Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Information letter from Syriza, and BRPF's response

To Friendly Political Parties and Movements


Athens, 29 June 2015


Dear Comrades and friends,

As you know, following the historic victory of SYRIZA in our national elections on January 25 of this year, a government of social salvation was formed in Greece, headed by our Party President, now Prime Minister Mr Alexis Tsipras.

The new government’s clear mandate from the Greek people was to end the policies of extreme austerity, to relieve the socially weaker strata and to resolve the intolerable public debt crisis through negotiations, thereby creating the conditions for economic recovery and growth.

Negotiations have been going on since February between the new government and our EU partners, together with the other institutions involved in the Greek program. From the beginning, the government’s position has been that the Greek people’s mandate should be respected and that Greece should be treated as an equal partner in the EU and the Eurozone.

The negotiations went through many stages. In the meantime, the Greek Government took the first steps toward implementing its program. The first bill tabled and passed by the new Parliament, aimed to help the government deal with the country’s humanitarian crisis.

At the same time, the government did not neglect its task of moving in the direction of a multi-dimensional actively pro-peace foreign policy, seeking to upgrade Greece’s international position and role, to the benefit of the Greek people and our country’s national issues.

Obviously, democracy and the sovereignty of the people in our country are not negotiable; we also believe that this is not in any way incompatible with our membership in the EU and the Eurozone; on the contrary, it serves the European Idea in the most authentic way.

Last week, negotiations reached their most critical point. On Monday, 22 June, during the informal Eurozone Summit meeting, a well-documented Greek proposal was submitted for agreement by the institutions (European Commission, European Central Bank, IMF). It was described by top EU officials as a “good basis” for completing the negotiations. Despite this, the IMF then submitted new and unacceptable conditions, primarily in the fields of labour rights and pensions, for an agreement with Greece. The difficulties it raised made it necessary for the Prime Minister himself to travel to Brussels to take part in talks with the institutions and in the regular June EU Summit.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister and our negotiating team were confronted with proposals from the institutions that in fact constituted an ultimatum. It is characteristic that the President of the European Council, Mr Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland, addressed Mr Tsipras with the phrase “Game over”.

This development caused the Prime Minister, upon his return to Athens, to suggest to the Council of Ministers that a referendum be held so that the people could decide whether or not to accept the institutions’ proposal. His suggestion was adopted by Parliament. On June 26, the Greek Parliament voted in favour of the referendum (178 votes for and 120 against), which was set for Sunday 5 July.

Within the next few days, the task of the government and the parties that support it will be to campaign for a “NO” vote in the Referendum.

In the belief that international solidarity played an important part in SYRIZA’S election victory in January, and has also been manifested in various ways in the past five months, we appeal to you to continue and step up your solidarity with the Greek people and our Government.

The battle we are fighting in Greece is also a battle for Europe and its future. A battle for social justice and international cooperation on an equal basis.

Panos Trigazis
Coordinator of SYRIZA’s Department of International Relations
and Peace Issues




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Dear Panos,
Many thanks for your informative letter about some of the many challenges facing the Syriza Government in Greece.
We have published it on our Facebook page and will circulate it more widely to our contacts.
Of course, we are following developments in Greece very closely.
Here in the Britain, Syriza's courageous resistance is earning some recognition from objective commentators such as Paul Mason of Channel 4 News and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper which is usually associated with the politcal right in Britain and anti-EU positions.
More importantly, there is some growing recognition amongst ordinary people that Greece's struggle against austerity and in favour of democracy is also our struggle.
Jeremy Corbyn MP, a leading candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party, spoke on this very theme in Nottingham on Sunday, and received a rousing response.
Please continue to inform us of developments, including in relation to your government's pro-peace foreign policy, which remains vital for all of Europe and more widely.
The game is assuredly not over. We are all Greeks in the struggle for peace, democracy and prosperity.
In solidarity,
Tony Simpson
Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Bertrand Russell: A Peace Hero

This window panel featuring Bertrand Russell was spotted by a contact visiting Vienna. 




Russell has been designated a 'Peace Hero' by Peace Museum Vienna, alongside Immanuel Kant, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai and numerous others.

The museum's project Windows for Peace, installed in and around Stephansplatz in the centre of the city, brings the good work of these heroes to public attention again. 'As a street museum, it is open twenty four hours a day and charges no admission fees!' proclaims PMV's website.

Vienna is home to a peace heroine of its own, Bertha von Suttner, who is also featured in the exhibit. Her 1889 pacifist novel Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!) overcame opposition and rejection from publishers to eventually become a bestseller, which has been widely translated and adapted. An international pacifist journal, over which she presided as editor between 1892-1899, was named in its honour. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

 Picture from a Peace Museum Vienna leaflet

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Forum for Alternatives - eyewitness in Paris

Forum for Alternatives – eyewitness in Paris

Tom Unterrainer

Five thousand activists, politicians, trade unionists and intellectuals from Europe and beyond converged on Paris over the weekend of 30-31 May to lay the foundations for a continent-wide ‘Alliance Against Austerity’.

Coordinated by the Party of the European Left (EL), the ‘Forum for Alternatives’ covered many themes but the issues of Greece, Austerity, Europe and the financial crisis took centre stage.

Alliance Against Austerity


Pierre Laurent, President of EL and General Secretary of the French Communist Party, opened proceedings with a call for the European left to prepare “for a new era in our common fight”. Laurent pointed to the “acceleration” of left parties and movements in parts of Europe and called for a united project against austerity. “Democracy, public services and tackling the power of finance” are significant elements as is the principle that “wealth should be used for social, economic and ecological transformation”. In closing, Laurent pointed to Greece as “an issue for the entire movement”. “We cannot let them defeat Greece … we say that reason and rationality is in Athens”.

The president of the Greek parliament, Zoe Konstantopolou, began her contribution by warning that “austerity kills human beings, society, the people of Europe” and insisted “it is our responsibility to kill austerity before it kills all hope”. Konstantopolou’s contribution made it very clear that the Syriza government is intent on remaining in the European Union and see their struggle as part of a wider process of transforming social and economic relations across the EU: “Our struggle is a struggle for all European peoples and future generations. European solidarity can succeed and can convince”.

The Greek government has established an audit committee to investigate public debt – the first established anywhere in Europe – and a commission to look into the issue of unpaid German reparations in the aftermath of World War II. Both of these initiatives should be widely supported, publicised and, where possible, replicated.

Hervé Falciani pointed to the secrecy and corruption at the heart of the financial system. Falciani, a former employee of HSBC, blew the whistle on 130,000 people and institutions that used Swiss accounts to avoid tax. Of the 130,000 on the list, more than twenty thousand are based in Europe and two thousand of them in Greece. The list was passed to the Greek authorities in 2010 but no action was taken until Syriza took power. Falciani attacked the “dictatorship of finance” and called for the “mobilisation of institutions to resist the hegemony of capital” and concluded with a call to “open communication channels in order to expose what is going on in corporations”.

The main themes articulated in the opening plenary – Europe-wide unity against austerity, solidarity with Greece, and the need to reform the banking and financial institutions – informed discussions over much of the weekend. There were, however, other important issues and opportunities to orientate and inform our movement.

Instruments of Peace


A session titled ‘What instruments to build a peaceful world?’ provided an opportunity to discuss the ongoing threat posed by nuclear weapons. Miho Shinma, an ambassador for peace from the city of Hiroshima, emphasised that “advocates of nuclear weapons pretend that they produce global equilibrium and stability when in fact they produce pain and suffering”. Abraham Behar, president of the Association of Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, called for “not just a stop to but a reversal in the production of nuclear material” and for the technology involved to be used for other purposes. He called on the movement not to “beg powerful states but to promote the complete and total banning of nuclear weapons” and pointed out that Austria is a nuclear-free zone, urging that this example should be promoted and built upon.

Giorgos Ververis, a coordinator of the foreign affairs department of Syriza, focused on the need for a “new model of politics” to secure peace and stability across Europe. “The political situation between Greece and Europe is not equal. There needs to be a re-balancing of this situation which the successes of the SNP in Scotland and the developments in Spain will contribute towards”. On the question of “Grexit”, Ververis was clear: “it’s not going to happen”. “We just want to say that there is another way to govern countries”.

This session afforded the opportunity to raise revelations made by Able Seaman William McNeilly with regard to the conditions on board Trident submarines. Although McNeilly’s case was covered somewhat in the British press it had not gained prominence elsewhere in Europe. Dossiers containing press reports, McNeilly’s text and excerpts from the Westminster Parliamentary debate initiated by Alex Salmond MP were distributed to attendees and a call was made to have this issue raised in the European Parliament. The question of the stability and safety of Trident is a question for the whole of Europe given the potential consequences of a nuclear incident. Offers of assistance in this matter were made by officers of EL and Giorgos Ververis expressed shock and interest.

Ukraine


A session on Ukraine saw a large range of contributors, with differing perspectives, address this highly complex situation. Elena Tchaltseva from Ukraine pointed to the domestic social and human catastrophe caused by the conflict and called for the border between Russia and Ukraine to be closed in order to secure peace.

Political analyst Nils Anderson illustrated the complexity of the situation in stark terms. He linked events in Ukraine to the forces of globalisation and the following three factors: the emergence of a ‘multi-polar’ world, America’s “obsession with Russia” and the “contradictions of Russia itself”.

Heinz Bierbaum from the international department of Die Linke asserted that “Germany and the EU have a big responsibility for the situation in Ukraine. The ‘Agreement of Association’ with the EU launched this conflict as it was part of a strategy to subordinate Russia”. Bierbaum noted that Russia had its own geopolitical interests but asserted that the “most dangerous element here is the expansion of NATO”.

Giorgos Ververis spoke again in this session and opened with the question: “Which side do you choose for the future of Ukraine?” “Armed minorities caused this conflict and the majority tried to stop it” he continued. “NATO broke its promise not to expand into the East. They want a foothold in Ukraine and Syriza strictly disagrees with this.” In conclusion, Ververis asserted that “security in Europe is with, not against, Russia.”

The two most striking aspects of this discussion were the calm and considered manner in which it took place and the insistence on getting to grips with the detail of events. There was no room for anti-Putin jibes, mutual denunciation, or simplistic analysis of the state of affairs in Ukraine. In these respects, as in many others, we have a lot to learn from our European brothers and sisters.

After the victory of Syriza


The final plenary of the Forum took place under the slogan “After the victory of Syriza, an alliance to win the European showdown?”

The plenary opened with a number of messages from individuals and organisations unable to attend, including this from the HDP in Turkey that read: “Because of the general election in Turkey we cannot be with you. There is a democratic front against the AKP and the HDP want to promote an alternative. We want a world where wealth is shared and where people who are oppressed find their freedom”.

The HDP – an alliance that grew out of Kurdish political movements but which includes a great many Turkish democratic and social activists – needs 10% of the vote to achieve representation in the Turkish legislature. All signs point towards the ruling AKP failing to win an overall majority; it’s much to be hoped that HDP emerges from these elections in a position to carry on the fight for Kurdish and wider civil and political rights in Turkey. Election monitors will be sent from Britain over the course of the election weekend.

The first speaker in the final plenary was Christian Picquet from the United Left in France. “We must identify the political moment we are in today. The victory of Syriza is the first break, the first step because it is the first time that a left government has taken power in Europe. It is a new process, a change, a split between the people and those who created this crisis.” He concluded with this call: “If there is one lesson to learn it is this. We can win when we talk to the whole of the left. What can we do that Alexis Tsipras cannot do?”

If the European left is to mean anything, then it must answer Picquet’s final question.

Gus Massiah from the World Social Forum pointed out that the forces of capitalist globalisation “have won a few battles but they have not yet won the war. There is a triple crisis in the world: a crisis of neoliberalism and globalisation; a crisis of civilisation; and a crisis in the relationship between humans and nature.” “Europe is part of the world and we need to learn what other social movements around the world have to teach us.”

Clémentine Autine from Ensemble (‘Movement for a left ecological and social alternative’) argued that “we need to reinvent politics. We need social and ecological approaches … we need to reconstruct a space for politics. It will be a huge struggle but Syriza was a huge victory and Podemos could be next. We cannot simply copy from our neighbours, we need popular movements to create a transformation. We need to federate and unite.”

Haris Golemis from the Transform! Network and the Nicos Poulantzas Institute in Greece is worth quoting at length. He begins:

“Developments in Europe are closely associated with the future of Syriza. The reverse is also the case. The authoritarian developments across Europe – especially the Memoranda – were followed by restrictive legislation that applies to a number of European countries.

In the name of Europeanism, they fuelled national and racial hatred!

Then came Syriza and Tsipras. The victory of the Greek radical left was considered a real threat to neoliberalism in Europe and the whole world. They claimed that Syriza’s victory would be a national disaster. They blatantly failed in their efforts to scare the Greek people. Hope defeated fear and Syriza won this battle but the war has intensified.

The unholy alliance under Merkel’s direction – the Troika, EU, IMF and European governments which include the so-called social democrats, the media and ratings agencies – were unleashed. The Greek experiment had to be crushed at any cost. Capitulate or face the dire consequences of a Grexit.

It is vital that the Greek government is not defeated. Small scale solidarity has its limits. We need a European-wide alliance against austerity. The defeat of Syriza would be a set back but we will not sustain ourselves if this alliance does not emerge.

This alliance should include the radical left, communists, social democrats and greens, trade unionists and intellectuals. Anyone who opposes austerity and neoliberalism should be involved. We should fight together on every front.

This alliance needs to take action in the workplace and on the streets, in schools and in colleges and on the international scene. We have shown that we can work together in the past. Let’s strengthen our unity and eliminate sectarianism and dogmatism.

Syriza is a symbol of optimism and inspiration. Change could be on the way in Spain. We can and we shall win!”

Golemis was followed by Pierre Larroutorou from Nouvelle Donne (New Deal) who in answering the question ‘what next’ outlined the following four points:

“First, we have an obligation to succeed … second, there is going to be another crisis … so thirdly, we must immediately campaign together … and fourthly, we need to break out of our routines because people who have been broken by austerity do not just want to go to the polling stations.”

Like a number of other speakers, Larrouturou referenced the tenth anniversary of the French referendum on the European constitution as an example of what united campaigning can achieve. At this time, a broad cross-section of the French left combined to form a ‘Socialist No’ campaign – a pro-European but anti-constitution alliance. Defying all expectations, the ‘No’ camp won but the constituents of the alliance soon went their separate ways. Had an ongoing alliance of progressive, pro-European, democratic and radical left organisations and movements been maintained, the French political landscape, and perhaps the wider-European political map, could look very different.

A call to the movements


Pierre Laurent and Zoe Konstantopolou took to the stage to make two final calls to those assembled. The first call was for the formation of a Europe-wide ‘Alliance Against Austerity’ which will take its first steps from the 20th June with a week of action in support of Syriza. The second call, addressed towards the French movement – which comprised the majority of Forum attendees – was for a swift political intervention to put pressure on the Hollande government to avoid any increasing pressure on the Greeks. If such an initiative can gain momentum then the political dynamics of the European scene could shift significantly.

The Forum for Alternatives was an invigorating and inspiring event that illustrated the enormous potential of the radical left and socialist ideas. What it also illustrated was the very real gap between what has been achieved in Britain and the rest of Europe. The movement here has great potential and has experienced significant mobilisations in terms of protests and demonstrations in the recent past. What we currently lack in much of Britain – with some notable exceptions, Scotland in particular – is the structural capacity to achieve political change or wield political influence. The organisers of the Forum for Alternatives have promised a re-call event before the end of the year. It would be very useful indeed if more than one or two activists from the UK managed to attend.

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Tom Unterrainer attended the Forum for Alternatives as a representative of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.

Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation: www.russfound.org
Spokesman Books: www.spokesmanbooks.com

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NOTE: quotations have been made on the basis of notes taken via ‘real time’ translation.