by Anne Applebaum
February 6, 2015
For those who want a happy ending or an easy moral to the story, the election of a new Greek government last month poses some interesting quandaries. Progressives of various kinds at first hailed what appeared to be a victory for the radical left-wing party Syriza, but they were caught off guard when Syriza instantly struck a coalition deal with the Independent Greeks, a radical right-wing party that Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a legendary European leftist, bluntly described as “ultranationalist” with a “homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist” leader.
Many of those who rooted for Syriza because of its campaign against the budget-cutting “austerity” program imposed on Greece by its creditors were also taken aback when other, more urgent priorities appeared on the new leaders’ agenda. Both parties turn out to have close connections to the authoritarian Russian government, and both have curious links to a notorious Russian fascist ideologue, Alexander Dugin, who among other things has called for a “genocide” of the “race of Ukrainian bastards.” Accordingly, the new Greek government’s first foreign policy act was not a protest against European economic policy but a protest against sanctions on Russia. Only then did it launch negotiations with its European creditors by announcing that it would refuse to negotiate with its European creditors.
In truth, Greece makes nonsense out of all of the political categories we normally use in Europe. Our notions of “left” and “right” are ancient, dating to the French revolution: In 1789, the nobility sat on the right side of the Assemblée Nationale, and the revolutionaries sat on the left. Since then, “people who want change” are supposedly leftist, and “conservatives” are rightist. This typology hasn’t really worked for a long time — there have been plenty of revolutionary right-wing movements, and an equal number of conservative leftists. But this language now obscures what is happening in Europe altogether.