Like a swan moving moving forward with relaxed confidence while paddling furiously beneath the surface, Syriza, the radical left coalition that could become the next government of Greece, is facing enormous challenges calmly but with intensifed activity.
In the palatial setting of the Greek parliament, Alexis Tsipras, the president of the radical left coalition Syriza’s parliamentary group, opens the first meeting of its 71 new deputies with his characteristic mix of cool and conviviality. At the same time, across Greece, other Syriza activists are organising neighbourhood assemblies, maintaining "solidarity kitchens" and bazaars, working in medical social centres, protecting immigrants against attacks from Golden Dawn, the new fascist party that won 7 per cent of votes in the election, creating new Syriza currents at the base of the trade unions – and kickstarting the transition from a coalition of 12 political organisations (and 1.6 million voters) to a new kind of political party.
In the midst of all this they still find time to cook, dance, debate and organise at a three-day anti-racist festival. This annual festival, now in its 16th year, was founded with 40 organisations to "intercept", in the words of Nicos Giannopolous, one of its driving forces, "the growth of nationalism and racism in the early nineties". In its aims, principles of organisation and the plural culture that it promotes, it symbolises the strength of the internationalist civil society that Syriza has both helped to build and of which it is in good part a product. Now more than 250 organisations and parties are involved in organising the event and more than 30,000 people of every age and ethnic origin pour into the still-public space of Goudi Park in Athens.
A common focus in all this activity is how to turn the electoral support for Syriza into a source of self-organised social power for change, as well as to build on it as the electoral path to government. When, on May 6, Syriza won 17 per cent of the vote in the general election, most activists were stunned. After all, three years ago the alliance had only just scraped past the 3 per cent barrier to parliamentary seats, with 4.7 per cent. By June 17, when the second election saw Syriza’s vote rise to 27 per cent, members had begun seriously to imagine their coalition in government.