Recently in an interview with the German financial newspaper Handelsblatt, the Greek PM Antonis Samaras warned the European public that if his government fails, then Greece would plunge into chaos . As a potential or actual source of danger the PM pointed to the rise of “Golden Dawn”, the neo-nazi party. Evidently, the purpose of Mr. Samaras’ argument was to expose German and European readers to the dramatic economic and social reality that Greece traverses and to make a passionate plea for more European solidarity. On the other hand, never has a Greek PM after 1975 shown – in such dramatic terms – a greater public disregard for the country’s official political opposition (in this case the party of the Coalition of the Radical Left, SYRIZA) and by extension for the country’s democratic institutions.
Unfortunately, Mr. Samaras’s line of reasoning will not surprise many of his European centre-left and centre-right (especially those) counterparts. Hostility vis-à-vis the party of the left, which in the elections of last June rose to 27% of the vote, is strong. Many European politicians  and journalists  have either shunned the leader of SYRIZA, Alexis Tsipras, or insisted that the party’s potential election into government will effectively lead to chaos.
Is such a stance warranted? And more importantly, is it effective in steering Greece away from the presumed abyss? In order to answer these questions, one would have to make a serious effort towards acquiring an impartial image of SYRIZA.
It is undeniably true that up until April 2012, SYRIZA was a small party of the left with a hard anti-neoliberal and quasi anti-systemic discourse, which got most of its votes from a socialist, ex-eurocommunist intelligentsia. It is also correct to say that many voters chose SYRIZA because of its fiery anti-Memorandum discourse. It is equally true that since the elections of May and June, the party and its leader have at times utilized an unnecessarily aggressive (and counter-productive) rhetoric against some European leaders, especially Angela Merkel. Finally, it is also a fact that SYRIZA includes populist politicians, whose declarations often have no bearing with (financial) reality, and also others who are indeed hard-line socialists.
However, these points do not justify the contempt shown towards the party and its depiction as populist, ultra-radical and anti-European.
It is a fact that SYRIZA is a pro-European party. The party voted in favor of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and since May its leader has, on numerous occasions, made clear that he wants to keep Greece in the Eurozone. If it is heretical in any way, it is not in rejecting Europe but in making the case for a drastic remodeling of the EU towards further political integration and federalism . Given that the Euro crisis is an outcome of the lack of political union in the face of monetary union, very few European social-democrats would disagree with that.
Furthermore, since the elections the leadership of SYRIZA has recognized that the party’s newfound appeal and strength call for a recalibration of its discourse and programmatic commitments. Sociologically the party is no longer the same. If one is to examine its voters, one will see that the overwhelming majority come from the middle and lower middle/working classes. In other words from the people who have been profoundly hit by the austerity measures and the four year long deep recession. However, traditionally middle class, centre-left voters in Greece are the most pro-European – primarily for cultural reasons. It simply makes no sense for SYRIZA to go against these deeply rooted popular wishes. And it does not have the dynamic to change them. The recent opening of its leader to the history and ideas of European social democracy  and the control of the party’s economic policy by its more moderate politicians seem to point towards the continuation of this more responsible line.
In addition, as regards SYRIZA’s choices for Greece’s future, the truth is that these correspond to what most European social democrats would find reasonable. The party has argued that its priority is to keep Greece in the Eurozone, but not at any cost. In light of the magnitude of the crisis – in economic, social and political terms – and the fact that the program imposed by the Troika will not lead to growth  this seems hardly irresponsible.
SYRIZA also calls for an end to the policies of internal devaluation and for a pan-European fiscal stimulus vis-à-vis the European-wide budgetary straitjacket promoted by conservatives. In their absence it argues, the Greek government might have to leave the Euro and default. This is hardly radical. In fact, it is a scenario that Paul Krugman  believes would actually increase Greece’s chances of recovery. As for Europe’s obsession with austerity, this is something which is castigated by almost all social democrats .
Finally, concerning the populist voices inside the party, one cannot take this argument seriously. Otherwise, one would probably have to stop talking to parties like the Bavarian CSU, the British Tories or the French UMP . The fact of the matter is that partiers are organizations which allow divergence of opinion – of course within limits. This is good for democracy, internal and external.
Ultimately, however, the strategy of demonization employed by conservative Europeans is profoundly counter-productive. Greek democracy right now, and despite certain poorly substantiated reportages in the Greek press in the last few weeks, is not in danger. Nonetheless, it is indeed going through a difficult period. Austerity measures produce social and political misery, while scandals involving politicians from the big parties of the Metapolitefsi further erode trust towards democratic institutions. The rise of the “Golden Dawn” is undeniably symptomatic of a sentiment of indignation vis-à-vis the democratic system.
Hence, to vilify a party that is not a populist menace and will very probably be called to form the next Greek government – or in any case be a major governmental partner – is devoid of sense. On the other hand, insisting on a blatantly counter-productive and unsuccessful economic agenda as the only viable option, effectively prepares the ground for chaos. If one presents the situation as a choice between a manifestly failed agenda and chaos, then by implication one is the rooting for the latter – even if unconsciously.
Political philosopher Chantal Mouffe  has argued that if we remove antagonism (in the name of consensus) from the political sphere, then we open the way for extremism – as it seems to be the only political vision that offers convincing identification points and an alternative scenario for the future. Hence, if Greek and European leaders indeed wish to steer Greece away from the abyss, then they will have to accept that a different, centre-left pathway for both Greece and Europe is viable (something which in any case most European social democrats believe). And that SYRIZA might indeed be a contributor to this change. Needless to say the party itself will have to make more systematic steps towards greater maturity and towards attaining the status of a credible, if hard-bargaining, partner. What is required in the present difficult conjuncture is a constructive spirit (setting aside hard-line, conservative orthodoxies) which allows for a proper political debate and not ill founded allusions to chaos.