Before Brexit, before the election of Donald Trump, the crisis of globalisation, global liberalism and capitalism had found expression in Greece. In January 2015, Alexis Tsipras, leader of the radical-left Syriza, rode a popular wave against the austerity measures imposed on Athens by the European Union, oligarchs and income inequality, to become president. In 2019, as Greece has emerged from the crisis — but with unemployment (18 per cent) and inequality still at record highs — the shoe is on the other foot. Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his centre-right New Democracy have won about 40 per cent of the vote, far ahead of Syriza.
Five years ago, Syriza promised that “hope is coming”. But like other radical movements without an ideology of state and roadmap for government, it was unable to govern according to the principles it campaigned on. Once president, Tsipras gave sops to oligarchs, withdrew even more welfare programmes and came across as anti-immigrant and anti-poor with measures like the eviction of families unable to repay loans and his refusal to intervene after reports of inhuman conditions at refugee camps surfaced. In essence, as the movement against the establishment became the establishment, it mimicked, even outdid, its predecessor.
The fact remains that political movements that take to the streets often articulate the entrenched shortcomings of systems of state and governance. But the task of actually governing cannot be achieved just by the charisma of a leader and the promise of “hope” and “revolution”. In France, Emmanuel Macron has had to face this reality with the Yellow Jacket protests, which severely dented his image as the young, charismatic face of a liberal West. Closer home, the Aam Aadmi Party, which began as a protest against corruption and traditional ways of doing politics, has struggled with the art of political compromise, of working not on the street but quietly behind the scenes. Meanwhile, in Greece, the burden of “hope” is now back on the centre.