand that the principles of the UN voted just last September at the General Assembly concerning debt undertaking and debt restructuring, be implemented.

There is, I would say, a whole range of alternatives, of solutions. What is sure is that the memoranda solution, the memoranda regime is a death penalty not only for the Greek society but also for democracy and European societies.

A.B. - After the approval of the first batch of reforms and tax cuts stemming from its third EU bailout, the current Greek government is facing pressure from the street. In the 12th of November, there was the first general strike against Syriza's government. Given the difficulties, can you foresee a lasting government?

Z.K. - I can't make a prediction. It has been proven that governments who undertake to implement memoranda don't last long. And it has also been proven that at the end they can not even see themselves in the mirror. Talking about whether it would last long, I would like to underline that unfortunately this government instead of clashing with what is a real oligarchy in Greece, instead of implementing a tax regime which would target those who have been benefiting big time during the last 40 years from corrupted relationships with governments, instead chooses to make alliances with these kinds of interests which can never be the pillar of a stable government. They can be the pillar of power for a short time but they can't ever be the pillar of a stable government. Only society and the people can be pillars for a stable government, and this government is losing both society and the people because it betrayed them and defrauded them.

A.B. - Over 744,000 refugees have arrived in Europe so far this year. Most of them (more than 600,000, according to U.N. figures) through the Greek islands. How is the flow of refugees entering Greece affecting your country?

Z.K. - The flow of refugees and before that the waves of migrants have been used and misused by political parties in order to cultivate racism. Indeed there is a very dangerous rhetoric during the last 25 years in Greece which is also the reason for the rise of Golden Dawn, a party which is clearly fascist but also nazi but also and most gravely extremely racist.

On the other hand this is one repercussion- of political parties not realising and not facing up to the seriousness of the phenomenon. On the other hand what is extremely heartening, extremely optimistic is the fact that among simple people, everyday people, there is a touching show of solidarity towards refugees. There is a sense of the need to support them and what is even more touching is the fact that this is demonstrated by people in need, by people who are themselves experiencing a humanitarian crisis and a humanitarian disaster and yet they find within themselves the strength and the determination to support other human beings who are fleeing to Greece and to Europe to flee war and tyrannies.

A.B. - In parallel with Syriza's success in Greece, we've seen Podemos rise in Spain and now the possibility of a left-wing government in Portugal with socialists alongside marxists and communists. Is the surge of the left in Southern Europe an isolated reaction to the 2008 crisis or something deeper, more settled?

Z.K. - First of all I think there are differences between the three examples, Greece, Spain and Portugal but there is also one acute common danger. And the common danger is to confuse the left with the social democrats. The danger is also, in a way, to launder the poltical responsibilities of the social democrats for Europe, for the fact that they basically accepted this transformation of Europe to this neoliberal cage. This was done with the social democrats support, so there is a danger for the left which is defending the society, the social state, democracy, social rights. There is a danger for the left when it decides to ally with powers basically responsible for a lot of the misery in Europe today. I would say that societies are becoming more and more aware of the reality surrounding them and the people are becoming more and more decided to fight for their lives, for their rights and for their dignity.

And it's through this awareness and this decisiveness that they meet with the left but also with the social movements and with those social powers which are ready to fight the battle to restore democracy and to protect society.

I would say there is a huge, an ample future for the left in Europe provided that the people from the left do not accept selling their souls and their common values and principles.

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