Green Left Weekly/s Vivian Messimeris spoke with SYRIZA activist and pensioner Sissy Vovou in Athens about the effects of austerity and the hope a SYRIZA government brings. You can read all of the Green Left reporting from Greece here and follow the Green Left live blog on the elections here.
What impact have the austerity measures had on you?
I am a pensioner with a medium sized pension. I lost 25% of my income and we are facing more cuts to the pension. I also had a very big increase in taxation like everybody of course, so my income fell by more than 25%.
This is the economic side; there are so many social factors that made our lives very difficult. For some people their lives have become hell. Fortunately, I am not in this category.
We see people sleeping in the street, we see people who do not have anything to eat, we see families who have had their electricity cut because they cannot afford electricity, and some occasions even water. We have created many solidarity structures in order to assist as many people as we can. This is solidarity it is not a church charity, or welfare approach.
We expect SYRIZA to win and turn the page. The situation is very terrible and SYRIZA has to proceed carefully because the conditions, infrastructure and everything is very difficult, but we expect to be able to turn over a new leaf.
Why did you become an activist with SYRIZA?
I am a one of the founding members of SYRIZA, which was established in 2000. I was a member of the Renewing Communist Ecological Left, it was a Eurocommunist party, small but very strong in its ideas and presence with a lot of respect.
This party collaborated with SYNASMISMOS [one of SYRIZA's founding groups, from which SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras comes] in 2000. SYNASPISMOS was elected to parliament with 3.2% of the vote at the time. Without this collaboration they would not have been elected to parliament because the threshold is 3%.
The next day, we started working on the collaboration of radical left groups and individuals and we created the conditions for SYRIZA that became a reality. Less than four year later, in 2004, SYRIZA ran in it’s first elections as SYRIZA radical left.
Since then, of course I am a SYRIZA activist, but even before that at a very young age I was an activist in the extra-parliamentary left, in the Trotskyist movement, in the magazines that we were producing and so on.
In all of this time, I have always pressed the issue of women’s rights. Not alone of course, we have groups of women that try to ensure that women’s issues and feminist politics are incorporated into our campaigns.
We don’t always have a lot of success, but we do always try, and we are always active. We have to always think about how we can press the case for women’s rights.
What challenges do you think a SYRIZA government will face?
We know that there will be sabotage from some economic forces and the market, the so-called markets. We don’t what degree of sabotage we will face and we know very well that many personalities in the European Union have understood that the repayment of this debt is impossible.
So, we are going to try really hard as we have said to cut this debt and arrange the conditions of repayment of the rest. We have conditions of our own too; the Greek economy must be restarted.
This is the economic side; of course we have many social issues. I must stress very much that here in Greece we have more than 4000 immigrants and refugees imprisoned, detained only because they do not have papers.
We have detention camps in terrible conditions all over Greece. There are camps with 400, with 1000, with 200 people imprisoned everywhere. Only recently we visited a camp, one small camp for women, it has about 80 women. We held a celebration for the New Year, which was not allowed before, it now is allowed.
One of the very important priorities of SYRIZA will be to give legality and relief to these people. We will also give shelter, assistance, food and things like that because most of these people have nothing.
So, this is one priority, there are other priorities that concern democratic rights, like women’s rights. We have many laws that are good but equality in real terms does not exist. We need institutions, we need assistance we need quotas and so on. I must say, only 21% of Greek parliament is made up of women but 51% of voters are women. Where are the other 30%? So we try really hard to get more women elected to government and we in the left need to have women supporting women’s rights. Because some women once they are elected do not defend women’s rights.
There are other priorities like the humanitarian crisis. SYRIZA has proclaimed that it will give assistance to 300,000 families who are living in poverty by providing them with free electricity; food and they will help to address unemployment.
There are some criticisms that SYRIZA no longer has left politics, but now has centrist politics. How do you respond to those criticisms?
I am one of the militant cadre of SYRIZA and there are thousands of us. We see that we have some signs of reconciliations with the existing political system, which is a totally bourgeois political system. We can see that some signs are very worrying. We are fighting and we are winning some battles and losing others.
Now that we will become the government, well we hope that we will become government; we will try very hard to implement the priorities that will assist the working class and the unemployed.
As for socialism, this is a road, this is not tomorrow but a process that we have to work through. I want to say to the people who make these criticisms; we should be working together to achieve these things. If not for socialism, then at least for a more humanitarian situation and for a fairer distribution of income between rich and poor and between men and women.
We must be inside the game. I beg these people, make your criticisms that’s fine, but we need your solidarity and support.
[Vivian Messimeris is part of the Green Left team in Greece to cover the potentially historic January 25 elections. She is a member of Australia's Socialist Alliance in Sydney.]