Alexis Tsipras grew into a political force inside the anti-memorandum movement and by siding with the so-called Indignant anti-austerity protesters who demonstrated in Syntagma Square in 2011. His vocal champions at the time are the same people who are putting the prime minister through the wringer today because of his position on the name talks with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Tsipras didn’t have enough words of praise for the likes of composer Mikis Theodorakis, constitutional law professor George Kassimatis and all the others who stood beside him back in the day. Now we have a classic case of “what goes around comes around.”
Sunday’s rally pointed to a powerful wave that has brought together disparate groups of people and politicians. Regardless of who said what, they marched on Syntagma Square, some because they care deeply about the name issue, others because they espouse extreme nationalist views, and others still because they simply want this government to go. Quite a few were there because they can’t face the prospect of another defeat.
The prime minister and his people are wrong to lump all the these people together and to dismiss the movement in a way that will ultimately attract more support to it. They are being incredibly stubborn about their stance too, possibly because they are afraid of the dimensions the movement could assume. Their artless handling of the issue is surprising for people who were so deft in such things.
There are those who believe that the wave will die down once the name issue is either settled or talks fail again, but the fact is that it is hard to control or predict how such phenomena play out. The crowds of hundreds of thousands who turned out in Thessaloniki and Athens are looking for a means of political expression, or, as a friend who was there said, “they are desperate people grabbing for a life vest.” Tsipras had thrown them that vest a few years ago and maybe he’s annoyed that he’s losing their support now.
The question now, therefore, is who will speak for these people. The head of the conservative opposition, New Democracy’s Kyriakos Mitsotakis, rightly judged that if he opposed them he would divide the country and his party. Maybe he will be able to tap into the momentum and use it to his advantage.
However, such phenomena tend to have an anti-systemic impetus and when it comes to people that feel deeply humiliated, that are extremely angry and often react emotionally, there is always a risk that the pendulum will swing to the other side. Just as Greece was about to return to some semblance of normalcy, it has sailed into uncharted waters again.