Syriza and the Independent Greeks: a Kremlin connection?

January 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm (anti-semitism, capitalist crisis, democracy, elections, Europe, Greece, populism, posted by JD, Russia, strange situations)

Make no mistake: Syriza’s victory is an inspiring moment for the working class of Greece and the left throughout Europe and beyond. Shiraz Socialist is not about to join the bleating chorus of sectarians, Stalinists and other defeatists who have already begun predicting a sell-out by the new government. Some of these people on the UK left are well described here by Comrade Coatesy.

However, it has to be admitted that Syriza’s coalition deal with the far right wing anti-immigrant (and on occasion, antisemitic) Independent Greeks party (ANEL) is disappointing and worrying. The following disturbing article from Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog, offers a possible explanation for this unlikely alliance. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of what the author claims, but his theory certainly makes sense and is at least worthy of serious attention:

Greek left-wing SYRIZA forms a coalition with the pro-Kremlin far right

After a landslide victory in the early parliamentary elections held on 25 January 2015, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) that secured 149 seats in the new parliament has surprised the left-wing voters and sympathisers by agreeing to form, already on 26 January, a coalition government with the far right Independent Greeks party (ANEL) that now has 13 seats. Popular support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn led by currently imprisoned Nikolaos Michaloliakos has slightly decreased: the neo-Nazis have secured 17 seats (one seat less than in 2012), but the Golden Dawn is still the third largest party in Greece.

Both SYRIZA and ANEL are so-called “anti-austerity parties” implying that they oppose reducing budget deficits as a response to the Greek financial crisis, as well as rejecting the austerity package put forth by the EU and the IMF. The “anti-austerity” platform may seem the only agenda that has drawn the two parties they share, but they also share a similar approach to foreign policy issues – an approach that may undermine the EU unity over the Russian threat.

Both parties are overtly pro-Russian, and SYRIZA’s leader Alexis Tsipras denounced the sanctions against Russia imposed by the EU for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine that has already cost Ukrainians thousands of lives. In May 2014, i.e. already after Russia had started its invasion of Ukraine, Tsipras travelled to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin’s major allies such as Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of Federation Council of the Russian Federation, and Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Both Matviyenko and Pushkov are sanctioned by the US, while Matviyenko is also sanctioned by the EU. This did not prevent Tsipras from holding a meeting with her.

Valentina Matviyenko and Alexis Tsipras at a meeting in Moscow, May 2014

According to Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin, writing in 2013,

In Greece, our [i.e. Russia’s] partners could eventually be Leftists from SYRIZA, which refuses Atlanticism, liberalism and the domination of the forces of global finance. As far as I know, SYRIZA is anti-capitalist and it is critical of the global oligarchy that has victimized Greece and Cyprus. The case of SYRIZA is interesting because of its far-Left attitude toward the liberal global system. It is a good sign that such non-conformist forces have appeared on the scene.

The pro-Russian sentiments of SYRIZA were manifested, in particular, in its voting behaviour in the European parliament. For example, on 16 September 2014, when the European Parliament ratified the EU-Ukraine Association agreement – an agreement that was one of the reasons of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – all six MEPs of SYRIZA voted against the ratification of this agreement.

If SYRIZA is Russia’s “Trojan horse” in the EU, then ANEL led by Panos Kammenos may be even worse.

ANEL (founded in February 2012) is a far right party that Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou describe as “highly conservative and nationalistic right-wing”. In its opposition to immigration and multiculturalism, ANEL is similar to, yet is more moderate than, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. ANEL is also prone to conspiracy theories. For example, as argued by Pavlos Zafiropoulos, ANEL and its supporters believe that the Greek government “is spraying the populace from airplanes with mind-controlling substances”. Anti-Semitism is not alien to ANEL either: “Panos Kammenos, speaking on a TV program made the baseless claim that Jewish people in Greece are not taxed in contrast to Christian Orthodox Greeks”.

The driving force behind the pro-Russian approach of ANEL seems to be Gavriil Avramidis, who was elected MP with ANEL in Thessaloniki in 2012. He is also head of the Patriotic Social Movement “Greek-Russian Alliance” founded in 2001 and aimed at widening co-operation between Greece and Russia.

Yet Avramidis may be not the only politician in ANEL who is lobbying Russian interests in Greece. Kammenos visited Moscow in the first half of January 2015. Moreover, an article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” that was published on 22 January in the Greek Russian-language newspaper Afinskiy Kurer (Athens Courier) discussed the pro-Russian approach of ANEL in general.

An article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” published in Afinskiy Kur’er (Athens Courier). Gavriil Avramidis is featured on the central photo

Several questions remain, however. Are pro-Russian sentiments indeed important for ANEL? Will ANEL contribute to the strengthening of SYRIZA’s pro-Russian positions? Will the new coalition government push for lifting the EU sanctions against Russia that is escalating its invasion of Ukraine?

Doubtlessly, Russia will try to capitalise both on the victory of SYRIZA and the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. Putin has already congratulated Tsipras on his party’s victory saying that he is “confident that Russia and Greece will continue to develop their traditionally constructive cooperation in all areas and will work together effectively to resolve current European and global problems”. BBC correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse, currently in Athens, reports that he has seen the Russian ambassador Andrey Maslov entering the SYRIZA main office.

Kammenos’ visit to Moscow was most likely connected to the possibility of the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. At the same time, Avramidis visited the General Consulate of Russia in Thessaloniki on 23 January 2015, i.e. just a few days before the parliamentary elections, to discuss, with Consul General Aleksey Popov, the renewal of the cooperation between Greece and Russia, as well as lifting the sanctions against Russia.

(left to right) Russian Consul General in Thessaloniki Aleksey Popov and MP Gavriil Avramidis, 23 January 2015, Thessaloniki

Since the EU is a consensus-based organisation, imposing or tightening sanctions against Russia requires all the Member States to agree to such moves. Hence, the issue of sanctions may become a negotiating point for the new Greek authorities when they meet with more influential EU players to renegotiate the terms of the bailout programme for Greece. SYRIZA and ANEL are “anti-austerity” parties in the first place, so their pro-Russian sentiments may increase the cost, rather than contribute to lifting or blocking, of the EU sanctions against Russia.

15 Comments

  1. The Samurai Socialist said,

    This is an interesting post but it is too early to tell the consequences of any Greek alliance with Russia. In its first weeks in power it makes sense for Syriza to institute politics of pragmatism ,and seek support from all over the continent, until it becomes clear what flexibility, if any, they will have within the existing EU structure. But what this type of pragmatism shows is that Syriza may be more willing to compromise on its principles than previously thought.

    My worry is that what we are witnessing in Greece is not sweeping political change but a potentially short-term backlash against austerity and the Troika. The Greek electorate appear to have voted out of desperation and identified the candidate offering the most radical alternative to the current malaise. But this means that the vast majority of the electorate have not consciously embraced any ideological shift to the left and so the power and influence of Syriza will only hold so long as they are seen to be fulfilling their electoral promises. If popular opinion turns against them they could quickly be swept out of power and replaced by a party from hard right. By not winning an outright majority therefore they are in an extremely precarious situation – they rely on a right wing coalition partner which could easily end up undermining them for their own political gain.

    My feeling is that unless political change is built from the ground up, in a similar fashion to Podemos, and is seen to be driven by the people themselves, then it will not have the support or sustainability to institute the radical changes that are required. I am currently blogging on this issue from both a psychological and political standpoint so feel free to have a look if you are interested – http://thesearchforsocialism.com/ .

  2. Jack Allen said,

    I don’t pretend to know a lot about the different factions in Syriza or the more detailed politics of the ANEL.

    Having said that, there are certainly factions within Syriza which are pro-Putin/pro-Russia. I think it’s also true to say that Syriza as an organisation is pro-Putin/pro-Russia, and pretty strongly so.

    There’s been a lot of material in the Ukrainian media (and elsewhere) re. Syriza being pro-Putin and pro-Russia, much more than the material in Shekhovtsov’s article. Syriza members voted against the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine in the EU Parliament last year. Syriza is hostile to EU sanctions against Russia (and the sanctions can only be renewed on the basis of a unanimous vote). Prominent figures in Syriza have given interviews to the Russian media about how Russia and Greece have always had good relations, etc., etc. Shekhovtsov has another piece up on his blog, providing more information about the links between various leading figures in Syriza and Dugin: http://anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/aleksandr-dugin-and-syriza-connection.html

    Russian anarchists have also picked up on Syriza’s support for Russia and Putin and have used it to lambast the idea of a broad left party (which some sections of the left in Russia now advocate, despite the less than happy outcomes of previous attempts to build such a party): You create a broad left party – and you end up backing Putin.

    From a ‘Ukrainian perspective’, Syriza’s support for Putin/Russia is bad news for: – The more intelligent sections of the Ukrainian ruling classes, who know that they cannot defeat Russia militarily. They hope to get the US and, in particular, the EU to exert enough pressure to get Putin to back down. Syriza’s policies on Russia make this much more difficult, and Putin knows this. Hence the positive reports about Syriza’s victory in the Russian media (which do not generally welcome advances by the left). – The left, because for the ‘average Ukrainian’, left-wing politics used to mean Stalinism, but now, as exemplified by Syriza, it means support for Putin and Russian aggression.

    This makes it much more difficult to get a hearing for (real) left politics. The anarchists have recognised this, but the Trotskyists and neo-Trotskyists don’t seem to have woken up to this yet.

    PS: Syriza is also ‘supported’, after a fashion, and for its own reasons, by the French National Front:

  3. Steven Johnston said,

    Inspiring? In what way?

    Any reforms that this government can introduce have to be compatible with the capitalist system, can be reversed later and do not increase the understanding of socialism.

    We, the working classes, have been here so many times before. One example of many, France in 1981 when Mitterrand came to power…oh he was going to reform France, yet even his watered down reforms of capitalism were, by 1983, reversed as he needed to make France more competitive in the EMS.

  4. caseypurvis said,

    YOU STUPID MORONS AND YOUR MONEY TREE============TIME TO PAY THE MONEY BACK==========LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS

  5. Lamia said,

    Since the Russian revolution, most of the western left has been more loyal to Russia than their own countries or any socialist principles. They carry on that idiotic tradition to this day, even though their former KGB hero Putin is now a hard-right proto-fascist – which is why Putin is so popular with Europe’s far right parties.

    The Guardianista and far left has persisted with the smear that the protesters in Kieve were nothing more than a neo-Nazis. How do they explain the inconvenient fact that the Pro-Putin ‘election observers’ for the gunpoint farce in Crimea were almost entirely representatives of those very same far right parties from across Europe that those leftists supposedly deplores and ‘opposes’?

    Whenever a far rightist supports – or for that matter, rules – Russia, for the ethics-free left they apparently become honorary communists and ‘anti-imperialists’. Naked Russian imperialism and land-grabbing becomes for these scumbags merely ‘resistance’. Because it’s always Russia first, and the more repressive and brutal the Russian government of the day, the more of a thrill those ‘socialists’ get.

  6. Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

    The CPGB were just a bunch of liars and propogandists for the former Soviet Union. They campaigned to weaken our defences while hailing the Soviet Motherland as a land of milk and honey. They denied the Gulags existed they denied the Kulaks were exterminated. The called Solzhenitsyn a liar knowing fine well the Gulag was a death camp. The CPMG were every bit as bad as Holocaust deniars.

    • caseypurvis said,

      KNOWING FULL WELL

      • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

        Thanks. That should have been CPGB at the last sentence.

  7. Steven Johnston said,

    Lamia, I am no fan of the left and a lot of what you say maybe true, but have you never heard of this lot?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Stalinist_left

  8. Jim Deham said,

  9. Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

    The Newsnight interview tonight with a Greek! He did not have a problem having an alliance with a right wing group that says Jews do not pay their taxes. The Greeks in general do not like paying tax that is why they are in shit. They just like spending other people’s money.

  10. Rilke said,

    Glesga, here man, stay off the Buckfast. You condemn sections of SYRIZA for making a parliamentary alliance (not a political allaince mind you) with people who use anti-semitic racism and then you say that this is simply the result of being money grubbing ‘Greeks’. In other words, you use the same racist model of argument you purport to deplore in others. There are words for people like that! I’ll go with ‘idiot’ and leave it there!
    I dont’ ‘have a problem going’ to Glasgow now, even though I once had to KO a guy who threatened me with a craft-knife. See glesga? It is easy to draw general conclusions from single anecdotes especially when these anedoctes are true. Try auditioning for Jim-I’ll-Jinx it, it will certaintly suit you.

    • Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

      Buckfast is for the lower non working class. Do not know why you concluded a racist comment was made unless you are just a leftie prick. A craft knife! sounds masonic.

  11. Rilke said,

    Time to clean out the stables Jim….the smell is getting worse. It will choke your blog to death if you let it continue. This is not a blog for meaninglful poltical discussion or cultural analysis any more. These lumpen are reducing your blog to drivel as a deliberate tactic. Get rid or become another internet moron magnet.

  12. Pete said,

    Still waiting for socialists to explain why the “powers that be” are so in love with mass immigration and “anti-racism” (if one can call anti-white anti-racism).

    Marine Le-Pen has been asking this question to the French left for years and they seem to run away from it. Afraid of the answer perhaps?

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