Like a dizzy march of bees, Eleni Karaindrou’s “Canteen Rock” thunders from the speaker towers that frame the low stage with its back to the sea. Alexis Tsipras arrives in a small convoy of cars to speak at SYRIZA’s pre-election rally in Piraeus, at the spot where Drapetsona Fertilizers stood from 1909, until one of the country’s largest industrial sites was torn down in 2003.
The prime minister is wearing a smart white shirt and blue trousers. He is without a jacket and, of course, tieless. It is as if he was attending a wedding and darted outside to speak to some friends. His sleeves are turned up to just below the elbow.
Tsipras is smiling broadly. His party’s officials and security men accompany him through the crowd to the stage. He is on home territory, among his own people, the working class of Piraeus who traditionally support the Left. Far from the polls which show his party heading toward certain defeat in a few days.
Supporters hold up some 20-or-so SYRIZA flags – some white, some red, some purple – along with two or three Greek ones, waving them in the still night air. There are maybe a thousand people standing before the stage, maybe fewer, it’s hard to tell as some stand close and others are scattered. Nearby, the dark plastic tables and chairs of a canteen are filled with people enjoying the new park in one of Greece’s most densely populated areas.
At around 9.30, only an hour after the scheduled time, the prime minister begins speaking. Behind him, gliding on the harbor’s black waters, a city of lights appears – ANEK Lines’ brilliant white Eleftherios Venizelos ferry turns majestically and heads south toward Crete. A sea breeze flutters briefly over the crowd and dissolves.
“I thank you warmly for this very human, this warm reception,” the prime minister begins. He is lost behind a wall of cell phones that rise to capture the moment. “I see your faces filled with determination, I see hope in your smiles,” the invisible voice continues. “Yes, it is certain, they will not get rid of the Left so easily. They will not be rid easily of our country’s democratic, progressive wing, which opened the way for us to be free once again, so that we can gaze upon the future with greater optimism.”
The voice is familiar, having adopted the color and cadences used by the populist prime minister of the 1980s, Andreas Papandreou. Along with the voice, the flattery. “And my joy is truly great that I am here with you again, with you. Here again. In Piraeus’ neighborhoods, which are listed as the Piraeus B constituency in the electoral rolls but in our hearts and in history they are registered as the neighborhoods of resistance, of the fight for freedom, democracy and social justice.”
The speaker presents himself as the one who recognizes the true value of the downtrodden; and this value is directly related to his being among them. “We, you, all together, we freed the country from the creditors’ yoke that it had labored under for eight whole years. And we achieved this with society remaining on its feet.”
These are critical hours and days for Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA. The prime minister understands that the political game is over, that he cannot change the coming result, but he needs to encourage his base. He presents his left-wing credentials, he summons Civil War polemics and frequently refers to his center-right rivals as representatives of a cruel Right which will deprive citizens of all that SYRIZA gifted them. This enemy is not only brutal, it is also afraid.
“They understand that you cannot win national elections only by creating a negative narrative for your rival, if you cannot present a positive one for yourself,” Tsipras says. There is no reply that before May 26 elections for the European Parliament and for local authorities, he and his party concentrated their attacks on the person of New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Noting that his party gained 670,000 votes in the five months between the European Parliament elections of 2014 and the national elections of 2015, Tsipras argues that his party can repeat this feat and overturn the loss in May (ignoring the fact that in 2014 SYRIZA was riding a surge of popularity while now it is on the wane).
“That is why Mr Mitsotakis… has hastened to pull an old extortion trick out of his drawer. It is a fairy tale with a dragon, in case he manages to blackmail voters to vote for him,” the prime minister adds. This “blackmail” is the fact that if the result of the July 7 election does not allow a government to form, a new election will have to be held almost immediately – but this time the simple proportional electoral system that SYRIZA adopted will come into effect, forcing parties that are unused to consensus to try to form coalitions.
This, according to Tsipras, proves that Mitsotakis is afraid that he will lose the election and that he does not care about unity or cooperation. One could reply that what Tsipras and his party did while in power was not conducive to unity and cooperation. And the mistakes and omissions of the past four-and-a-half years cannot be put down simply to inexperience in government – how does one explain the unjustified and brutal slandering of political opponents in relation to the Novartis investigation? Or the combination of irresponsibility and arrogance which were later explained away as innocent delusions?
Tsipras’ arguments and his time in government will be judged by the voters and by history. Just as his rivals will be judged. Tonight, though, here in Drapetsona, he is speaking to his supporters. He says what he wants to say, they hear what they want to hear. The many whose votes will decide the election are elsewhere.
At the end, “Canteen Rock,” from the soundtrack of Theo Angelopoulos’ film “The Beekeeper,” bursts out of the speakers again. It thunders and swirls over the dissolving crowd, over the newly built concrete paths and the freshly planted saplings in Drapetsona’s new park. New use for ancient land. Next to the silent sea.