Can Europe Make It?

Greek politics: a River runs through it

Stavros Theodorakis, leader of To Potami (The River) - the party which may hold the balance of power in the new Greek government - speaks on politics, reform and the possibility of a coalition with Syriza.

Stavros Theodorakis
25 January 2015
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Stavros Theodorakis. Flickr/X-Andra. Some rights reserved.

The following is a transcript of the interview given by Stavros Theodorakis to media on January 21, in Athens.

On the possibility of joining a Syriza coalition

"When we talk to Alexis Tsipras on the 25th or 26th of the month, we will put very specific questions to him. For example, is he about to take unilateral action? We are not prepared to do that. We want to make it very clear, to the Greek people as well, that the European Union is our future. We - To Potami - stand firm so that our country follows a European path. Our country cannot move forward following the course of austerity and nothing else. But we put it in different terms; we will neither walk along head hanging, nor do nothing but threaten.

Mr Dragasakis, like Mr Stathakis, injects common sense in to SYRIZA and their policies. On certain occasions, they have said the right thing. They have also made some statements that seem farfetched - I fear mainly addressed to party audiences. However, often, his way of seeing things is not far removed from our views and not far removed, I think, from a European approach on how an economy functions.

If it comes to discussing forming a government, then this government will need to have a single centre. It must not tilt towards one side, for example to the far-right as happened with the previous government, where people who currently claim to defend progressive ideas accepted the presence of people from the far-right. Why did they accept that? Do you know why? Because they had divided, had carved up that government saying: “I am interested in a deputy presidency and a few deputy ministerial positions, to fix up my party members so that they don’t give me earache”."

On electing a new President

"Why are we holding an election? Because SYRIZA did not want Stavros Dimas. Where is the President supported by SYRIZA? Is there a Russian doll which will eventually be opened up to unveil “who will be President”? We will not be party to the humiliation of the institution of the Presidency. We look for responsibility; we want the President to be elected from the first round with 180 votes."

On To Potami

"We are a new, open movement. 80% of our candidates are new people and they are the river bed from which To Potami flows. The renewal of our political system is of vital importance to us; of course we will make common cause with the people who, in political terms, have been a positive point of reference for Greek society, who have attempted things from different sides of the spectrum, when we were not there; people who had attempted to set things on the right course. 

There are no factions in To Potami. There is not even a Theodorakis faction in To Potami. To Potami is a big, popular movement, with firm principles, and by this I mean firmly held principles that have been set from the beginning; of course they have been enriched at a later stage by the important people who joined us. Spyros Lykoudis, who represents the reform-friendly Left in our country, and has been a positive reference point in the Greek political scene, said “I will also join To Potami so that we do something to change things”. 

It brings shame on New Democracy and PASOK that 18 year olds are not voting in this election. It shows how indifferent they are to young people participating in politics. To Potami proposes that people are given the vote at the age of 16, because it is at 16 that Greeks decide if they will become doctors, lawyers, engineers or farmers.

We are not the ones claiming that To Potami will come in third - the most recent fourteen polls say it! In two of these polls, our third position was disputed by Golden Dawn. I think that, if Golden Dawn were to come in third and be asked to form a government, while in the Korydallos prison, it would damage our democracy. And also bring bad tidings for Europe."

On economic reform

"We want privatisations. But not highway robbery privatisations. Not privatisations where you are dealt a marked hand. I privatise “this” and I have come to terms with “him” who is my friend, who, on the morrow, will bid and win. There is such an issue in Greece, it’s not only been a problem with this government, it forms part of the old political set up. That is how things were done. Projects were awarded to the people closer to power, those who frequented the same hunting grounds.  

I heard a member of SYRIZA say: let’s have state-run ships, state coastal shipping, and state airlines, bring Olympic airways back. Have they asked the people, who have had to pay for Olympic airways seven times over? Seven times over, the figures are absolute and fill citizens and pensioners with concern.

We have to clash with those who consider the country their own back yard. Rules must be set. We do not have “our own group” of businessmen. The banking sector cannot continue supporting “dead” companies… Here, banks would mostly ask “who are you? Who has sent you? Who are you friends with? Who in the Media can support you and support me as well”. We have made it quite clear that To Potami will put a stop to all this. No more special privilege pillaging.

We make common cause with all who want to reintroduce European principles to the economy, to running companies, to providing loans. We are not on the same side with those who want to swap some businessmen or some bankers or some media owners with their own party protégés. We will not move away from such a false position only to opt for a soviet type error, whereby the party and its leader decide business matters, loans, and how the media will function.

We talk about the kind of tax reform which will favour growth. Numerous changes must be introduced; much needs to change with the tax on real estate (ENFIA). From the moment it was announced, we commented that Greeks cannot be made to pay rent on their own home, if it is the only real estate asset they own. It is self-evident that, to ensure equality before the law, those who have no other assets will be exempted from paying tax on their home."

On the election

"Does anyone believe that this country can be governed with a majority of 151 MPs? Can it push things through? We believe in grand majorities. I have said this before, and it is a good occasion to repeat it; even if you belong to the left, you cannot claim an absolute majority which is only achieved because of the electoral system. You have to speak of a social majority, a majority of the people and that absolute majority is at 51% of the electorate, not at 33% with 17% tagged on as a gift from the electoral system.

Certain people call upon SYRIZA to work in coalition with nationalists: people who, as a precondition, ask for statues of Alexander the Great to be put up all over Greece. Is that the course SYRIZA will follow? Is that the framework for a new government? What we say is that, whatever the first party’s majority is, whoever the first party is, it is a matter of principle for this country to move forward and reform everything; here, and in Europe as well.  

As we approach the final stages before the electoral battle on Sunday, people realise it is all about change. Change implemented through a strong player who can impose a new social policy, in Greece and in Europe; but also set us on an unwavering European path and find a modern road for the country to follow."

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