Alexis Tsipras
Greece's new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is all smiles at present - but real tests are only just beginning.Reuters

Haridimos Tsoukas, an academic who divides his time between Greece and the UK, recently stood for election to the Greek parliament with a new liberal social democratic party, To Potami (The River).

Here he talks us through his experience of Greek's chaotic corridors of power, and reveals his grave fears for his native land.

I decided to stand for election after helping The River when the party founded a year ago. We wanted to create some middle space between the conservative-led coalition of New Democracy and the Socialists (Pasok), and the radical left Syriza party on the other hand. A major problem in Greek politics is the fragmentation of the centre; you have very little between the conservatives and the radical left.

We wanted to make people realise that although they were legitimately angry with the previous government, the New Democracy-Pasok government, they should do better than simply channel their anger into support for neo-nazi Golden Dawn or extreme parties. We set ourselves up as a party that would express that kind of anger but in a creative and positive way. We want to channel people's emotions in a way that will be positive for the country.

We hoped to get enough votes to be a partner in a post-election coalition. In the end we got slightly more than 6% of the vote, which gave us 17 seats. It was a good start, but, strangely, Syriza preferred to go into coalition with the extreme right-wing party, the Independent Greeks. I personally came third in my constituency, with 7% of the vote.

The constituency I contested has traditionally been very conservative, where the right-wing was in control, but this time Syriza won. It's mostly people in the primary sector, lower middle-class, agricultural workers and public sector employees. These people tended to be conservative so when you see them turning to the other side, the radical left, something important is happening.

I saw anger, desperation, and hopelessness

During the campaign I went around the villages in my constituency, talking to people. I saw anger, and desperation, and hopelessness, on the part of many people. I want people in northern Europe to understand that the Syriza government has been elected on precisely that kind of anger and hopefulness, borne of harsh austerity.

I met several people, in their 30s and 40s , who have been unemployed for the last two or three years, with no prospect of finding a job in the next few years. These people are jobless, they're uninsured, they can't start a family. They're in a social vacuum and they feel theie lives are wasted. I came across this time and again.

I was trying to explain that it's very legitimate to feel angry. The country has followed a very bad path for the past four decades (not just in the last six years of the bailout) and austerity made it far worse. But if we are to get out of this, I argued, we must release this anger in a constructive way, and use it as a force for change, rather than shaking fists or turning to the political extremes.

greece austerity
Protests against austerity measures in Athens, June 28, 2011.Reuters

In a sense, I agree with Syriza. Austerity doesn't work, and the creditors has been too harsh. I've witnessed it myself, and the statistics speak for its ineffectiveness. In a country with 26% unemployment, 50% youth unemployment, a debt of 174% of GDP, this bailout programme simply doesn't work. Whatever Mr Schauble is saying, whatever the European heads of state are saying, we have seen that this doesn't work, and the Greek government is right to put it at the centre of their agenda.

But, when you look at the new government's policies, the Greek left is inhabiting a kind of fantasy world. Their ideas make no sense, like stopping privatisations, increasing state expenditure, reversing reforms in education.

Worse, they aren't willing to address the institutional flaws of the country, the problems which led to the bailout crisis in the first place. The Troika made the assumption they were dealing with an ordinary European state, but the Greek state is no ordinary state. It is hugely inefficient, extremely ineffective, and it is deeply corrupt.

The biggest single problem is the politicisation of the civil service, which is used by whatever party gains power to do its own thing. You cannot do anything without a robust civil service, but ours is bloated and hugely politicised, with no institutional memory.

I think the majority of Greek people do agree on the institutional flaws of the country, but at the same time people are trapped: they are in the system and they have to work within it. If I know, for example, that to get a bed in the hospital I need to bribe the doctors, probably I will do it. To change this mindset I need to see people who will look after the public interest, who will be credible and visibly committed to change.

Unfortunately, Alexis Tsipras is not one of those people. He is more a man of soundbites than substance, and he has no vision for radical reform of the civil service. And his coalition with the Independent Greeks won't work.

The only thing that unites these parties, the radical left and the far right, is their opposition to the bailout agreement. They have little else in common, and that friction will show itself every time they try to do something serious. The far-right party is anti-European, xenophobic, and homophobic, and I cannot see they have anything shared ground with the radical left. It is an opportunistic alignment, and I expect trouble.

The idea of Greece repaying its debts is a pipe dream

We have a various test by the end of this month, 28 February, when the extension to the bailout programme expires. The government has to take a very important decision. If the ECB deprives access to emergency funding, Greece may have no option but to leave the Euro. That is a test for the entire stability of the country and the eurozone. If Greece does not leave the Euro, the Eurozone members are going to insist on liberalsing reforms, and I cannot conceive the radical left and the far right really enacting such reforms.

At present, the idea of Greece repaying its debt is a pipe dream. Unless there is debt relief, I cannot see how the country can possibly ever repay its debt. This is where I find German intransigence really troubling. The Germans insist on sticking to the rules but they refuse to look at reality. Greece is a country in social ruins, with the highest-ever unemployment in Europe, the only analogy you can find is America in the 30s.

greece golden dawn
Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn could seize on the uncertainty gripping the country.AFP

There are about four million Greeks owing money to the government, to the Inland Revenue and the pension funds, because they cannot pay the money back. It is totally unsustainable. The pension system will collapse the way it's going - tax revenues are dropping.

Will Greece leave the Eurozone? It's hard to say, I think it's 50:50 at present, although there are strong incentives for the country to stay in. It all depends on how Tsipras and the Germans handle this.

In terms of domestic politics, we've seen the Greek finance minister describe his country as being like Germany just before the Nazis took power. The analogy is, unfortunately, partly correct; like the Weimar republic, we are seeing the rise of the extremes, the economy is collapsing, and we are seeing the rise of neo-Nazis.

It won't be the Nazis taking over, but given that a neo-Nazi party is currently the third-biggest in the Greek Parliament, it's troubling. If this instability carries on, people will become angrier, and they will want to vent their anger. It is important for the country to stand economically on its feet and gain political stability. It will not be easy and inspiring leadership is required.