Tens of thousands gathered in Omonia Square to hear Alexis Tsipras, leader of radical left party SYRIZA, speak at the last campaign rally before Greece's January 25 crucial election — which polls indicate SYRIZA will win.
The crowd packed into the square and stretched as far as the eye could see. The atmosphere was electric. People were aware of the political significance and historic weight of this moment.
Throughout his speech, Tsipras addressed the crucial issues of poverty, unemployment, injustice, corruption and Greece's loss of youth due to migration. He exposed the hypocrisy of Germany to deny Greece debt-reduction, when it received one post-World War II.
Tsipras emphasised the need for unity, strength and solidarity among Greeks and stressed that the real fight was yet to come. He asked for the support of the Greek people, explaining that SYRIZA would only be able to achieve change with their strong backing.
“Give us permission to govern,” Tsipras urged the crowd, “so that we can put an end to the destruction of the memorandum. Give us a strong vote, give us strength, so that we can improve Greece. Give SYRIZA and Greece self-reliance so that it gets out of this barbaric situation.”
The crowd was exuberant and chanted “Not Venizelos, not Samaras, it’s time for the left!” — referring to the leaders of Greece's two main traditional parties PASOK and New Democracy.
Some of the groups waving flags in the crowd represented retrenched school guards, cleaners and Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) staff. These groups represented thousands of public sector employees who have lost their jobs in the crisis.
Tsipras insisted: “It is now the left’s time, the time for every Greek person to unite, with SYRIZA’s vote in your hand, because that is how this historic moment will be made.
“Citizens of Athens it is our time to create a vision for a new Greece. A country with justice, equality and democracy. We have a vision for a homeland where no child goes without food, without heating, without a book or without child care.
“We have waited for this moment a long time and now it is here. Hope is not on its way it is here … History is knocking on the door. It is knocking for SYRIZA. We will not hide, we will open that door.”
Tsipras was joined on stage by Pablos Iglesias (see photo below) from the new left-wing, anti-austerity Spanish party Podemos, which is leading polls in Spain and is itself preparing for the possibility it could form government.
Iglesias spoke in Greek — much to the ovation of the crowd. He said: “There is a change in Europe. There is a change in Greece and its name is SYRIZA. In Spain it is named Podemos. Hope is coming. Hasta la victoria SYRIZA — Podemos venceremos.”
[Vivian Messimeris is a member of Australia's Socialist Alliance who is part of the Green Left Weekly team in Greece to report on the elections. Photos from the rally (above and below) are by Messimeris.]