Syriza Shockwaves: Greek Leftists Challenge Austerity—and Status Quo

Syriza Shockwaves: Greek Leftists Challenge Austerity—and Status Quo
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras poses for the photographers after taking a secular oath at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Jan. 26, 2015 (AP photo by Thanassis Stavrakis).

Just over a week ago, Greece elected an anti-austerity party, Syriza, the first in Europe to take office since the European debt crisis began in 2010. Syriza’s victory sent shockwaves across Europe, despite the fact that it was widely predicted ahead of the Jan. 25 election. Led by Alexis Tsipras, Syriza won 36 percent of the vote, 8 percent more than the ruling center-right New Democracy party, and 149 seats in parliament, just two seats shy of a majority.

The biggest element of Syriza’s campaign platform was the promise to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s $268 billion bailout from the so-called troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank. Greece’s debt is currently $357 billion, or 175 percent of its gross domestic product. The strict austerity program, which arguably saved the euro from collapse in 2010, has been a disaster for Greeks and the Greek economy: Unemployment skyrocketed to 28 percent, with youth employment at a staggering 60 percent, as Greece experienced a full-fledged depression.

Tsipras is due in Brussels on Wednesday for talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss, among other topics, renegotiating the Greek bailout. “Both sides are publicly staking out hard-line positions in advance of negotiations,” explains Arthur Goldhammer, senior affiliate at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University.

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