Greece’s modern-day Golgotha
DIMITRIOS TRIANTAPHYLLOU*The Greek drama has reached such a breaking point that one might consider the word “drama” as inadequate to describe it as it is unfolding.
In this Greek saga, every day seems to be one from hell for its long-suffering public that has now been learning the hard way what it is like to live in a world of capital controls with closed banks and limited access to one’s already meagre income and pension. This new world is a direct result of the self-flagellating act of holding an incomprehensible referendum at the worst possible time with the direct consequence of pushing the country (almost) over the edge into the abyss of long-standing economic depression, social turmoil and unchartered political waters.
The calculation was part of a strategy that assumed that the rest of Europe and global markets would blink should Greece threaten to leave the eurozone. It was based on ideological obsessions and miscalculations that people power and direct democracy would change the course of history. The strategy has failed because the very construct of the post-war European order is based on the notion of liberal and representative democracies working together. The prime minister made a volte-face on the very night of the referendum as the results of the no vote became a reality by interpreting them as a vote in favor of Europe and the euro.
In the ensuing race to convince the country’s creditors that Greece wants to remain part of the European family and to bridge the ever-growing lack of trust gap between his government and its creditors as Greece puts forth its demands for a third bailout package, PM Alexis Tsipras replaced his finance minister and instructed his successor to draw up new bailout plans complete with obligations that Greece was ready to meet in order to get creditor approval. In the process, a new broad political consensus was built between the government and the three main pro-Europe opposition parties on the commitment to support the country’s European vocation and acquis.
Tsipras’ transformation implies a putting aside of ideological obsessions and a turn toward realism by recognizing that Greece’s present and future lies within Europe. His almost six-month tenure in office has been marked by a series of populist statements and tactics that propounded, inter alia, a number of alternatives – an alternative people’s power Europe which would break the shackles of the neoliberal, austerity-bound consensus imposed by Germany and the institutions (The European Commission, European Central Bank, and the more global IMF) on the rest, and enhanced cooperation with Russia, China, and the BRICS. The folly of this approach has not only given fodder to the extreme visions of the European far-right and far-left, such as those belonging to Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France and Nigel Farange and UKIP in the United Kingdom that threaten to undo the European project altogether, but also threatened the very identity with which an overwhelming majority of Greeks identify themselves with – their European one.
The deal that was reached in the early hours of July 13 for a third Greek bailout package after over 17 hours of negotiations does not mean that the suffering for Greece is anywhere near its end point. Now the home fronts, especially the national parliaments of Greece and its creditors, take center stage, as the deal needs to be ratified in order to stand. In the Greek context, the perennial concern of political competence comes to the fore for Tsipras, his party, and the pro-Europe political forces that strengthened the prime minister’s resolve and obligation to seal a deal.
This comes at a time when the government lost its parliamentary majority over the last weekend when the legislative chamber gave Tsipras his mandate to negotiate. His political credibility is at its highest with a larger segment of the population than ever before (in particular among those that did not vote for him and his government in the January elections or the recent referendum) while it has been damaged among his party base where many consider the deal to be a humiliating sell-out.
The test now for Tsipras and the country is for him to cement his transformation as a national, rational, and pro-Europe leader and to ensure that he has as wide a backing as necessary in support of the parliamentary bills that need to be approved that will commit the country to substantive reforms in return for immediate financial relief before the end of this week. The second priority is to mend fences between a divided public that has fallen victim to the polarizing effect of Syriza’s populism and does not trust government anymore.
Beyond that, the process of implementation stands as the major challenge in order to transform the country once and for all – but we are not quite there yet. Until that happens, Greece’s modern day Golgotha will continue for some time.
*Dimitrios Triantaphyllou is director of the Center for International and European Studies at Kadir Has University.