No sooner had newly installed Education Minister Niki Kerameus said that the conservative government intends to revoke a decision by the previous administration to establish a fourth law school in Patra in western Greece, former prime minister Alexis Tsipras reacted by accusing New Democracy of pandering to private interests. “Whereas we were busy opening new, quality public schools and departments, New Democracy is now closing them down to make way for private ones. [ND claims to be doing so] so that [Greek] children will not have to move abroad. It is deeply hypocritical,” he said.
Had Tsipras chosen to end his sentence at that point, we would perhaps have been able to dismiss his own hypocrisy. The problem is that the SYRIZA leader went further: “I knew that New Democracy was unhappy at the election result in Achaia, but I never thought it would actually rush to punish an entire region that has played a leading role in our country’s university education,” he said, referring to the region of which Patra is the capital.
Caught up in a litany of vacuous arguments, Tsipras stumbled into his own trap, because he ended up saying that in his personal version of meritocracy, decisions are made on the well-founded basis of patron-client exchange. Put differently: You vote for me, I hire you and give you a university. Tsipras cannot grasp the obvious issue: that this is not about Patra, but about the wisdom of establishing a fourth law school at a time when Greece has thousands of unemployed lawyers.
Tsipras could have surprised us in a positive way, putting forward a reasonable counter-argument. He could, for example, have mentioned the scientific study that led to the decision to establish the Patra law school. But, alas, he is still driven by political expediency. His logic is: we will navigate according to the map of election results, and we will grant rewards or punishment depending on how regions voted.
The question inevitably arises: is SYRIZA capable of exercising opposition on modern terms? Is SYRIZA capable of transforming itself from an ideology-bound party into a “big progressive democratic party,” as Tsipras desires?
“We will make radical changes,” he said on election night. But what does he mean by “radical changes” when only a few months ago he voted for the establishment of an aerospace science and technology department in the Evia town of Psachna?
The problem is not the distance separating Psachna from Houston. Rather, it is that SYRIZA cannot run the distance from the clientelist to the progressive.