Dominoes of Democracy? Europe's Left Finds Hope in Anti-Austerity Vote

While many in the mainstream media focus on the nitty-gritty economic implications of Sunday’s landslide anti-austerity vote in Greece, leaders of Europe’s left are hopeful that the outcome, a repudiation of harsh Troika-imposed policies, will start a long-awaited domino effect of democracy across the continent.

“Our deeply unequal global economy relies on ordinary people having no real voice over economic decisions, so this ‘no’ vote  strengthens the battle for a fairer, more humane, people-centred Europe,” Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden said on Sunday.

In a column for Ireland’s Journal Media, anti-austerity activist Paul Murphy described Sunday’s vote as “potentially the most important political event since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.”

“Syriza was a revolt against this Europe of austerity and corporate power, in favour of a democratic, socially progressive Europe. Podemos in Spain is part of this revolt, as is Sinn Féin in Ireland. If the referendum had produced a yes, then it would have represented a potentially terminal defeat for this gathering pan-European revolt. Instead, it has now been emboldened.”
—Owen Jones, The Guardian

Noting that the win relied on an “overwhelming mobilization” of both the working class and young people, Murphy—who works with the Irish Anti-Austerity Alliance but was in Athens for the vote—said that “[d]epending on what happens next, it can represent a turning point towards a challenge to the rule of the 1% in Europe and the dominance of Thatcherite neo-liberalism.”

Germany’s democratic socialist Die Linke Party (Left Party) echoed that sentiment, with party chair Bernd Riexinger declaring: “Democracy achieved a victory in Europe today. The Greek people fought back for a second time against the catastrophic policies of social cutbacks and economic devastation. They said ‘No’ to further austerity, ‘No’ to a false medicine that always worsens the illness.”

Stating that Die Linke stands in solidarity with Greece’s Syriza party, Riexinger continued: “The Greeks’ vote of ‘No’ is evidence of a vibrant democracy that has ended the continued administering of a false medicine. The way for new methods of negotiation is now free.”

For HuffPo Italy, journalist Angela Mauro described how leaders of “the sundry left of the Old Continent” gathered in Athens to watch the referendum results roll in:

Referring to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Nichi Vendola of Italy’s Left Ecology Freedom party told Mauro after the vote: “Renzi should come to Athens to learn two fundamental things: that there simply is no Europe without democracy, and that the left without social justice is nothing but a house of cards. The first major crack has appeared in the new Berlin Wall. A clear victory for the people who have refused the ordeal of austerity, and of a government that, singularly in Europe, showed its backbone when confronting political and financial oligarchies.”

“The first major crack has appeared in the new Berlin Wall. A clear victory for the people who have refused the ordeal of austerity, and of a government that, singularly in Europe, showed its backbone when confronting political and financial oligarchies.”
—Nichi Vendola, Italy’s Left Ecology Freedom party

According to the French current affairs radio station RFI, Italy has the eurozone’s second-highest public debt after Greece and is thought to be one of the country’s most vulnerable to financial turmoil if Greece exits the euro.

Meanwhile, in Spain, left-wing, anti-austerity Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias framed the referendum as a step forward for democracy: “It’s good news for Europeans and Greek citizens. The people of Greece have said they want change, they support a government who says that things can be done in a different way.”

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Still—with polls showing that in the lead up to a general election slated the end of the year, Podemos is in a virtual tie with the governing People’s party and opposition Socialists—observers note that Iglesias has been careful to differentiate between Greece and Spain.

The Guardian reports:

The ‘No’ vote has undoubtedly raised the political stakes not just in Greece, but around Europe, Owen Jones wrote at the Guardian on Monday:

“Syriza was a revolt against this Europe of austerity and corporate power, in favour of a democratic, socially progressive Europe,” Jones continued.

“Podemos in Spain is part of this revolt, as is Sinn Féin in Ireland,” he added. “If the referendum had produced a yes, then it would have represented a potentially terminal defeat for this gathering pan-European revolt. Instead, it has now been emboldened. Unfortunately the EU elites are not stupid, and realise this. They fear – justifiably – that if Syriza is seen to win concessions, the rebellion will spread.”

Meanwhile, Portuguese activists reacted to Sunday’s vote by placing a Greek flag on the Sao Jorge castle in Lisbon; in Belgium, Nicole Cahen of the Walloon Communist Party, described the vote on Facebook as the “first victory in our war on austerity”; and in the UK, supporters held a celebratory rally in London on Monday evening. 

As Gabi Zimmer, from the European leftist coalition GUE/NGL, said on Sunday: “Our solidarity is now stronger than ever with the people of Greece, of southern Europe and of all those EU regions which have had to pay the price for those gambling and speculating on the banks and the financial markets.”