Whatever the government predicted turned out wrong, and now, at the last moment, instead of trying to deal with the consequences of his mistakes, Alexis Tsipras is attempting to distort our reality. The prime minister and his government are like fabulists who, when they are caught out, resort to ever greater tales to cover their previous ones. After the failure of his plan to throw off the yoke of creditors while continuing to take their money, Tsipras now tells us that the result of the referendum that he called – in which the country’s future depends on how the dice will fall – will have no consequences.
In the world according to Tsipras, a “no” vote will strengthen his hand in negotiations with creditors. If Greece finds itself out of the eurozone, perhaps even the European Union, and if the Greek economy collapses, it will not be the fault of the prime minister and his government but rather of evil foreigners and their local lackeys who campaign for a “yes” to further negotiations. In this world, “no” does not mean a rift with our partners but rather a return to a Europe of principles. It is as if we are called to believe that by setting ourselves on fire we will make our partners better people and everyone will be a winner.
It is not rare in history for a distorted view of reality to lead to mass self-destruction. Now that Greece is in the company of countries that defaulted on the International Monetary Fund (Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe), a story from South Africa in the mid-19th century may come in useful. At the time, a leader of the Xhosa tribe, which was in continual warfare with white settlers, believed a prophecy that if his people killed all their cattle and destroyed all their crops, their dead warriors from the past would rise up and join them in driving the white people into the sea. This act of self-destruction, though, did not save the Xhosa. Within two years, more than 40,000 of them had starved to death and, instead of getting rid of the settlers, the rest found themselves at their mercy.
I don’t believe that Tsipras is ruthless, that he says what he says because he knows that the Greeks, especially after five years of hardship and humiliation, can be manipulated through false promises and appeals to their dignity. I believe that he is naive, that he believes what he says and does. His tragedy is that he has not realized that he was given the opportunity to lead the people toward a safer path – if he had trusted the voters as much as they trusted him. Instead, he remains captive to the small group of activists of which he is a member and a tight circle of advisers, suggesting that he believes in magic.
The charm of easy solutions and the seductiveness of self-destruction carry the same danger – they blind us to reality so that we cannot understand our own strengths and weaknesses, they lead us to defeat. However much we may be moved by symbols of mass self-sacrifice such as Masada in Israel and Kougi in Greece, when we accept destruction we stop fighting. We should rather fall in the fight for a better Greece than fall in service to a lie.