Greeks have a strong penchant for conspiracy theories. Sure, it is not our exclusive prerogative. Developments across the globe, from neighboring Italy to the US under the Trump administration, make clear that reason and prudence are receding.
I recently took a ride with a chatty taxi driver. After he explained to me why he twice voted for Alexis Tsipras and why he voted “no” in Greece’s 2015 bailout referendum, he then started to take apart the country’s leftist prime minister. “He is just a delivery guy,” he said. I asked him what he meant by that, and he responded: “Well, let’s say that the foreign creditors call up to ask for further cuts to pensions. He will quickly deliver. After that, they demand reductions to salaries. Again, Tsipras will deliver. But you can’t just deliver when they’re asking for a concession on the ‘Macedonia’ name issue. You just can’t,” the cabbie said.
At first I thought he was funny. But I soon started to think about how much our brains have been hijacked by this way of thinking. We’ve always liked to see conspiracies and treachery everywhere. However, in the years of the anti-bailout conditioning, the distorted segment of our modern Greek brain grew to gigantic proportions.
To be fair, Tsipras and his government partners have done all they can to educate people to think this way. In a way, the taxi driver is one of their creations. And despite their spectacular somersault, or “kolotoumba,” they never offered an apology for all the things they said in the past.
Now that the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is coming to the fore, we must all be cautious. I am concerned that some people may, for the first time, expect that a national issue of this sort can be linked to Greece’s talks with the lenders. In other words, they might expect that by settling the dispute they can expect to get different treatment from Berlin or Brussels. So far, no such idea has been put forward and this is why it requires caution.
In the 1990s, a time when we could have solved the issue by turning FYROM into a satellite state by means of economic expansion, we let our passions cloud our better judgment. This time, it’s better that we turn a page in the way we deal with and discuss national issues. I know that’s hard to do. Greeks feel humiliated after all the years of crisis and outside supervision. They feel that they have been deprived of their dignity. They find it hard that they are being made to make concessions before a weaker and smaller neighbor. It’s the final straw of sorts. This is where we now stand. The name issue could spell Tsipras’s political end.
Meanwhile, a responsible opposition has the right to object to any solution, but they must help make sure that the country does not turn into a battlefield with resounding cries against “traitors” and “nationalists.” Such division has come with a hefty price in the past.