Try as I may to remain optimistic, I have read enough history to know that we are probably nearer an adventure and a disaster than we are to some kind of rebirth and regrouping.
The May 6 elections revealed that a significant majority of Greeks has reached a state of desperation. Many people have experienced bankruptcy on a personal or family level and see no light at the end of the tunnel, at least as far as the main political parties are concerned. When you believe, rightly or wrongly, that you have nothing left to lose you?ll try anything, especially now that New Democracy and PASOK have fallen short of expectations and failed to pull themselves up by their boot-straps.
Greece has had some time to see such a weak collection of politicians. In the aftermath of the Second World War and before the arrival of Constantine Karamanlis there were certain individuals in the center and on the right of the political spectrum who just couldn?t agree with one another; today, unfortunately, these are no longer limited to the fingers of one hand.
By throwing in our lot with Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA we are attempting to negotiate with our partners in the way we have been taught by old-style PASOK and the left for the last 30 years. This style of doing business may have been effective at a time when negotiations took place among local politicians fearful of the political cost and money was coming in from the European Union and through loans.
Now it looks like we want to try the globalized version of sit-ins, street blockades and the ?I won?t pay? movement. We are threatening our partners that we will not repay debts in the hope that will frighten them and compel them to give us money free of conditions. Can it work? From Berlin to the IMF, this is not the way the international community has become accustomed to doing things. Our partners make deals and expect their conditions to be met. They accept the notion of a renegotiation of the bailout agreement on principle, but not with regard to its core issues. Sure, there is room for some sensible changes such as to the duration of the fiscal plan and in some of its specific clauses. But the emphasis has fallen on key structural changes and reforms, such as the liberalizing closed professions, reorganizing tax collection, improving the justice system and streamlining the public sector. And this is where things get tough.
Tsipras and the public sentiment he represents will oppose these changes on every level. Whether in government or as leader of the opposition he will block changes, reforms and privatizations, on which the international community has put more weight than on cutbacks to salaries and pensions. What?s worse, at this stage, a confrontation of this kind following yet another blurred electoral result could trigger a civil clash. No major trigger would be needed given how easily people utter threats, insults and war cries.
Another scenario would be for a breakthrough to come with Tsipras and his allies at the head of a government. If a unity government is not formed this week, it is most likely that SYRIZA will be elected top party in the next ballot and will have the possibility of forming a coalition government with Democratic Left?s Fotis Kouvelis or with Independent Greeks chief Panos Kammenos. Tsipras will then negotiate with Greece?s creditors sometime in mid-June or July.
That is when we?ll see whether he was right, whether he can secure funding with minimal and relaxed conditions or whether he will be forced into decorative changes to the memorandum under the threat of a complete inability to pay salaries and pensions, not to mention the economy?s total collapse.
In that case, of course, the question of whether Greece remains in the eurozone will not depend on Tsipras alone.