[Marxism] Faces behind Greece’s radical government
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 21 06:51:20 MDT 2015
Financial Times, April 21, 2015
Faces behind Greece’s radical government
By Kerin Hope and Tony Barber
The government of Alexis Tsipras, Greek prime minister, includes
powerful figures from the hard left of the Syriza party
To those outside Greece the most familiar faces from the country’s
leftwing Syriza-led government are Alexis Tsipras, the tough-talking
prime minister, and Yanis Varoufakis, his high-profile finance minister.
But behind this pair are a number of ideologically driven politicians
who are dedicated to using their spell in power to push Greece in a
Amid renewed fears about the risk of a Greek debt default and possible
exit from the euro, three of the most prominent personalities involved
in Syriza’s radical experiment are profiled below.
His wire-rimmed glasses and closely trimmed beard give Panayotis
Lafazanis a deceptively mild appearance.
But the powerful minister for productive recovery, energy and the
environment is a strident enemy of capitalism.
Mr Lafazanis was a member of Greece’s Stalinist communist party for 30
years before he switched to the group from which Syriza was formed.
Within hours of taking office, Mr Lafazanis had cancelled several key
privatisation sales already agreed with bailout creditors, including a
cluster of power stations, water utilities and the national electricity
He has also taken aim at foreign investors, putting on hold a €1bn
investment by Eldorado Gold, a Canadian mining company.
“He is a hardliner but everyone in the party respects his sincerity,”
says one Syriza official.
Visiting Moscow last month, Mr Lafazanis accepted enthusiastically
Gazprom’s proposal that Greece should join “Turkish Stream” — a new
pipeline project to ship Russian natural gas to Europe.
He also let slip that Athens hoped to receive as much as €5bn in advance
transit fees to ease an increasingly desperate cash crunch.
A mathematician by training, he heads Syriza’s Left Platform, the
official internal opposition which includes a dozen far-left factions
fiercely opposed to a fresh deal with the EU and International Monetary
Fund, even at the cost of Greece exiting the euro.
“My way is no memorandum [Syriza’s term for the bailout agreement], no
euro,” he told parliament last year.
Prime Minister Mr Tsipras is acutely aware that if it comes to a vote,
Mr Lafazanis and his pro-drachma lawmakers are ready to split the party
and bring down the government.
Two years ago Nikos Voutsis, a militant Syriza lawmaker, was caught on
camera among a crowd of protesters outside the shuttered state
television building, pushing back against riot police armed with shields
Syriza’s “hard man” is now minister for the interior and administrative
reconstruction, holding sway over the security services and several
hundred thousand civil servants.
A bulky figure in his trademark grey suit and open-necked black shirt,
the 63-year old has been an activist since his student days.
“We are not in favour of violence, but we like having people in the
street protesting,” he told the Financial Times this year, explaining
Syriza’s disruptive approach to politics.
In his role as interior minister he has wasted no time reversing a host
of reforms enacted by his centre-right predecessors at the behest of
Greece’s international creditors.
This has included scrapping civil service reforms, including hiring
restrictions and measures to evaluate performance, and pushing plans to
reinstate the municipal police force disbanded previously as ineffectual
But what has most alarmed Greeks are his plans for softer policing and
more humane treatment of lawbreakers, including a draft bill to close
high-security prisons for convicted terrorists and other high-risk
offenders and to allow selected prisoners long-term parole.
There is particular concern that the new law would entitle Savvas Xiros,
a member of the notorious November 17 terrorist group which killed more
than 20 Greek businessmen and police officers and US diplomats, to serve
out five life terms for murder at his family home.
Mr Xiros’s supporters occupied the main Athens university building for
two weeks — undisturbed by police — to press for his release. But to
George Momferratos, son of a newspaper publisher killed by November 17,
the legislation is “shameful and misguided.”
A respected mathematician and Paris-trained philosopher, Aristides
Baltas has filled Greek professors with despair over his plans to scrap
hard-fought reforms of the state-controlled system of higher education.
The 72-year-old minister of culture and education and emeritus professor
at the prestigious Athens Polytechnic — where Mr Tsipras emerged as a
leftwing student leader — shocked teachers by declaring immediately
after his appointment that education in Greece “should not be governed
by the principle of excellence . . . it is a warped ambition.”
Now his ministry is drafting a new law that will again allow
undergraduates to take as many years as they want to complete their
first degree, with university entrance exams also being abolished.
According to one former colleague, the plans of the Syriza co-founder
will “restore an unhealthy system of deeply politicised universities run
by students not professors”.
Under the draft law, police will again be banned from university
premises, a measure blamed in the past for widespread lawlessness on
campus. Students will also play a decisive role in elections of
chancellors and other university administrators, with the weighting of
their votes counting for as much as 70 per cent.
University advisory councils, which include high-profile foreign
academics and Greek professors working abroad, would also be abolished
just three years after they were set up.
“It took us years to get the modernisation of universities started,”
said Thanos Veremis, a history professor at Athens university. “Now we
are going backwards to the 1970s.”
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