SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras did the right thing in boycotting the formal assumption of the Greek presidency in Athens on Wednesday. The absence of the main opposition party’s leader was a resounding slap at the European establishment and a proud declaration of where things stand. This is Greece, the country where institutions exist in order to be subjected to our will or, at best, ignored. Here, too many of us believe that we have the right to do whatever we like, that we have reasons (which are always absolute and leave no room for compromise) to be above all institutions, all laws, all obligations, all rules of behavior. The words “improvisation” and “impetuosity” should be nailed onto the national herald.
Tsipras’s tactics have a long tradition. Noisy absences, loud condemnations and theatrical boycotts, always in the name of some purer procedure, are among the basic weapons of our politicians, union leaders and other eternal teenagers. It is no coincidence that “The Iliad” begins with the rage of Achilles and his sullen withdrawal from the battlefield at Troy because he was insulted by the king of the Greeks, Agamemnon. The tactic is born of the protagonist’s narcissism, because he knows best, and of the deep-rooted belief that when things do not go according to our wishes, this is because the game is rigged against us.
Indeed, very often in Greek history the game was rigged by local and foreign players. For good or ill. But this is no excuse for abdicating from the responsibility of taking part. Dictatorships must be opposed by all means, but democracy is supported by our participation – anything else undermines it, leaving it in the hands of determined minorities. The misfortunes suffered by our universities are tragic proof of where the apathy of the majority leads when this allows determined minorities to take charge.
Like apathy, the tactic of absence destroys institutions but also those who boycott them, because it leaves decisions to others. Those who call boycotts have to justify them by arguing that there is no room for compromise, that the process is so faulty that there is no choice but to destroy it. Boycotts, however, do not gain much, other than making their perpetrators wallow in the seductive charm of self-satisfaction at their moral superiority. This deepens existing rifts.
By boycotting the ceremony at the start of Greece’s EU presidency, Alexis Tsipras, who wants to be the next prime minister, showed what he thinks of the process and how he conducts himself. Whereas he shrinks from clashing with any of the many factions within his own party, when Europe and his country are concerned, he has no qualms about behaving like a student union boss – pushing an “all or nothing” agenda. While the country inches along, with its mistakes and successes, Tsipras struts about and shouts. He seems to believe that undermining reality will lead not to a dead end but to the reality that he demands.