The Dark Side of Syriza

OXFORD – On January 25, Greece voted decisively for change, removing from power the two political parties – New Democracy and Pasok – that have ruled the country in one form or another since the restoration of democracy in 1974. It was past time that voters did so.

Over the last four decades, Greece's leaders created a system of clientelism that transformed the country into the most unequal and socially unjust society in the European Union. Pasok, Greece's traditional party of the left, is mired in scandal and seems to have reached the end of the line, receiving just 4.6% of the vote.

The trouble is that, in voting for change, Greek voters took a leap into the dark. The newly elected prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, advocates debt relief and the abandonment of austerity – goals that have broad popular support. And many on the European left are rejoicing at Tsipras's outspoken rejection of German-imposed austerity as the only policy for Europe's troubled economies. But, though Tsipras and his party may be new, the other ideas that they espouse are old – and far from ideal for Greece or Europe.

Neither Tsipras nor his party, Syriza, is tainted by their predecessors' disastrous policies. This should be a good thing, as it could enable Europe's leaders to understand at last that what is at stake in Greece is the fate of a people, not the survival of a failed political class. But Tsipras's first decisions have antagonized the EU and created a climate of confrontation.