Two weeks ago, the far right populist New Democracy MP, Thanos Plevris, appeared on a political panel. “They are exactly the same,” he mocked. “We had Amygdaleza, the Left has Eleonas. That’s the only difference.” Amygdaleza is a refugee detention camp, a giant jail, opened at great cost by previous governments and closed down amid allegations of cruelty. Eleonas is the refugee village put together by Syriza, to accommodate refugees. I kept coming back to this statement, but couldn’t explain why it had made such a profound impression. Yesterday it came into focus.
Plevris is right. That is the difference. But far from being insignificant, it is vital. Amygdaleza cost more money to build and much more to run. It was born of distrust, xenophobia and, of course, lucrative private contracts. It was a factory that converted fear into political capital. On the contrary, Eleonas was cheap to build, air conditioned and comfortable; people could come and go as they pleased. Its focus was taking care of a basic human need. A place of trust and solidarity. It was unpopular, but it was the right thing to do.
Somewhere in the detail of the debate about the detail of this horrific agreement that Europe viciously imposed on Greece, about whether something is a cut or a reform, about the VAT on beef or pork, I had lost the essence of the difference between a progressive and a regressive government: Policies with a focus on people as opposed to policies with a focus on money. Budgetary corsets always exist. Yes, this one is draconian, stifling, piercing, an Iron Maiden. But the less money there is, the more vital priorities are.
Those who say SYRIZA cannot make a difference should ask the thousands of families that now qualify for free electricity. The thousands of mothers who now have a solidarity credit card to buy food. The children of migrants, born in Greece, who are now recognised as Greek citizens. To them it makes a difference.
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