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So what is Syriza’s foreign policy?




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SyrizaAmidst all the excitement of the Syriza victory in Greece no-one seems to have examined the new government’s foreign policy.

At first sight, Syriza conforms to the standard southern European leftist rhetoric. It has infused with anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Nato populism.

The party’s programme proclaimed its allegiance to the leftist European Parliament grouping, the United European Left, which has communist and other far-left, above all anti-American parties like Germany’s Die Linke as affiliates. ‘Syriza is fighting for the re-foundation of Europe away from artificial divisions and cold-war alliance such as NATO,’ the official party programme declared.

However the incoming prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has toned down some of the rhetoric with a tweet earlier this month when he said ‘A breach with NATO is not in the interest of the country.’

Foreign policy populism is something all Greek politicians indulge in. The outgoing prime minister, Antonis Samaras, made his name as a rising New Democracy minister 25 years ago by whipping up nationalistic sentiment against the republic of Macedonia which emerged from the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Samaras insisted that Macedonia should not use the name of Macedonia which is how northern Greece is called. It was like Mexico refusing to recognize the United States because the latter has a state named New Mexico. The rest of Europe and Nato member states could not believe Greek obduracy over the name of Macedonia but Athens sprayed vetoes around to insist the successor southern Yugoslavian state was called FYROM – the former Yugoslavian Republic of Maceonia.

Similarly Greece broke ranks with most EU member states in refusing to afford diplomatic recognition to Kosovo, now recognized by 120 UN member states.


Will Tsipras drag Greece’s archaic positions on Macedonia and Kosovo into modern diplomatic reality? No-one knows.

How will Greece handle Russia? Last year Syriza’s foreign affairs spokesman, Costas Isychos described EU sanctions on Russia as “neo-colonial bulimia” and saluted the “impressive counter-attacks” of Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine.  In line with standard Kremlin propaganda he said the Kiev government was guilty of tolerating “neo-Nazi abominations.”

On the Mid-East Syriza has said it ‘fully identifies itself with the Palestinian cause’ and an end to Greece's defence cooperation with the ‘aggressive’ Israel.

Leading Syriza spokesmen have repeatedly attacked Israel and the ‘Zionists’ using standard language with the European left that claims they are not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist.

Syriza’s official party platform says it ‘fights for a multidimensional, pro-peace foreign policy for Greece, with no involvement in wars or military plans, a policy of independence and friendly peaceful cooperation with all countries, especially our neighbours.’

Instead Syriza wants ‘a democratic, social, peaceful, ecological and feminist Europe, open to a socialist and democratic future. This is why is in favour of cooperation and coordinated action of left forces and social movements on a pan-European scale.’

Syriza has sought to reassure its now EU and Nato partners that the party wants no confrontation. NATO ‘has no reason to exist,’ the party’s foreign affairs spokesman Costas Isychos told Bloomberg but ‘it’s not part of Syriza’s priorities as a government to raise the issue of a possible NATO exit at this time.’

Already the anti-EU forces in Europe have reacted to the Syriza win. The French Front National and the anti-EU AfD in Germany have hailed the win as proof that the EU is breaking up, a line echoed by Britain’s anti-EU political leader, Nigel Farage.

Greek foreign policy has always been linked to national perspectives as much as wider global interests. After the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 in the midst of the crisis that ended military rule in Greece, Athens treated Turkey as its main enemy.

The Greek right of New Democracy as much as the populist left of Pasok, the Greek socialist party that slumped to a miserable 5% in Sunday’s poll ramped up Greek nationalist rhetoric against Turkey and blindly supported Cypriot and Orthodox church position against Muslim Turks.

The orthodox connection also explains why Greece has always felt a softness for Putin’s Russia, a major trading partner of Greece as well as ultra-nationalist Serb positions in the Western Balkans.

In Europe, Greece may be knocking on an opening door. Merkel has lost an important conservative ally in the outsted Antonis Samaras. Her centre-right European People’s Party federation of conservative parties has lost France, Italy and now Greece to the left. David Cameron’s Conservative Party left the EPP in 2009 as part of its turn to anti-European positions.

The European Commission has more members who support an end to the extreme austerity policies associated with Merkel and especially with her ultra-orthodox finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble.

However if Tsipras insists on applying a wide-ranging leftist, anti-Israel, anti-American policy across the board he will lose sympathy fast.

Foreign policy has not been part of the Syriza political package as the party and its leader, now prime minister, attacked austerity policies and the EU’s obsession with reducing debt and deficit no matter the cost to Greek citizens.

But as Prime Minister Tsipras dons the mantle of national leadership his foreign policy positions and statements will come intense scrutiny and can make or break his premiership at an early stage.

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