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

  • ‘Remembering Edward Said’

    November 1, 2003

    ‘Remembering Edward Said’ by Tariq Ali for New Left Review, Nov-Dec 2003

    Edward Said was a longstanding friend and comrade. We first met in 1972, at a seminar in New York. Even in those turbulent times, one of the features that distinguished him from the rest of us was his immaculate dress sense: everything was meticulously chosen, down to the socks. It is almost impossible to visualize him any other way. At a conference in his honour in Beirut in 1997, Edward insisted on accompanying Elias Khoury and myself for a swim. As he walked out in his swimming trunks, I asked why the towel did not match. ‘When in Rome’, he replied, airily; but that evening, as he read an extract from the Arabic manuscript of his memoir Out of Place, his attire was faultless. It remained  …

  • Tariq Ali’s speech at the National Demonstration for Gaza on 8th August, London.

    August 13, 2014

    Here is a video of Tariq Ali’s speech at the largest UK demonstration for Gaza on 8th August, London.

  • ‘Labour in the Dark: The Spirit of Blair Has Not Been Exorcized Yet’

    August 2, 2010

    ‘Labour in the Dark’, Tariq Ali interviewed by Anabel Loyd for the Calcutta Telegraph, August 2, 2010

    Reportedly a regular visitor to Ralph Miliband’s house in Primrose Hill, London, with other well-known left-wing thinkers and activists in the 1970s, Tariq Ali is pessimistic at the prospect of either of the ‘brilliant’ Miliband offspring leading the Labour Party. In his view, the elder, David, is so tarred with the New Labour—Blairite —brush as to be unable to build an alternative image for the party, possibly one reverting more to old Labour roots, while he writes off younger brother, Ed, as weak and indecisive. David was closely associated with all the Blairite policies, and any hint of Labour change currently being touted by the brothers is, he feels, pure pretence, whatever their intellectual socialist background.

    As for the other leadership  …

  • Tariq Ali’s speech at the National Demonstration for Gaza on 8th August, London.

    August 13, 2014

    Here is a video of Tariq Ali’s speech at the largest UK demonstration for Gaza on 8th August, London.

  • ‘Pakistan at Sixty’

    October 4, 2007

    ‘Pakistan at Sixty’ by Tariq Ali for The London Review of Books, October 4, 2007

    Pakistan is best avoided in August, when the rains come and transform the plains into a huge steam bath. When I lived there we fled to the mountains, but this year I stayed put. The real killer is the humidity. Relief arrives in short bursts: a sudden stillness followed by the darkening of the sky, thunderclaps like distant bombs and then the hard rain. Rivers and tributaries quickly overflow; flash floods make cities impassable. Sewage runs through slums and posh neighbourhoods alike. Even if you go straight from air-conditioned room to air-conditioned car you can’t completely escape the smell. In August sixty years ago, Pakistan was separated from the subcontinent. This summer, as power appeared to be draining away from Pervez Musharraf, the  …