Greece’s bailout exit was hailed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday as a “day of redemption” and the dawn of a “new era” in a speech that was widely seen as divisive.
In a televised address from Ithaca, Tsipras likened Greece’s journey through eight years of bailouts to a modern-day Odyssey, making multiple references to Homer’s tale of Odysseus and his arduous 10-year journey home to the Ionian island after the Trojan War.
“We have left the Symplegades behind,” he proclaimed, alluding to the mythological rocks at the Bosporus that crushed vessels navigating the straits. “The bailouts of recession, austerity and social desertification are finally over,” he said. He added that “Greece has now regained its right to shape its own future,” but stopped short of elucidating his vision.
Despite signing on to a third bailout program in the summer of 2015, Tsipras claimed his government had achieved what it set out to do when it came to power earlier that year – to “take the country out of the restrictions of the memorandums and endless austerity.”
However, in what critics saw as an attempt to push an “us and them” narrative, he also stressed mistakes made by past governments, taking swipes at “bankers that became prime ministers and ministers that became bankers” – referring to Lucas Papademos, the former European Central Bank vice president who served as prime minister from November 2011 to May 2012, and Bank of Greece Governor Yiannis Stournaras, who was finance minister from July 2012 to June 2014.
Tsipras also slammed former SYRIZA party members like Zoe Constantopoulou, who jumped ship and formed her own party after stepping down as Parliament speaker, and former energy minister Panayiotis Lafazanis, who also founded a party.
Resorting to maritime metaphors he said “the crew has changed. Some were afraid of the waves, others preferred to tame them.”
Tsipras also hinted that the reasons why Greece was forced to seek financial assistance will be probed. “We will never forget the causes and the faces that led the country to the memorandums,” he added.
The prime minister’s speech was roundly condemned by opposition parties, with New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis saying it caused “sadness and anger” among Greeks and divided them.
The conservative leader also dismissed Tsipras’s optimism over the future, noting that the third “unnecessary” memorandum caused by the left-led government will be followed by a fourth “informal” one.
Mitsotakis denounced Tsipras’s decision to address the nation from Ithaca, saying its symbolism “is false.”
“We have not reached the end of the journey. Cheap financing ends today, but the tough measures and heavy commitments which Mr Tsipras signed up to will continue,” he said.
Recalling Tsipras’s promise to “tear up the memorandums” before coming to power, Mitsotakis said the prime minister “went on to sign an unnecessary third memorandum that cost us more than 100 billion euros. And now the fourth informal memorandum begins, with austerity, new pension cuts, increases in taxes and levies, cruel primary surpluses and very strict monitoring.”
Meanwhile, government sources indicated that an anticipated reshuffle in the coming days would not happen until next week at the earliest.