SYRIZA: A Left-Wing Populist Threat to Europe?

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' Attends His New Cabinet's Swearing In Ceremony

In the midst of economic crisis and after years of draconian austerity measures, SYRIZA has made a dramatic leap to power under the gaze of the international media.

The rise of SYRIZA appears to be a backlash against mass unemployment, cuts and privatization; a pendulum swing left away from the coalition.  Is SYRIZA a dangerous populist force gaining ground in the wake of Greek anger and despair?  This article in The Journal of Political Ideologies explores SYRIZA as a populist force, the realms of populism and repercussions for the Eurozone.

Many linked SYRIZA’s success to so-called ‘underdog culture’; economically weak and exposed to attack, the Greek nation were perfectly predisposed to populist leadership.   SYRIZA’s pre-election campaigns directly appealed to ‘the people.’

Tsipras in his speeches directly addressed them, baiting them against their enemies; the political establishment and the banks.  With campaign strap lines such as ‘either us or them: together we can overthrow them’, the SYRIZA rhetoric is compliant with Laclau’s definition of populism as “an appeal to ‘the people’ against…established structure of power and … dominant ideas and values of the society…revolt…in the name of the people.”

SYRIZA however rebuffs populist status; ‘populism’ historically synonymous with authoritarian, far-right, racist, politically irresponsible extremists, in Greece and the wider European context.  SYRIZA champions democracy, gender equality, LGBT rights, inclusion, and rejects association with other populists.  So should populism be hand in hand with extremism?

Yannis Stavrakakis and Giorgos Katsambekis’ article Left-wing populism in the European periphery: the case of SYRIZA looks at how SYRIZA’s radical aims to break lender agreements, overhaul banking, scrap salary cuts and hike big business tax stands accused as recklessness.

The SYRIZA vision is feared to send Greece on an economic and social downward spiral, spreading ripples of political and financial instability to Europe.  SYRIZA seeks the people’s emancipation hence the populist label but mainstream politicians discredit SYRIZA as a dangerously populist force putting European democracy at risk.

Is this a tactic from the political elite to target leftists and regain privilege?  The author observes that “It is, perhaps, time to take seriously into account the complexity and historical/political variability of populism(s) as well as its progressive democratic potential…seen…in…dynamic emergence of left-wing populism(s) within the context of the European crisis, such as the one articulated by SYRIZA.”

Read the full article online

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