What’s the Greek word for self-deception?
Just two days before the Greek elections on Jan. 25 that brought Alexis Tsipras to power, the title of this column was “What’s the Greek word for suicide?” (Hürriyet Daily News, Jan. 23, 2015.) From that column:
“Tsipras embodies all the vices of the typical Greek demagogue: He tells a nation that feels defeated exactly what it wants to hear, in defiance of logic … But many [Greek] voters do not seem to be concerned with such puzzles, nor with logic. They are tempted to vote for the politician who promises them the impossible … But Tsipras will want to avoid having to escape by helicopters from the roof of some government building, so he won’t revert to the drachma.”
Having won the vote on Jan. 25, Mr. Tsipras, leader of the coalition of the radical left, or Syriza party, rushed to sign a coalition deal with the archaically nationalist Pavlos Kammenos and appointed him defense minister. In his campaign for a “No” [to a bailout deal] in Sunday’s referendum, Mr. Tsipras’s (un)natural ally was the Greek neo-Nazi party, Hrisi Avgi, or Golden Dawn.
Yet this columnist was still curious as to why thousands of Greeks poured into the Syntagma Square in Athens to celebrate the second most important “No” in their country’s modern history: The first to the threat of German occupation during World War II, and the second to European creditors led by Germany. National dignity? When the country is sadly drifting into unchartered waters? With banks shut for a week? With long queues in front of ATMs, now part of daily life, from which one can only theoretically withdraw up to 60 euros per day? Even that looks like a blatant lie.
“No ATM has 20s, only 50s; so when you try to withdraw 60 it tells you that that amount isn’t possible; you’re forced to try with 50; which you get if the machine has been re-supplied with bills,” a Greek friend wrote from an island.
Sadly, the Greeks today look dignity- and ideology-blind. They forgot that in December at least the banks were functioning, they could withdraw their own money from the banks and reverting to the drachma was not an option. They speak of dignity. While the victorious Mr. Tsipras is packing up to meet with “the bloody Europeans” to salvage his country from the edge of a cliff, by begging for a more lenient or lenient-looking bailout deal. What, by the way, is the Greek word for dignity?
(Please note that this article was sent to print before any meeting Mr. Tsipras made with the eurozone.)
What would Mr. Tsipras and his fans at Syntagma Square celebrate if he fails to deliver on his promise to secure a better bailout deal from Europe where the heavyweights may not be in a mood to offer Greece more generous terms? Bitter abandonment and hopelessness but the dignity of a quasi-shut down country?
Fortunately, conventional European wisdom suggests that the game may not be over. Whatever deal Mr. Tsipras will win in Europe, he and his ideology-blind supporters will portray it as victory. More Greeks will pour into Syntagma Square to celebrate – because, whatever the deal, it will have been secured by a radical leftist: so it cannot be bad. Mr. Tsipras hopefully will make a hero’s comeback home.
In reality, Mr. Tsipras may have to agree to terms tougher than what the Greeks rejected at Sunday’s referendum. That, too, would be something to celebrate! After all, Mr. Tsipras, for now, will have avoided the Albanization of Greece.
In a speech in Heraklion, the largest city on Crete, before the Jan. 25 election, Mr. Tsipras – trying to flatter his Cretan audience – said: “We will beat the drums, and they [the markets] will dance! Or, since I am in Crete, we will play the [Cretan] lyre, and they will dance the [Cretan dance] pentozali!”
As he packs up his suitcase for Europe, Mr. Tsipras should remember to take his drums and lyre so that his European counterparts can dance the Cretan pentozali around the negotiating table.