Capitulation leaves Tsipras unscathed

Capitulation leaves Tsipras unscathed

“He is the age of my son! He was the only one who stood against those monsters in Europe, look how tired he looks; he does not smile any longer. You will see; he will be a national leader. We have not had any for many, many years! ” 

Such an emotional outburst would not have surprised me if it had taken place in Greece these days. But it came from a Rum lady (a Greek-Orthodox Turkish citizen) whom I visited in one of the Princess Islands last weekend. She and her husband were among the last Rums who left Istanbul for a new life in Athens in the mid-eighties, yet rushed back to their homeland when close to retirement, after the crisis broke out in Greece in 2010. Since then, life on the Princess Islands is much nicer than in their small flat in Athens, and the hard memories of their exit from Turkey by now have been put aside to make room for more immediate hardships.

I mention this lady’s case for two reasons: first, because she is a Rum and a relatively recent resident in Greece, hence expected to have a distant look at Greek politics; and second, because she was a supporter of the conservative New Democracy Party, until she was enchanted by Tsipras.

But such an emotional support cannot possibly be justified solely by the performance of the Alexis Tsipras government, who took the reins of the country after five years of austerity. From the start, they lacked professionalism and willpower, and miscalculated the ruthlessness of their opponents both at home and in Europe. They failed to prepare the public for the worst case scenario, a Grexit, and did not know what to do if it ever came. So when the last card, the Grexit one, was shown by the Europeans, Tsipras had to surrender to a humiliating compromise that will put his country into another impossible austerity straightjacket and his party in a terrible ideological dilemma.  

A swift government reshuffle last weekend got rid of several ministers who voted against the government during the first debate for a new agreement in the parliament. The core of the old members remains yet the new team looks weak and tired, a product of compromise with Syriza’s small nationalist coalition partner. Is it going to last or are early elections in sight for autumn? Is Syriza going to last as a party or will it break into pieces? Is Alexis Tsipras himself going to mutate from the “first leftist prime minister” to a “center leftist prime minister” heading which party? Or perhaps which parties?     

Tsipras may have proven a weak leftist player in Brussels but still has one big advantage against his opponents. He has never been part of a corrupt political-economic establishment that exhausted Greece for the last four decades. He accepts his mistakes and admits his dilemmas. He may be the only politician who a furious society does not deeply resent and blame.  Even in this humiliating and difficult position after bowing to Brussels, his popularity remains undiminished. Greeks consider him by far (45 percent, according to a national poll by QED Market Research) the most able politician to lead the country out of crisis while a crushing 72 percent (Kapa Research) believes that the “horrific” agreement that he brought, was necessary, with almost half of the respondents blaming the Europeans for its ferocity and less than half on the mistakes and delays of the present Greek government. Even if there was a new government, even a government coalition, almost 70 percent would want Alexis Tsipras at the head of it.

If all goes according to plan, Greek banks will open as of today, a sign of a return to normality, although the capital controls will remain for some time more. Negotiations in Brussels will finalize the new agreement and billions of euros will be directed to Greece under strict rules. The only way that Tsipras can survive now is by a fiercely conducted anti-corruption campaign, which will strengthen his position at home, and by countering the new recessionary measures with actions for economic growth. Only with quick results may he sustain his popularity and his position. As for the status of a “national leader,” he still needs to wait.