Published on Transnational Institute, Interview (in Athens on 29 February, 2012) with Nasos Iliopoulos by Alex Nunn, March 2012.
Linked on our blogs with Greece: Protest of the day, and with Hunger takes hold in Greece.
In an unassuming Athens office, just a couple of streets from the ancient Agora where democracy first announced itself to the world, sits Nasos Iliopoulos, Secretary of Neolaia Synaspismou, the youth wing of the Greek political party Synaspismos.
Synaspismos is the biggest party in the Coalition of the Radical Left, or SYRIZA, which has seen its popularity jump since the austerity crisis gripped Greece. If opinion polls are to be believed SYRIZA stands on the verge of an electoral breakthrough, provided that in the home of democracy the people are allowed the chance to vote – far from certain in these times of technocratic government.
Nasos is in his late 20s, casually dressed, eloquent and friendly. He has physically felt what it means to be on the receiving end of the State’s repression – just over a year ago he was brutally beaten by police, leaving him in hospital with concussion and multiple bruising. He has risen to his position as a youth leader in the most extraordinary of times, especially for young people in Greece, as Nasos explains … //
… Do the demonstrations still have momentum?
- The Squares Movement was so broad you could find everyone from every different background involved. The thing that was so great about it was that you could find people in Syntagma who had never been involved in struggles before. And this happens more and more as the crisis deepens. With each demonstration it gets bigger and bigger. 12 February 2012 was the biggest so far. There were maybe half a million demonstrating just in Athens. The streets of a huge area of the city were full of people. They were holding their ground against the tear gas and the repression for three to five hours. And it was dangerous. I was very scared leaving the demo, because the police were standing on street corners and would just attack individuals with no reason. I walked several blocks away from the protests with my hands above my head hoping that they wouldn’t pick me.
- It isn’t that this tension continues all the time, but every few months there is an event that is more than a demonstration but less than a revolt. And every time it gets bigger.
Will it be demonstrations or elections that defeat austerity?
- We shouldn’t make a conflict between demonstrations and elections as a way to defeat austerity policies. Each tactic must have a popular majority of people who are not just supportive, but are actively struggling. Fighting for elections and fighting on the streets are complementary strategies.
- The elections were supposed to have happened already, but no one knows when they will be. Whenever they come it will be in an atmosphere of blackmail. They will tell the voters that if they vote for parties that oppose austerity then all hell will break lose. But their arguments have changed; the whole situation has shifted. Before they said that austerity was the way to recovery; now they only claim that there is a hope that austerity will work. They don’t even believe it anymore. It’s not a convincing position.
Is the Greek left too divided to form a government?
- SYRIZA [the Coalition of the Radical Left that includes Synaspismos], the Democratic Left [a split from Synaspismos that is less radical] and the Communist Party are all on around 10% in opinion polls. But the Democratic Left seems to want to work within the Memorandum [with the EU, requiring austerity], and the Communist Party are always separate – they have their own separate demonstrations. So I don’t think there will be any alliance before the next election.
- If after the election you have a combined left percentage that could have formed a government (if it had been united) there will be great pressure for a left unity coalition. And there could be two elections in quick succession if no party has enough support. So if there is a second election, it could potentially be possible to have an agreement of the left.
Should Greece leave the Euro?
- I reject the dilemma that Greece has to choose between the Euro and a national currency. The real choice is posed by the crisis: either you support the social forces of the movements and the youth, or you defend the interests of the corporations and the banks. You have to have a strategy that confronts the real problem – who is going to pay for the crisis? First, we have paid billions for the banks and so they must be nationalised. Second, we cannot pay the debt, except for those debts owed to pension funds. Third, we must cancel the neo-liberal reforms of the labour market – the deregulation of labour relations shows that this is not just about the debt but about turning a crisis into an opportunity. This alternative strategy isn’t just a Greek strategy but one that can be followed by the Spanish workers movement, right through to the Germans.
So you see it as an international struggle?
- Our first opponent is the Greek government and Greek capitalism, not Angela Merkel. That doesn’t mean we support today’s structure of the EU. It is certain we will have a lot of struggles against the EU but you have to frame these struggles in terms of the working class against capital, not people in one country against those in another.
How do you see the situation developing in the future? … (full interview text).