The voters as honourable people without grovelling before the tavern owner would pay the bill for a good evening out. What’s good is that the limits of what people do is defined by a policeman’s report. In Europe we do business with a country that has gleefully lived beyond its means, a country where as the time for reckoning came, elected as its representatives people who promised that there’s no need to save and that everyone will live as they have before. It’s clear that part of the blame lies with the creditors who for the sake of future profits from interest out of excess lending to the revellers, who pretended not to see that the pockets of the party-goers were full of holes and that the “real” financial statement in no way reflects reality. Some thought that there’d be a way to somehow wriggle out of paying, others a way to claim it all back.
When I wrote these lines the results of the Greek referendum had just been announced but there was still absolutely no clarity as to what the way forward will be. And the fact that there is no clarity is in itself the greatest evil into which the ruling Syriza party has thrust the country. The main purpose of any country is to create a distinct vision for its people because a person feels safer when tomorrow is more or less predictable. Having received the government’s mandate the rulers by their actions created chaos into which the entire country has descended.
Presiding over all of the disorder is Alexis Tsipras, the 41-year old prime minister. Greeks call him the “Pallikosi” – the boy intrepid who kneels before nobody. It with catchphrases and arguments more or less in this vain that Mr. Tsipras accounts for his decisions: by not kneeling before anybody they’ll remind Europe what democracy is and they will keep their dignity. It would be worth his while to write out a slogan with the Russian saying that it’s only cowards who pay back their debts. There’s much in Mr. Tsipras’s rhetoric that resonates with Vladimir Putin’s fiery statements of an ascendant Russia and its special spiritual mission which declares aggression against Ukraine.
The trouble is that Russia can hardly afford to support the 2 million inhabitants of the Crimea and the Donbass region with its 4 million who no longer have work. Where then will it digest Greece with its 11 million people? On the other hand, the EU will hardly agree to its member country falling into Russia’s clutches, something Greece’s NATO allies Turkey and the US most definitely don’t want. As the message shows, after Mr. Tsipras’s visit to St. Petersburg in June and his meeting with Mr. Putin, the Greek was promised nothing and his trip was dogged by negotiations with the EU creditors. However Mr. Putin would like to link nations of the Orthodox Church, a 315 billion euro debt is an unfathomable amount for him and an advantage for NATO, something which is silently acknowledged.
Seizure – a proven method
Mr. Tsipras came to politics directly from his school desk that is if what he is involved in can be called politics. He’s not the typical European left-wing politician who rose from either the echelons of academia or from a trade union movement. In 1991 Greece’s student youth were angry at education reforms which wiped out handouts such as free text books and the like. Young protesters occupied around 90 percent of the country’s educational institutions. One of the squads was headed by sixteen-year old Alexis Tsipras from the Communist Youth Union (older readers will understand what must be happening in the head of a person who by free will and not because a career becomes a member of the communist youth). The government backed down and cancelled the reforms and the wicked minister of education was sacked. That was Mr. Tsipras’s first experience of politics. The seizure of educational institutions has its own history. In 1973 students occupied the Athens Polytechnic.
The ruling military dictatorship sent in the troops and 24 students were killed. This clash contributed to the fact that the next year the military junta itself backed down, allowing democratic elections. The military ruled Greece from 1967 when it took power in order to prevent leanings toward the Soviets. In Yalta in 1945 the allies divided up the world so that we weren’t allowed into Europe. Although Lithuanians fought in the forests for that right, the Greeks were permitted a life in Europe for which no effort was required. Without experiencing first hand exactly what the Soviet paradise was, they remained under the full illusion about that part of the world where equality and justice allegedly flourished and where the real enemies of the working people were imprisoned in gulags.
Greece has managed to get everywhere with no effort. NATO took on Greece because of its strategic position even though it was in conflict with its neighbour and fellow-member Turkey which prohibited articles of association. Greece was taken into the EU as part of a fully-fledged Europe even though economically it was on a much poorer level and made no reforms. It was accepted into the Eurozone with an advance payment although the required statistics were faked. The mollycoddled child that is Greece grew up and in its house even more errant and spoilt schoolchildren dictated fashion. After the student victims at the Athens Technikon no other government dared any brutal crackdown on rebels. The fundamental method of young leftist Greeks became “katalypsi” – seizure. For example, students were dissatisfied with the quality of their food handouts and so and seized auditoriums declaring that there will be no lectures until their demands were met and they sat there spraying the walls with graffiti and toting red banners. Every year Greek universities spend approximately 12 percent of their budget on repairing buildings and facilities after student riots. Using their sacred autonomous right, students even grew marijuana on the grounds of the University of Crete and that was one of at least several cases where the police intervened to stop something illegal.
From rioter to prime minister
It was in this milieu that Alexis Tsipras, the communist youth matured and learned. When the Greek Communist Party contracted and ended up without its subsidies from the defunct USSR, he joined Synapismos, a group founded by former communists and which wanted to revive leftist popularity and in 2000 he became the youth leader of Synaspismos. Without ‘katalypsi’ he took part in antiglobalisation demonstrations, turning his attention especially to those with a propensity for violence. The first leader of the party left in 2003 due to her own tendencies toward violence. After graduating from Athens Technical University the young construction engineer along with his cousin founded a small company which officially from 2006 to 2007 earned 20 000 euro. If we were to divide the earnings between the two founders the amount would be almost two times lower than Greek unemployment benefits. Either they just didn’t make it or the declared amount didn’t reflect the true income.
Whatever happened, Mr. Tsipras decided that politics were better and so in 2006 he ran in the Athens mayoral elections. After organising free football matches between former football stars and the local homeless he managed to get 11 percent of the vote in Athens when his party in Greece had 4 to 5 percent. In 2008 party leader and Mr. Tsipras’s political mentor Alekos Alvanos ceded his party post to Mr. Tsipras who then proceeded to form the leftist coalition ‘Syriza’ to which all manner of Trotskyites, raving about world revolution, Marxists, overstayers from the 19th century, rabid feminists and the like flocked. Seeing that his project wasn’t going badly at all Mr. Tsipras without any sentiment managed to oust his political godfather and become the leader of ‘Syriza’. He reached a new echelon when he became a member of parliament in 2009. When Greece received its first bail out in 2011, he returned nostalgically with the slogan “The 1973 junta is not dead”. Mr. Tsipras mounted his usual hobby horse and rode into the post of prime minister - all of his experience of learning to seize and demand still there.
It was these means and not negotiation that always brought him success. Now, face to face with the enemy between seized auditoriums and a stingy rector, between a riotous street and an anti-populist government he was placed in the world arena: seized Greece and parsimonious international creditors. If this prime minister couldn’t gather up money in the budget for pensions, it was international capitalism that was to blame and which was besieging a Greece voting for red flags. What was good was Mr. Tsipras’s hope that the “professors and rectors” from the EU will ultimately concede if he could just hold his seized buildings for long enough. He hardly considered with the like-minded as to what would remain of those buildings and who would repair them. It wasn’t difficult stopping the Greek banks from operating but putting them back into operation is not like switching on a light bulb.
Having got the bill for their spending spree the Greeks hope to hear what they want to hear. Mr. Tsipras’s recipe is simple: they need money so that they can continue to live in the way that they’re accustomed to, and because of a spendthrift fun life like that the Greek economy will grow. It’s not ideas on how to restructure bankrupt Greece that drives the Greek government but rather the desire to squeeze as much as they can out of the EU. When the EU refused to give money without any obligations the finance minister called it a terrorist and proudly exclaimed that Greeks don’t need money without obligations.
No understanding or desire to understand
As EU Commission Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said Mr. Tsipras lied to the Greek people, deceived the negotiators and rejected agreements that had already been reached. It can be that recent changes in opinion are linked to a lack of competence which outweighs when whispered in your ear. It should be known that this is a feature of Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius but he is just as popular as his Greek colleague. Mr. Tsipras’s constant changes of mind have exasperated serious politicians so that that head of the IMF Christine Lagarde remarked that negotiations are possible when there are adults and not children in the room. As the clock ticked toward the debt payment deadline Mr. Tsipras expressed in a letter to the creditors that he agrees with all the requirements except several. Yet that same afternoon he dumbfounded all by saying that there would be a referendum. As soon as he rejected Greece’s recovery and repayment schedule it ceased to be acceptable and because of that rejected proposal he announced a referendum.
The program that the Greeks voted for is a rather complicated ten-page document about finances, loans and tax policy and it’s unlikely that those who voted understand what those proposals mean for the economy. The compilers of the document want to know how Greece is going to pull itself out of the hole and be able to pay back its debt. Yet the argument which is more acceptable to all that Greece has recuperated and not collapsed is unconvincing to the Greeks themselves because gradual payback of a debt would be required from someone who is recuperating. Christian Democrat Angela Merkel who maintains a hard line when it comes to debtors is pictured in Greece with a Hitler moustache but her coalition partner, the Social democrat Sigmar Gabriel was the first to remark that Alexis Tsipras has caused the biggest crisis in the EU since the first Integration Agreement of 1957. Those ruling Germany are unanimous in that adhering to the rules of the euro zone are more important than Greece’s contentment and François Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker are asking the Greeks to come to their senses.
It seems that words are not enough and what’s needed is a cold shower. This can all be avoided if voters would at least think carefully if sweet promises can be kept and what will happen if someone seriously started keeping them. One third of Lithuania voted for a 1 509 LT minimum wage which would have damaged a sustainable economy. Fortunately however a sizable number of politicians are no longer angry at the reality. The complex issue of the construction of the Visaginas Nuclear Power Plant which demanded similar coverage, was in the style of Mr. Tsipras turned into a referendum and left to decay. The results of the election to bring a colourful derivative “The Way of Courage” to the Seimas when the ratings of several big-mouthed politicians proposed referendums to suit their own issues shows we’re not far off from the Greek nightmare. For the time being though common sense prevails. The implosion of Greece can serve as a reminder for Lithuanian voters as to what happens when useless and beautiful words enchant.