“The masks are off and the programs and plans of the political parties are revealed,” the prime minister said in a television interview a few days ahead of the upcoming local government and European Parliament elections. Alexis Tsipras is right: The masks are off and the whole political troupe is on stage, waiting for Sunday’s applause. His comment, though, pertains not so much to the 70,000-or-so candidates in local elections, nor the 1,950 vying for Greece’s 21 seats in the European Parliament, nor to the opposition parties. As Tsipras revealed in the same interview, it reflects mostly on his own government.
“The vote in the European Parliament elections is a vote of confidence in the relief measures [that the government has taken in favor of pensioners] and pensioners must know that their pension will depend on the ballot that they put in the ballot box on Sunday,” he said. As he never misses an opportunity to describe New Democracy and its leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, as representatives of “extreme neoliberalism,” surely he could not have been implying that the opposition was hiding behind a mask. On the other hand, the pressure that he put on pensioners to express their gratitude for the way the government handles the money that their children pay in taxes revealed a mentality that should have been consigned to the past. Buying votes is an old tradition that led to repeated bankruptcies. The progressive stance that SYRIZA has always wanted to project now comes across as a trade-off as cynical as that of its predecessors.
But the masks are off in another important issue, as well. As was to be expected, the government’s long-term tolerance of political hooliganism has encouraged displays of ever greater audacity. All that was needed was the spark (in this case an outburst of revolutionary ardor because a jailed terrorist was denied furlough) to reveal the faces under the black hoodies. The “anti-establishment” storm troopers have been targeting not the government but the opposition, as well as the Parliament building itself. SYRIZA’s sensitivity to the wishes of the high priest of political violence is rewarded, apparently. The indifference with which government and SYRIZA officials have handled the issue, though, will cost them in the eyes of many voters. SYRIZA may keep handing out money but will still be held responsible for the spread of anarchy, provoking anger and insecurity among not only the parts of society that the party does not care about, but also among the pensioners whose support it solicits.
“The citizen is responsible for the day after the elections,” Tsipras notes. Now that the masks are off, perhaps the ballot box will show him that many have a concept of responsibility that is different to his.