If Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wanted to go down in history as the “Greek premier who did not wear a tie,” he has certainly achieved it and does not need to make any extra effort – provided, of course, that he remains (in this respect, at least) consistent, and does not start putting one on and taking it off on various occasions.
Tsipras mentioned the tie in an interview on Russian television ahead of his visit to Moscow, and then again during the joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said that he wore a tie when Greece achieved a “very significant agreement with our European partners... but I took it off the same day and during the same speech.”
The symbolism was further boosted when he described as an “accomplishment” the fact that he is “probably the only European leader who has gained entry to the most important forums and the most important seats of government, from the Kremlin to the White House, and from the Vatican to Downing Street, and all over the world, and in Beijing and everywhere, without a tie.”
He later took it a step further, likening the tie to a noose around the neck, which he got rid of, when he explained the “success” of obtaining Greek debt relief, which “may not have written off [the debt], but...” On Friday, during the joint press conference, a Russian journalist brought up the issue again.
Clearly, therefore, after so many references, the tie ceases to be simply a sartorial accessory or a rare reference, as it is mentioned even in “the most important forums.” It even ceases to be a cute joke or a curiosity. The banality of repetition has cost the joke its aim, making it look like an awkward comment when all other arguments have been exhausted.
It is neither unconventional nor anti-systemic. It has become a small lesson in political communication and how pretension loses its effect, how it cannot withstand the test of time because it is not supported by anything else (such as announcing a new policy).
Instead of linking one’s premiership with growth or prosperity, or at least with efforts to improve sectors such as education and health, one is only referred to in dictionaries as an example next to the word “tie.” Even if Tsipras’s fans approve of it as a style choice and his opponents point to it as a sign of decline, it is neither. It is not about shifting the debate either. Instead, it shows there is nothing noteworthy about the prime minister to mention.