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

From the archive

  • Tariq Ali on Obama: ‘Imperialism with a human face’

    February 16, 2009

    ‘Imperialism with a human face’, an interview with Tariq Ali by Derrick O’Keefe for rabble.ca November 30, 2009

    With President Obama set to visit Ottawa this Thursday, Feb. 19, renowned writer and anti-war campaigner Tariq Ali shares his thoughts on the new administration’s foreign policy. In his recently published book, The Duel, Ali argues that expanding the war in Afghanistan will only sow more destruction in that long suffering Central Asian country, and aggravate the already volatile situation in Pakistan.

    In this interview with rabble.ca editor Derrick O’Keefe, Ali discusses the war, prospects for Palestine under Obama’s watch, the rising left-wing tide in Uncle Sam’s backyard and his thoughts on long-time UK resident Michael Ignatieff.

    Derrick O’Keefe: This week, President Obama makes his first official foreign visit – to Canada, where he will be welcomed in Ottawa by  …

  • ‘What does one do?’—Tariq Ali on the Pakistan floods for the LRB

    September 15, 2010

    ‘What does one do?’ by Tariq Ali for the London Review of Books, September 23, 2010

    As if everyday life in Pakistan weren’t dispiriting enough, last month the swift and turbulent Indus burst its banks and swathes of the country disappeared under water. Divine punishment, the poor said, but they were the ones who suffered. Allah rarely targets the rich. As the floods came and the country panicked, its president fled the bunker and went on a tour of inspection to France and Britain. read more

  • Tariq Ali talks to Russia Today about a prospective Saudi Arabian-Bahrain union

    May 24, 2012

    Following speculation in the Middle-East concerning discussions of a potential political union between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Tariq Ali spoke to Russia Today about the proposals, suggesting that Iranian concerns were not unfounded.

    “What Iranians say is not paranoid or far-fetched at all. Bahrain itself is a US naval base. They could easily, if they so desired, have a democratic regime there. But the problem with allowing democracy is that a democratic government could then tell the US to get out. So it suits the United States to have this tiny little despotism and a larger despotism in Saudi Arabia.”

    Visit Russia Today to read the article in full.