The challenge for Tsipras and others

A few years ago, an associate of mine who had met with Alexis Tsipras when the young politician was running for Athens mayor told me how impressed he had been by his confidence. Tsipras was certain that one day he would become the next Andreas Papandreou and would rise to government even though his party stood at 3 percent at the time. On Sunday he did just that. Of course the circumstances are very different today to what they were in 1981, when Papandreou’s PASOK shot up to power. First of all, Papandreou went back on his pledges knowing that massive amounts of community funds were flowing into the country. He was also not the first among equals in his party. And he had a profound understanding of the international climate.

Tsipras, however, faces empty coffers, ruthless European supervision and a party split into different factions, not all of which regard him as an “Andreas Papandreou.” It is almost impossible to guess what is going on in his mind right now. Some believe power is his only concern and that he will do whatever it takes to make nice with Greece’s foreign partners and lenders. He certainly doesn’t have any solid assurances from key officials in Berlin, Washington or Brussels that there is some kind of ready deal on the table – quite the opposite. So, what does Tsipras propose to do when when he comes up against the wall of the ECB and the others? People who know him well say he wants to push the negotiations with Berlin as far as they will go. Tsipras has already received a rock-star reception from the European left and is investing heavily in this role, but pundits predict that it won’t be long before the star and the hawks come to loggerheads.

Now for the other side. Yesterday’s election result signals a changing paradigm. We are looking at a new generation of politicians with a different mentality. If the middle class does not acknowledge this and start to look for fresh proposals we won’t get anywhere. Young people who don’t want to work in the civil service and are looking for equal opportunities without favors, who want to do what they love in their own country and businesses that don’t live off the state have nothing to gain from politicians who are stuck in the past. These dynamic Greeks will join forces with their hardworking, hard-saving compatriots who did their duty despite their bitterness and disappointment. The truth is that if New Democracy had not behaved as though it were in the opposition against SYRIZA and its election campaign had not been so terrible, the difference between the two would have been much narrower. It was the weakness, strife and vulgarity that is etched into the DNA of bygone politicians and an ersatz ruling class that pushed the people to Sunday’s results.