Judges leave the building of the Council of State in Athens, late Wednesday.
The government’s frustration is great and its reaction dangerous. The Council of State verdict that the law auctioning TV licenses is unconstitutional annuls a measure that Alexis Tsipras’s government had made a central part of its policy. The fight against what it described as corruption and the “oligarchy” was a policy of its own choosing, not something demanded by creditors or by economic necessity, it was a counterweight to the humiliation of the forced reversal of all the false promises that had brought it to power. With this law, the ruling party was declaring that it remained radical, that it did not compromise, that it would shape public life and society just as it wanted. These were a lot of eggs for one basket.
The Council of State’s ruling will turn out to be either a station on SYRIZA’s road to maturity or a clash with reality from which the party will not recover. The need to accept creditors’ terms was the first painful contact with reality, the Council of State verdict the second. SYRIZA passed the first test with the support of voters who still felt disgust at the old system that had ruled the country; the second test will be more difficult, as the government sees it as a defeat to that very system and not, as the government had stressed, the start of a new regime.
Government spokesperson Olga Gerovasili’s immediate reaction showed that SYRIZA had not prepared itself to handle a possible negative verdict in a moderate way. Her statements were highly emotional and vengeful: She condemned the judges for finding bailout agreements constitutional, for what she termed the country’s destruction, for children that would go hungry, for hospital patients being without nurses, and so on.
This attack on the guardians of the Constitution betrays both a disturbing immaturity and an even more frightening cynicism. It shows that the government will invest more in tension and division than try to implement what Tsipras promised in his first speech in Parliament after his election – full compliance with the Constitution. SYRIZA is at a crossroads: Will it stick to aimless activism or will it choose the road of responsibility, making an effort to manage a country with serious problems, to the benefit of all its people?
Unfortunately, it is likely that the government will seek solace in paranoia. So far, leading members have shown that they prefer confrontation to consensus. They are children of a political culture that idolizes conflict and feeds off enmity, that sees compromise as defeat. Of course, opposition parties do all they can to enhance this dark vision.
Embracing conflict is healthy and necessary when the threat is from abroad, as today’s anniversary of Greece’s entry into World War II reminds us. But when the “enemy” comprises our own democratic institutions and domestic political rivals, when our politicians refuse to mature, then we remain condemned to division and perpetual self-destruction.