ATHENS – The message from the Greek election must not be misunderstood. The fact that more than 36% of the country's voters cast their ballots for Syriza, a far-left political party, does not mean that Greece has suddenly become communist. Rather, the electorate was expressing its indignation, despair, and wounded national pride.
Greece's European partners need to understand that the election result was an explicit rejection of five years of policies that have failed to deliver the expected results. Moreover, the burden of the crisis was distributed in an unjust way: most of the pain has been borne by the poor. And, with the “troika" (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) intervening in the most mundane decisions, a sense of bitterness and anger has permeated public opinion, even among staunch pro-Europeans.
It was this sense of lost national sovereignty that allowed Syriza to prevail. Humiliation was a force strong enough to unite leftists and nationalists, laying the groundwork for the creation of an unconventional post-election coalition between Syriza and the hard-right Independent Greeks party. So now, as talks over the country's debt burden and fiscal problems move forward, Greece's negotiating partners would do well to understand how Greeks will be viewing the process.
To be sure, Greece's politicians committed plenty of errors, most notably in failing to take ownership of the structural reform plan. But their interlocutors in Europe bear a large share of the blame as well. It is not only in Greece that anxiety and anger over Germany's misguided policies and arrogant approach are mounting.