Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Syriza victory in Greece a reason for Humanists to celebrate

Alexis Tsipras
From a Humanist perspective the most interesting thing about the elections in Greece on Sunday in which the Syriza coalition was led to victory by new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is not that Greece is challenging the European Union’s enforced austerity programs or that Tsipras is an atheist (he's the first prime minister in Greek history to take a civil rather than a religious oath of office).

What’s interesting is that Syriza represents a Humanist and socialist political response to decades of a neoliberal agenda that has pushed the world towards ecological collapse and unparalleled economic inequality. As Alan Minsky points out on Truthdig:
…the deeper politics of Syriza are rooted in working-class empowerment and the participatory democracy of social movements (as exemplified by the network of cooperatives that have emerged in Greece during the crisis). These politics are very 21st century: They are distinctly anti-authoritarian, internationalist, for environmentally sustainable development, for clean energy, for free public education through college, they’re anti-racist, anti-war and anti-economic inequality. They are OK with markets within limits and regulations, trust science and posit that living in a technological society means that the benefits of increased labor productivity should assure that no one has to work excessively just to scrape by, and no one has to be poor… And yes, the party is pro-democracy, with faith in social movements and local organizations to make decisions about their communities.”
Though Syriza means “Coalition of the Radical Left” these are not radical ideas. Instead, ideas like democracy, environmental sustainability and anti-war are Humanist ideas rooted in reason and compassion. The downside is that ideas rooted in Humanist values represent a threat to the established neoliberal agenda and economic order not only in Greece, where oligarchs suck the economy dry, but in the European Union and the rest of the world as well.

There is a lot of money to be made through the thwarting of Syriza's ambitions and sinking the Humanist enterprise.

Pressure was applied from outside Greece to influence the elections against Syriza, without success. After the election, the threats continue, with an eye towards preventing the new government from trying to negotiate its way out of the austerity measures presently crippling the Greek economy.
“The Greeks have the right to vote for whom they want,” [threatened] Hans-Peter Friedrich, a deputy caucus leader for [German Prime Minister Angela] Merkel’s faction in parliament, “We have the right to no longer finance Greek debt.”

Yanis Varoufakis
One of Tsipras’ first moves as Prime Minister was to announce Yanis Varoufakis as economic minister. It will be Varoufakis’ job to negotiate with Greece’s creditors. Described as “a radical economist who has described austerity programmes as ‘fiscal waterboarding’” by some, others maintain that he is not “a radical zealot, who could throw Greece into the fire.” I think Varoufakis sounded pretty reasonable on Bloomberg TV when he said that, “Our primary objective is to restore a sense of rationality in the debate concerning the Greek program.”

And that’s another reason to appreciate the Humanist ideals that guide Syriza. The party does not seem beholden to an ideology, but to principles such as compassion, reason, optimism and action. Time will tell if reality will match the nascent government’s ambitions, but in the meantime there is every reason to support and celebrate the election of Syriza in Greece.

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