Tariq Ali and the Future of European Citizenship

Tariq Ali in conversation with Nick Holdstock for Citizenship in Southeast Europe

N.H.: Maybe we should talk about what’s happening right now. Do you think the recent successes of the left in the European elections are just protest votes against the governments or can we see these as grounds for more general hope?

T.A.: Well, I think it varies from country to country. In France I think what we are seeing is the traditional anger of the electorate against incumbents. It doesn’t matter who is in power over the last few years, the story has been a bad one and the electorate decides OK, let’s vote them out. This happened in Britain when New Labour were voted out. It has happened in Greece, where PASOK was aware that New Democracy deliberately called an election because they wanted to be voted out, and it has happened in France where Sarkozy has narrowly been voted out, so these are sort of normal things that happen now in the European Union, where the extreme centre rules, in my opinion, and encompasses both centre left and centre right; so when people are fed up with centre right they vote centre left and vice versa. What is happening in Greece, however, is very different in character – it’s an attempt to break through this stranglehold of the extreme centre on politics and actually to reflect the will of the people. Hence, you see the collapse of the two major parties. Not a total collapse, but in the case of PASOK a very big collapse. And the emergence of SYRIZA, the small political organisation which has now got a huge electoral following. If there is an election in June – which I hope there will be – and they increase their following in formal government, that will be the first modest breakthrough for the left as such in European politics. And then if the Greeks default, that will be a huge business. If they default on the loan and implement parts of their programme. So that is, I think, the most significant thing because that also offers hope to other countries in similar positions, like Spain, like Portugal, like Ireland. They will think if the Greeks can do it, we can do it. We don’t need to be crushed by the EU monolith. And so it’s a very interesting development.

N.H.: Following on from that, I wonder if we can see what is happening in Greece and other places as many people reassessing what it means to be a citizen of a European country. A shift towards active citizenship, if you like.

T.A.: Well, I think the European Union promised a great deal and delivered very little. Voting rights seem to have become totally irrelevant because whoever you elected, it didn’t matter which party, they were carrying out the same elite policies. Greece has made a difference and this will inspire people. But in order for that to happen you do need to have political instruments and political parties. It can’t just happen by occupying public spaces. You know, you need politics for that. And so what we are witnessing in Greece is, in a way, the reassertion of the political and I think that will be extremely important in saying ‘yes, we are citizens; we don’t just have, you know, basic rights. We have political rights and we want to exercise these political rights and link them to social and economic rights.’

Read the full interview here