The Greek elections in May and June of this year were a crushing disappointment for the country’s traditionally strong Left, as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis consolidated his hold over the electorate and will now govern with an absolute majority. Syriza, the leading party of the Left that governed the country until 2019, saw its result collapse to under 20 percent, prompting the resignation of its long-time leader, Alexis Tsipras. Only smaller parties like the Communists (KKE) and the disgraced Social Democrats of PASOK-KINAL saw their results improve, albeit only slightly.
Michalis Kritharidis is a practicing lawyer in Athens. He served as MeRA25’s spokesperson from 2019 to 2023, and the party’s candidate for parliament in Thessaloniki in the 2023 elections.
While Syriza seeks to build an effective parliamentary opposition in the month and years to come, another left-wing party will be forced to do so from the streets: MeRA25, the pan-European socialist movement led by Syriza’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Formed in opposition to Syriza’s capitulation to the European institutions in 2015, MeRA25, together with its European wing, DiEM25, campaigns for a transformation of the EU in the interests of working people, arguing that the only answer to the crisis of the EU can be “more Europe”, rather than less. This year it entered an electoral alliance with Popular Unity, another left-wing split from Syriza, in hopes of carving out a space between Syriza and the KKE. Ultimately, the wager failed, with the alliance missing the 3 percent threshold to enter parliament in both rounds of the election.
Where next for this pan-European socialist party? Will it be able to survive outside of parliament, and what are its prospects in next year’s European elections? The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Friedrich Burschel spoke with MeRA25 parliamentary candidate Michalis Kritharidis about building a pan-European Left in- and outside of the institutions.
MeRA25 faced a painful defeat in the recent elections, and is now out of the Greek parliament. Is the party history?
Of course not, we are still trying to reconstruct the whole radical Left in Greece by launching a dialogue initiative with all the political groups that were defeated after Syriza’s capitulation in 2015 but still believe there is an alternative. We continue to fight against the rise of neoliberal and far-right political forces not only in Greece, but across Europe. In light of that, the European elections next year are very crucial for the future of a pan-European — and Greek — Left.
Why do you think MeRA25 was unable to convince more people to support them, despite having conducted strong and principled opposition work in parliament?
We do not really know. It’s true that, unfortunately, we couldn’t communicate our programme and discuss it seriously with society, but we are not sure about the reasons why MeRA25 — and, in general, all left-wing parties — didn’t convince people, especially the youth and the “working class”, nowadays the “precarious”.
We as leftists have to talk about the real needs of our class, the working class.
Before the May elections, when the polls predicted — utterly inaccurately — a close race between New Democracy and Syriza, I personally but also many people expected that MeRA25 would be a welcome alternative to Syriza in order to strengthen the left-wing presence in parliament. Why didn’t this idea work out?
Because the leadership of Syriza adamantly refused to discuss a minimum left-wing programme before the elections, as MeRA25 proposed after its first congress in May 2022 — not only with Syriza, but also with the Communist Party (KKE) and PASOK-KINAL, as well the extra-parliamentary parties. Unfortunately, it was therefore impossible to build a coherent programme and a left-wing position after the elections within the three days defined by the Greek constitution.
A comrade of yours said most MeRA25 members agree that your message was too complicated, too thematically diverse, and hard to comprehend. Is that right?
Admittedly, we had a full plan for governing, despite being a “party of 3 percent”. Thus, it wasn’t easy to communicate and especially to clarify our political message. Furthermore, the mainstream media’s boycott of us contributed to this, such as when I and Kleonas Grigoriadis were boycotted by MEGA TV during the pre-election period.
I attended the kick-off event in the packed Gloria Theatre in the centre of Athens and was really astonished by how many young people were in the audience and, moreover, how balanced in gender it was. Who was your target group and why did it not really work out well?
Our target group was of course the younger people, and this was the reason that we worked hard on youth issues and the way they are communicated. Nevertheless, many young people unfortunately didn’t vote, and many others voted for New Democracy, maybe because of the “benefit policy” Mitsotakis suggested, or due to his and New Democracy’s really successful and well-financed social media campaign.
What about the face of MeRA25, Yanis Varoufakis — was he the wrong frontman, as was obviously the case with Tsipras for Syriza?
No, I don’t think so. Maybe we should have adopted a more “collective” style for the first election campaign, as we did in the second round, but Yanis is absolutely not the wrong public face. He symbolizes the “Athens Spring “, the European Spring of 2015, and the attempt to escape from this debt and austerity prison.
Do you see an obstacle for a left-wing “united front” in the traditional lack of thinking in coalitions in Greece? Could a coalition with Syriza or even PASOK-KINAL or the unthinkable KKE be an option for MeRA25?
There are many obstacles, the most significant of which is the acceptance on the part of Syriza and PASOK of the memorandum austerity policies in 2015 and 2010. On the other hand, KKE unfortunately prefers its “lonely path”, as our many attempts to hold talks with the KKE were met with the answer that we are an “embankment” of the capitalist system, while at the same time we have faced repeated KKE propaganda against our political beliefs. However, we are trying to reconstruct the whole radical Left in Greece, including of course people who are still trapped in today’s Syriza, insisting that this Syriza could confront the Greek oligarchy system.
We have to draft and communicate a new vision of democratic socialism for the twenty-first century.
More than 12 percent of voters in the Greek diaspora cast their ballot for MeRA25 — is that your European appeal?
Indeed, we have a great European appeal in addition to the fact that we are fighting these austerity policies across the European Union with our pan-European Democracy in Europe Movement, DiEM25, and we have also launched our MeRA25 parties in Germany and Italy. The EU project is far from the “left vision”, but the “left answer” in this EU project is not “less Europe” as the far right and the oligarchs wish, but “more Europe” for the people of the EU, not the bankers and financial markets. This is something that requires of course a fundamental transformation of the EU, not just some reforms.
Will MeRA25 contest the EU elections as a party, or as the Greek branch of DiEM25? Are national branches really needed?
In 2019, MeRA25 took part in the European Parliament election campaign as part of not just DiEM25, but as part of the “European Spring”, which was our pan-European electoral wing. This is something that we will probably repeat, as it’s the only way to have a common programme for the whole EU. In any case, it’s not about the need for national branches, but rather about the need for national parties as an essential part of pan-European political movement.
What is the European idea and momentum behind MeRA25 and DiEM25 — what is the “Europeanness” of this, if I may call it so, radical left-wing project?
The capitalists, the bankers, the oligarchs, and of course the fascists are actually united and internationalists. On the other hand, the “good people” — the workers, the youth, the poor people, the precarious, the feminists, the grassroots movements, the environmentalists, and the unions — are not united across Europe and the world, which is why we also launched Progressive International. We have to fight together against these similar pan-European neoliberal and far-right policies. This is our left-wing project for Greece, for the EU, and for the world today.
Many people argue that the European Left in times of crisis could present a new and more convincing narrative. The elections for the European Parliament are coming up in June 2024 — what could a convincing and exciting new left-wing narrative sound like?
It’s simple, we as leftists have to talk about the real needs of our class, the working class. We have to do so in “modern” terms, with a new language and new methods of struggle. We have to fight united and use up-to-date technological tools such as social media in such a way as to approach everyone who does not have much time for analysis and endless discussions in today’s “precarious” way of working and living. Finally, we of course have to draft and communicate a new vision of democratic socialism for the twenty-first century.