Greece’s major opposition party leader Alexis Tsipas, who heads the anti-austerity Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), has told an American audience in the first leg of a U.S. swing that they have nothing to fear if he comes to lead the government.
SYRIZA is locked in a virtual tie with the New Democracy Conservatives of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who championed pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions demanded by international lenders and supported by the U.S.
Tsipras, who initially had said he would scrap the terms of bailout deals of $325 billion with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that are propping up the Greek economy has soften his stance as of late to say the conditions should be revised.
The measures have created a record 26.8 percent unemployment and pushed one-fifth of the Greek population into poverty. “The insistence on implementing this agreement is at odds with the laws of humanity,” Tsipras told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He is also scheduled to meet with U.S. officials and lawmakers as well as a senior IMF official and speak at Columbia University in New York.
The visit comes as the IMF has said that it sees the Greek program back on track after a period of political uncertainty. The Troika has warned any interference with the deal could lead the money pipeline being shut down. Tsipras has said he would not go ahead with layoffs and reverse pay cuts and tax hikes and keep the government spending at levels the Troika said was ruinous and he offered no solutions on from where the money would come to sustain the country.
“Is there anything to fear by the left wing in Greece? In what way are we radical?,” he told an audience of high-level policy advisors at the prestigious think tank. “Scaremongers will tell you that our party, if it comes to government, will scrap the loan agreement with the European Union and the IMF, will lead the country out of the euro zone, will interrupt Greece’s ties with the civilized West, and that Greece will become a new North Korea,” he said.
According to the Greek news agency AMNA, Tsipras’ speech was preceded by introductory remarks by Brookings Institution managing director William Antholis, a noted Greek-American, while the discussion with questions from the audience was coordinated by Brookings’ economic analyst Domenico Lombardi.
The event was attended by a number of ambassadors, including Greece’s Christos Panagopoulos and Cyprus’ Pavlos Anastasiadis, as well as by academics, analysts and journalists.
“When I was little,” Tsipras said, “I remember my elders telling me that if America grabs a cold, Greece will get ill with pneumonia. Today, I hear that some of your politicians warn the U.S. government to listen to them if you do not want to be… Greece. One thing is clear: our countries can be very different in size and structure. We also know that there are shadows and problems of the past that we want to overcome. But there are strong ties which in a globalized landscape are becoming stronger. Because our own destruction affects you as well.”
Presenting SYRIZA’s positions for the future, Tsipras stressed that his party wanted to establish a mutually beneficial dialogue with progressive thinkers in the U.S. “We have to prove that humanity has become wiser by the destruction that has been through.”
SYRIZA, he stressed, has always been and will always remain a European party. “I hope to convince you that I’m not as dangerous as some are trying to say.., Let me say this clearly: SYRIZA will keep Greece in the Eurozone.” But he didn’t say how.