Bringing the beast to heel

The insatiable beast of populism, nurtured over the past few years, has not left a single hand unbitten, not even the one that fed it so systematically.

The beast has no reason, no ideology or political preferences and, more importantly, can never have enough.

We read, for example, verbal attacks against Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani because she may have some money deposited abroad or because she chose to receive medical treatment at a private rather than a public hospital. Even though she seems a modest woman who has worked very hard throughout her career, she has come into the cross hairs of leftists, conservatives and populists alike. She has broken no laws but this matters little to the cannibalistic system that set its sights on her last week.

With this kind of atmosphere it won’t be long before we run out of people willing to take up public office simply because they can’t stand the attacks.

I fear that the government will feel the teeth of the beast very sharply if it opts for an honest compromise with Greece’s international creditors. There are already signs that teeth are being gnashed, as conspiracy theories and personal attacks on government officials are appearing with increasing frequency.

Maybe now that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is becoming more aware of the onus of his responsibility and is seeing how things stand from the inside, he will realize just how lonely it can be in the cauldron of Greek politics. But, to be fair, he bears much of the responsibility for raising the temperature from his time in the opposition. Will he be able to control it?

The other day, Tsipras expressed concerns about the potential rise of the far right if things go awry for Greece. But when you base your platform on a national revolutionary narrative and then choose to compromise, how can you expect the far right not to take advantage?

This is why there are so many expectations of Tsipras. Leaders who emerge from extreme anti-systemic movements tend to go down in history when they go against the popular sentiment that brought them to power. When they united instead of dividing their nations. When they looked ahead instead of back. When the spoke openly about reality and built a new, more positive narrative.

History is full of such examples. But will Tsipras be able to look the beast in the eye and bring it to heel? It will not be easy, but in Greece only a leader of the left can try. He alone knows whether he’s interested in this role and whether he has the guts to play it.

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