Political totem


Party congresses in Greece do not really attract as much public interest as their organizers would have us believe. Part of the reason for this must be that the intense politicization of the post-dictatorship years (which was in fact an overdose of emotion that gradually evolved into some kind of self-serving utilitarianism) has subsided in a wave of demobilization.

If experience is any guide, party congresses carry little promise for they tend to be a mixture of predetermined decisions and behind-the-scenes machinations that culminate in the ceremonial ratification of the power of the leader.

The SYRIZA congress this weekend saw Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras consolidate control over his leftist party. Delegates, as some commentators said, sought to play down the negative connotations generated by the overwhelming (93.54 percent) share of the vote won by Tsipras, which they said was reminiscent of elections in communist-era Romania.

In 2011, members of Democratic Left (DIMAR) elected Fotis Kouvelis as party leader with an extraordinary 97.31 percent. The massive approval ratings enjoyed by the leaders at SYRIZA and DIMAR, both political reincarnations of the progressive left movement, would suggest a lack of critical analysis amid their ranks. The results make the 78.2 percent that elected Panayiotis Lafazanis leader of SYRIZA splinter group Popular Unity seem like a moderate performance.

Sure, in a way it makes sense for SYRIZA members to defend their president with all their strength. It was Tsipras who led the party as its power skyrocketed. Posturing in a way reminiscent of late Socialist leader Andreas Papandreou, he managed to lure thousands of PASOK voters in a move that could hardly be described as a return to leftist origins.

It was Tsipras who elevated SYRIZA, if only for a brief period, into a paradigm for a next-generation radical European left. Meanwhile, with SYRIZA being attacked not just for what it has done, but also for the things it has not done (or not even ever considered doing), many SYRIZA delegates probably felt the need to defend their president.

However, the 93.54 percent can by no means be translated as support for a political leader; but only for a political totem. The percentage elevates the leader into the sphere of metaphysics. And it places him outside the limits of criticism despite the fact that his so-called “parallel program” (a package of measures designed to ease the social impact of the crisis) remains uncomfortably parallel to real life, despite the fact that the promise of debt relief remains hostage to the whims of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, and despite the fact that his inconsistent language never fails to stun many of his comrades.

Still, in a tweet after the ballot, Tsipras interpreted the vote as a call for an “even more collective SYRIZA.” But it can hardly get more collective than that 93.54 percent.