The Right-Wing European Mainstream Media Campaign against Syriza and the Need to End Neoliberalism

The Right-Wing European Mainstream Media Campaign against Syriza and the Need to End Neoliberalism

I have taken a look at the European media coverage of Syriza one day before the Greek election that takes place today, June 17th, 2012. I had to limit my reading to newspapers published in countries whose language I know (which allowed me to translate parts of the coverage to English).

Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany) spoke of “the Tsipras-factor“ (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Wut der Straße gegen Wut der Märkte. June 16th, 2012), implying that the success of Syriza is not due to the discontent and desire for change in Greece, but rather due to the insinuated populism of its party leader Alex Tsipras. A similar argument was made by the UK edition of the Financial Times: “With his youthful good looks, open-neck designer shirts and BMW motorcycle, Mr Tsipras appears more like a playboy than a politician grimly awaiting the call of destiny” (Financial Times, The Loud-Mouthed Radical Awaits his Fate. June 15th, 2012). Syriza’s success, according to the Financial Times, is not due to the social problems that Greece is facing, but rather good looks and an insinuated playboy-like aura.

The left-liberal German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung also wrote: “Greece elects a new parliament on Sunday – and may decide on the future of the Euro-zone. [...] The world’s most important central banks are preparing themselves for heavy market turbulences after the fateful election in Greece. [...] Because the result of the parliamentary elections in Greece could seal the end of the Euro Greece in so far as the opponents of savings and reforms assert themselves“ (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Notenbanken rüsten sich gegen Panik an den Finanzmärkten. June 15th, 2012). The Greek Left is presented as opposing reforms, but in fact it is the only reformist opposing more of the same old neoliberal credo that gives money to banks and conducts public spending cuts that negatively affect the masses and increase their misery and precarious lives.

The Guardian wrote that Tsipras’ “critics say he will bring about Greece’s hasty and humiliating exit from the Euro” (The Guardian, Greece prepares for election: ‘we are going to the wall … things must change’. June 16th, 2012) and quoted Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the group of the Eurozone finance minsters: “’If the radical left wins [in Greece] – which cannot be ruled out – the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable’, Juncker told the Austrian newspaper Kurier. ‘I can only warn everyone against leaving the currency union. The internal cohesion of the euro zone would be in danger’” (The Guardian, World Bank warns that euro collapse could spark global crisis. June 16, 2012).

Whereas the left-liberal European press spoke of potential turbulences and unforeseeable consequences, conservative papers warned that an election success of Syriza could result in chaos in Greece, Europe, and the world: The conservative German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that if Syriza wins, the outcome could be “chaos in Greece, the bank accounts would be emptied, and without new money Greece could soon no longer import oil“ (FAZ, Was wäre, wenn in Griechenland…? June 15th, 2012). The conservative Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung argued: “Further turbulences, but also interventions by governments and central banks could however be expected, if there were an unclear election result and prolonged political agony or even a majority of a coalition, in which the left-wing Syriza dominated. [...] On the other hand, the troika cannot adopt the extreme demands such as the end of saving efforts or an expansion of budget deficits“ (NZZ, Weitere Runde im Wahlpoker. June 16th, 2012).

The European conservative press calls the questioning of budget cuts that affect the masses, and especially the poor and those who live and work under precarious conditions (precarious workers, the more than 20% unemployed in Greece, the more than 50% Greek unemployed in the age group of up to 25, the more than 23% Greek unemployed university graduates in the age group 25-39; data source: Eurostat), “extreme“. Is it extreme to demand better living conditions for the poor and precarious or is it extreme to use public funds for saving private banks, the rich, and companies that caused the crisis? (NZZ, Weitere Runde im Wahlpoker. June 16th, 2012)

The conservative Austrian newspaper Die Presse wrote that Syriza would be a “regressive force“ that would bring about a “relapse by 50 years“ and “the way to hell“ (Die Presse, Parlamentswahl: “Griechen zeichnen Weg zur Hölle vor“. June 16, 2012). The German edition of the Financial Times, more honestly than other conservative European newspapers did not try to indirectly manipulate the public opinion, but rather very directly said that it opposes Syriza and hailed Greek citizens in an article written both in German and Greek to vote for Nea Dimokratia: “On Sunday there will be a historic election that will also decide […] about the future of European monetary union. Therefore, the FTD makes an exception today. It gives an election recommendation for Greece, as otherwise only in the election of the Bundestag and the European Parliament. […] Dear Greeks, ensure clear political conditions. Vote bravely for the reform direction instead angrily against necessary, painful, structural changes. Only with parties that accept the conditions of international lenders will your country be able to keep the Euro. Resist the demagoguery of Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza. […] In order that it [Greece] is governed the right way, we recommend Nea Dimokratia”  (Financial Times Deutschland, Αντισταθείτε στo δημαγωγό – Widersteht den Demagogen. June 14th, 2012).

Only a few of the articles I read focused on trying to explain the popularity of Syriza by discussing the social conditions in Greece: “More and more people go without jobs, suicides increase, soup kitchens are getting more visitors and homelessness is visible. Businesses are closing, fewer can afford to consume, young people are fleeing the country and those who can move their savings to accounts abroad, are afraid of a transition to save for a transition to drachma” (Dagens Nyheter, Dystra greker till valurnorna. June 16th, 2012).

Interestingly, all of the analysed articles in the European mainstream press employed one of the worst journalistic practices, namely unbalanced sourcing. Not a single of them quoted or interviewed Tsipras, but rather they acted as mouthpieces of financial interests and various European governments (especially the German one), whose representatives were quoted.

So what happened in Greece and caused the crisis? According to European intellectuals like Jean Ziegler neoliberal politics in combination with speculation against Greece that deepened the crisis are at the heart of the problem: “Caramanlis’ right-wing government, which preceded the current Pasok (socialist) government, was a machine for systematically pillaging the country’s resources. As in a banana republic, Greece’s resources were privatized on a large scale even while tax evasion became massive. A reliable estimate by Swiss banks puts Greek tax-evading capitals in Swiss banks alone at 36 billion euro. In addition to this, some of the largest Greek ship-owners transferred their headquarters abroad: first among them, the biggest, namely Latsis, moved its own to Versoix near Geneva. The scandalous end-result of all this is that the onus of paying heavily for the State’s quasi-bankruptcy now falls on the Greek people, on Greek workers, while the ruling classes themselves have taken the precaution of transferring almost all their fortune abroad. The Greek public debt stands at 112% of the country’s GDP” (Jean Ziegler: Europe Is Playing Along With the IMF and Multinationals,

European politicians, governments, left-liberal and conservative media, as well as spokespersons of the capitalist class speak of the necessity of neoliberal austerity measures to save Greece. Their analysis is that not capitalist interests are at the heart of the crisis, but that the Greek have spent too much money and do not know how to balance budgets. The racist stereotype of lazy people in the South is frequently evoked in the discourse. The role of privatization and tax evasion by the rich and companies in Greece is downplayed or not discussed. Capitalism and corporate crimes are not considered as causes of the crisis. Instead more of the cause of the problem is suggested as solution: capitalism. The logic of the market, privatization, wage cuts, cuts of public expenditure for pensions, health care, and higher education are evoked. No they are not suggested, they are presented as the only alternative and as natural necessity. This is precisely how ideology works. The suggested solution is socialism for the rich – the bailout of banks – and the impoverishment of the mass of Greek citizens. That is exactly the logic of neoliberalism: take from the poor, give to corporations and the rich. This has also been the hegemonic response to the new world economic crisis in general in many countries.

European mainstream media simply ignore alternative voices that suggest a different path for Europe and Greece, namely the end of neoliberalism. Such voices exist, especially among intellectuals, but hardly make their way into the European mainstream media.

Intellectuals, among them Chantal Mouffe, Costas Douzinas,  Ernesto Laclau, Etienne Balibar, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Judith Butler, published a statement on the Greek situation: “We note that the Greek Left (Syriza and the Coalition of the Radical Left) have articulated the rights to work and to education, opposing those neo-liberal economic policies that increase precarity for growing numbers of people, establishing unemployment as a norm, decimating social and health services along with public education, and destroying the very conditions of economic production. We support the efforts of the people of Greece to wrest power from non-elected technocrats, and we oppose the reckless demonization of the current left coalition as unacceptable and malicious propaganda. The accusation currently circulated in the European press that the Left threatens to take Greece out of the Eurozone fails to see that the Left is struggling for a different Europe, one governed by and for the people, committed to the open political participation of all its inhabitants in creating equal conditions for work and for a livable life” (

Slavoj Žižek reminded that the extremists are actually the neoliberals who, inspired by thinkers like Hayek and the politics of Thatcher and Reagan, caused the crisis: “Syriza is not a bunch of dangerous ’extremists’. Syriza is here to bring pragmatic common sense, to clear the mess created by others. It is those who impose austerity measures that are dangerous dreamers – we are not dreamers, we are the awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare“ (,

The petition ”Stand with the Greek Left for a Democratic Europe!“ that can be signed here and was already signed by leading intellectuals such as Giorgio Agamben, Etienne Balibar, Jacques Bidet, Jean-Luc Nancy Antonio Negri, Jacques Ranciere, and Bernard Stiegler, states: “For the last two years, the European Union, in close collaboration with the IMF, has been working to strip the Greek people of its sovereignty. Under the pretext of stabilising public finances and modernising the economy, they have imposed a draconian system of austerity that has stifled economic activity, reduced the majority of the population to poverty, and demolished labor rights. This neo-liberal style ‘rectification’ programme has resulted in the liquidation of the economic infrastructure and the creation of mass unemployment. Achieving this required nothing less than a state of emergency not seen in Western Europe since the end of the Second World War: the state’s budget is dictated by the Troika, the Greek Parliament nothing more than a rubber stamp and the Constitution repeatedly by-passed. […] Faced with the perspective of a SYRIZA victory in the 17 June elections, a campaign of disinformation and intimidation has been launched both inside the country and at European level. Its aim is to prevent SYRIZA from being seen as a trustworthy political interlocutor. Every possible means is used to disqualify it, beginning with the application of the label ‘extremist’ to place it on a par with the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn. SYRIZA has been accused of every vice: fraud, double speak, and irresponsible and infantile demands. If we were to believe this vicious propaganda, itself based on a racist stigmatisation of the entire Greek people, SYRIZA poses a threat to freedom, the world economy and the European project itself. […] In every country, there are two politically and morally antithetical Europes in conflict: one which would dispossess the people to benefit the bankers and another which affirms the right of all to a life worthy of the name and that collectively gives itself the means to do so. Thus, what we want, together with the Greek voters and SYRIZA’s activists and leaders, is not the disappearance of Europe but its refoundation. It is ultra-liberalism that provokes the rise of nationalisms and the extreme right. The real saviours of the European idea are the supporters of openness, and of the participation of its citizens, the defenders of a Europe where popular sovereignty is not abolished but extended and shared. Yes – Athens is indeed the future of democracy in Europe and it is the fate of Europe that is at stake. By a strange irony of history, the Greeks, stigmatised and impoverished, are at the front line of our struggle for a common future. Let us listen to them, support them and defend them!“

Dominant forces portray the strengthened Left as the devil. This is not just ideology, it is also a sign of the fear that the hegemony of neoliberalism could crumble or suffer cracks, fissures, and holes, and be questioned. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote in September 1879: “But what is the secret of the red spectre, if not the bourgeoisie’s fear of the inevitable life-and-death struggle between itself and the proletariat“? The contemporary struggle is one between the neoliberal hegemony and potential alternatives. Today’s Greek elections are a decisive part of this conflict.

Is there an alternative to neoliberalism? “Human autonomy, the conscious management by people of their own lives. Capitalism –dd both private and bureaucratic – is the ultimate negation of this autonomy, and its crises stem from the fact that the system. necessarily creates this drive to autonomy, while simultaneously being compelled to suppress it“ (Cornelius Castoriadis).

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