– Interview with Yiannis Bournous

By Filip Krantić and Milenko Srećković (FreedomFight.net)

yiannis Bournous
Yiannis Bournous, SYRIZA’s head of European policy

In the last elections in Greece anti-austerity leftist political party SYRIZA was on the verge of taking power and still has a good chance for that in the next elections. At the same time, some critics from the left accuse this party of softening its current anti-capitalist policy. Freedom Fight Info talks to Yiannis Bournous, SYRIZA’s head of European policy, about current strategy of the party as well as above mentioned controversy.

 – Can you tell us what political plans SYRIZA has, what kind of internal and foreign policy would be introduced in case of coming into power? For example, how would you deal with the issues of privatization, public debt, as well as austerity measures imposed by the EU?

Let’s  start by making something clear: Memorandums and austerity measures have not been “imposed by the EU”.

They have been commonly drafted and co-signed by the neoliberal Greek governments and the Troika (composed by the IMF, the European Commission and the ECB). The humanitarian crisis in Greece is not a result of “external impositions” but a commonly elaborated strategy, which is a part of the current European neoliberal plan for the “china-isation” of labor relations in Europe, in other words the maximization of “EU competitiveness” in the multi-polar world, on the expense of social achievements that have been won after World War 2.

SYRIZA puts social needs and the restoration of fundamental social rights and services to the foreground of its governmental program. Concretely, this means that measures like the restoration of minimum wages and pensions, collective contracts, access to public healthcare and education systems etc are of utmost priority for a left government. This means that a future left government will terminate all relevant legislation that has been voted by the previous, neoliberal governments, through which the predictions of the Memorandums have been implemented.

Our strategy for exiting the crisis passes through job creation and the productive reconstruction of the country. In order to be efficient in this mission, the state needs to maintain crucial developmental tools in its hands. Natural resources, like water and electricity cannot be in private hands. At the same time, public intervention in the banking sector will allow cash flow to the real economy and will direct funds to socially and environmentally sustainable development projects. European funds can and will be redirected to productive investments, instead of bureaucratic and non-productive causes.

The issue of public debts is not a “Greek problem”. It is a European problem and only as a European problem it can be resolved. Public debts of Greece, Portugal, Spain etc are unsustainable debts and cannot be fully repaid. Even the public debt of Germany overpasses the “legal threshold” of 60% posed by the reactionary Stability Pact.

SYRIZA and the European Left have already proposed and have been working on the elaboration of a European Conference on Public Debts, which will resolve the debt issue following the recipe of the London Conference in 1953, which gave post-war Germany the chance to survive. Based on this experience, we propose: 1) the abolition of the largest part of the public debts of over-indebted states and 2) the optimization of repayment conditions for the remaining part of the public debts, through, for example, the introduction of a “growth clause” (freezing of repayments during years of recession).

 – Please describe in what ways austerity measures are affecting everyday life of Greek people?

The largest part of the Greek society is experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Civil servants, private sector workers and employees and pensioners have lost approximately 30%-40% of their annual income in the last three years, while the constant imposition of new, heavy taxation on lower and middle classes leads to the deprivation of basic common goods, like housing, electricity, even water supply.  Thousands of families are depended on soup kitchens and solidarity structures for their daily nutrition, while, recently, there has been an unofficial estimation for more than 20,000 homeless citizens trying to survive only the wider region of Athens.  At the same time, thousands of families are losing access to free vaccination of their children and this has lead to the re-appearance of infectious diseases that were supposed to be vanished in the past. Almost 1/3 of the population is today not covered by social security. Moreover, there is a dramatic deterioration of all remaining public services and especially of the Public Healthcare System. In some cases, patients are even asked to bring surgery materials from home, while medicine supplies are often cut off and this leads to immediate death threat for many categories of disabled citizens and chronic patients. Not to mention that, according to the official stats of the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, the rate of suicides in Greece has increased by 37% since 2009.

 – Can you explain how the impact of austerity measures is connected with the rise of Golden Dawn? If you come to the power in Greece, how are you going to deal with the rising fascism?

The emergence of neofasiscm is surely linked to the dramatic deterioration of living conditions of popular and middle classes and not only in Greece, but currently in many European states. But there’s also another fact that needs to be considered:  The Golden Dawn was “legitimized” as a political player through the introduction of xenophobic and even racist agenda in the mainstream political discourse by the socialdemocratic and “center-right” governments. They both targeted immigrants and applied xenophobic and repressive policies, while doing everything possible to push popular classes to desperation, through the barbaric austerity measures. The Golden Dawn took advantage of the frustration and the desperation of thousands of under-educated and poor citizens who voted the neofascists as a blind, “antisystemic reaction” against the political system.

After the murder of the antifascist activist and hip hop artist, Pavlos Fyssas, by Golden Dawn thugs, things have changed. The government decided, for its own electoral reasons, to finish the Golden Dawn and “revealed” all those things for which the Left and the antifascist movement have been  warning about: the criminal networks that the Golden Dawn has created, which included weapons, drugs and human trafficking, “private security services”, infiltration in the Police Force and formation and training of paramilitary squads.

The complete disappearance of the Golden Dawn is not an easy task. The rise of neofascism and nationalism is a social current in the years of the crisis. It needs a lot of systematic work in the basis of society, to break the isolation and the fear of poor people and convince them, through the hundreds of local solidarity initiatives that operate all over the country, that the only way to survive and exit the crisis is through collective struggles for their rights and for democracy. At the same time, through the elaboration of its socially-oriented program and the restoration of basic social services, a left government will be able to gradually overcome the humanitarian crisis and thus to start getting rid of the social causes that lead to the reinforcement of reactionary ideas.

 – SYRIZA’s president Tsipras often said that SYRIZA is going to save the EU, to save it from Angela Merkel’s austerity policy. Why do you think that saving the EU is necessary?

Tsipras, SYRIZA and the European Left have never said that their aim is to save the current EU political project. The strategic aim of the European Left is the refoundation of Europe, in full contrast with the neoliberal Treaties that lead to the current structural, systemic crisis. The dilemma put upon European societies, especially on the way to the European elections in May 2014, is becoming clearer and clearer every day that passes: We either form a European Front of antineoliberal social and political forces, in order to get rid of the dominant project of “austeritarianism” that Frau Merkel is leading, or we let Europe get destroyed in the hands of the neoliberal fundamentalists that consist the current EU political majority. In other words, since we acknowledge the crisis not as a “national problem”, but as a structural crisis of neoliberal capitalism in Europe, we aim at radically changing the balance of power in every country and in Europe as a whole, in order to push forward deep, fundamental transformations in the direction of  refounding Europe on democratic, social and ecological standards. The project of the European Left is currently the only truly antagonistic project that can lead to the defeat of neoliberalism and put an halt to the emergence of chauvinistic ideas in our continent. It is the only project that opens a socialist prespective through the gradual intensification and unification of the European peoples’ class struggle.

 – There is a lot of criticism that SYRIZA is softening its anti-capitalist policy. If this is true, what are the reasons for this?

It is not by accident that this kind of criticism most often comes from marginalized groupings of the so-called “extreme Left”, which have never managed to overcome their dogmatic sectarianism and build truly massive sociopolitical projects in Greece or in their respective countries. SYRIZA is the biggest political project of the radical Left in Europe that has managed to overcome sectarianism and tries to build a new identity of a unified, multi-tendency, massive but also class-orientated Left, that aims very concretely at winning power. The question of power is of utmost centrality for the Left. The failures of all historical currents of the global Left has taught us that we need to overcome the idea of a “Fortress-party” of the enlighted intelligencia that has no social appeal, and address the real problems of our societies. For us, socialism is not an abstract concept that will metaphysically be realized in the Day of the “Second Coming”. It is a project of continuous, smaller and bigger transformations, whose success or failure is always determined by the outcome of daily class struggles. We really hope that those who today criticize us for “softening our anti-capitalist policy” will someday manage to overcome their self-destructive elitism.

 – Tell us more about yourself, your previous work in SYRIZA and about reasons to join and be a member of this party.

I joined the Youth of Synaspismos (the biggest component party of SYRIZA) duirng my first year in university, in 1998, in times when joining a Left party and especially my party was considered to be an extremely marginal choice. Synaspismos was back then a minor opposition party that struggled for parliamentary survival in every election. I joined the Left because of family cultural influences, but also because of an internal need to think and act collectively for smaller and bigger things that determined our studies and our life. 15 years later, SYRIZA is something completely different. It is the major opposition party with 27% in the Parliament and approximately 35.000 members all over Greece. The radical Left is the fastest growing force in trade-unions and we are now in the process of creating a massive, unified SYRIZA Youth Organization, which will not only include the current members of our different existing youth groups, but will embrace thousands of precarious and unemployed youngsters who see their future being ruined by austerity policies. SYRIZA needs to become even stronger, not only in electoral percentages, but also in terms of membership, in order to be more socially useful in local societies and also reinforce all those movements and citizens’ initiatives that will, in turn, support tomorrow’s left government in the implementation of smaller and bigger transformations, in full contradiction with the aims of the Troika and the big capitalists who will try to sabotage our social reforms.

 – What political forces and social movements and organizations do you see as your collaborators? How do you support self-organized initiatives coming from below?

Today thousands of SYRIZA militants are active in more than 120 local solidarity networks and structures all over the country, ranging from voluntary healthcare centers to soup kitchens, free tutoring, clothing distribution, solidarity economy projects etc. Through these networks, which are coordinated through the “Solidarity4All” Platform, we are trying to build concrete counter-examples of a different organization of daily life, based on collective action, sharing, free access to goods, small-scale economy projects etc, in full contrast with the dominant, individualistic, competitive and consumerist model of neoliberalism. This is a way to build social alliances with those social classes and groups which have been brutally victimized by the Memorandums and the austerity measures. In terms of political alliances, SYRIZA is constantly calling for the unity of all Left forces in Greece, but this does not mean that we are willing to let our fellow citizens suffer more, while waiting, for example, the Communist Party of Greece to overcome its ideological vertigo and ultra-sectarianism and decide to join forces with us. When elections come, SYRIZA will publicly put forward its popular governmental program and, even if we achieve absolute majority in the new Parliament, we will invite all anti-memorandum forces (except, of course, for the neofascist gang of the Golden Dawn) to support a government with such an anti-memorandum, anti-neoliberal, anti-repressive and democratic orientation.

 – In Thessaloniki workers of VioMe are occupying their factory and trying to run it by themselves. How is SYRIZA going to deal with the factory forced into bankruptcy and would you consider state support to the self-managing of factories?

SYRIZA has been the only political party that has been openly supporting the VioMe self-management project inside and outside the Parliament. VioMe workers have managed to make their experiment known all over the country and they have even managed to win in court against the previous owner of the factory. SYRIZA has repeatedly stated that a left government will promote self-management, co-operative and solidarity economy projects in every possible way, including state support. Co-operative and solidarity economy plays an important role in our program for the productive reconstruction of the country.

Freedom Fight Info (www.freedomfight.net)