In December of last year, COVID-19 took the life of one of Canada’s most widely respected public intellectuals, Leo Panitch. Leo was a researcher, teacher and author whose work had a profound impact on the thinking of democratic socialists around the world.
One of the countries in which Leo took a passionate interest, and in which he exercised considerable influence among leftists, was Greece. It was in that context that I myself first came to know Leo personally. In 2012, I began to report regularly for The Real News Network on the financial and austerity crisis in Greece. In 2015, following years of punishing austerity demanded by Greece’s creditors, Greek voters delivered a victory to an anti-austerity, radically left political party known as Syriza.
From the moment of its historic victory, however, Syriza was confronted by creditors demanding even harsher forms of austerity than its predecessor governments had agreed to implement. In the summer of 2015, Syriza leader and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decided to hold a referendum on austerity. Despite threats from Eurozone member states that Greece would be expelled from the Eurozone if its people voted against the harsh measures being demanded by Greece’s troika of creditors, Greek voters overwhelmingly to reject those demands. Within hours of that vote, however, Taipras capitulated to the vast majority of their demands, precipitating the resignation of Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and, later, a number of the more radical Syriza MPs.
Within days of those events, I traveled to Athens to attend a conference entitled Democracy Rising, held at the Athens law school. It was there that I first got to know Leo well. Although Leo was profoundly opposed to the demands of Greece’s creditors, he expressed sympathy to the conference participants for the plight of Syriza’s leadership and offered insights on how Syriza might make the best of an exceedingly difficult dilemma.
I had the opportunity to chat with Michael Spourdalakis to discuss Leo’s long-standing affection for Greece and his close ties to Greek leftists. Michael Spourdalakis is a professor of political sociology and the Director at the Laboratory of Political Communication and Media Information at the University of Athens. Michael studied under Leo in Canada.
Leo and Michael were long-time friends and colleagues until Leo’s passing late last year.
Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer, journalist, activist and member of the Canadian Dimension coordinating committee. He was a candidate in the federal Greens’ leadership race, and finished second with just over 10,000 votes.