There are few times when a nation’s fate depends on the actions of one person. History and myth emphasize such instances – like the tale of King Kodros of Athens, who ensured his own death when he heard a prophecy that his city would fall to the enemy if he remained unharmed. Today, in merciless reality, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faces a challenge of historic proportions: He has to decide what he will do in the service of Greece, whatever this costs him. All his choices are difficult, with few possibilities of a good outcome. But great challenges present an opportunity not only for defeat but for victory, if the protagonists choose well.
Tsipras has to measure himself against history, to choose a road that will lead either to salvation or tragedy. The resounding “no” that the majority voted at his bidding in last Sunday’s referendum makes him the unquestioned protagonist of Greece’s political scene and the one who carries sole responsibility for the outcome of negotiations with our partners and creditors. He has three choices: to stick to the positions of the past months, avoid a compromise and shoulder the blame for the consequences, which will likely include Greece’s exit from the euro; he may try to change his own position, as well as those of his party and its supporters, and come into conflict with his comrades and his own ideas; or he may turn and run, saying that he cannot impose a deal on his compatriots and either resign or call elections.
The first choice is the easiest, avoiding conflict within his SYRIZA party but leading Greece to a very uncertain future. The second is difficult, as it demands a level of strength and determination that Tsipras has not shown so far. It is, however, the only way which holds out hope that the country may remain in the eurozone and that stability and development may follow. The third choice may look like an escape from immediate difficulties but will only prove to be another tactical trick – like the referendum – which betrays indecisiveness and cowardice, leaving others to make the difficult choices when promises run out of steam.
In these hours, Tsipras must be desperately lonely. It is inconceivable that a whole country – one that is a long-time member of the European Union – should come to a point where it depends on one person to determine its fate, not on institutions or procedures. Obviously Tsipras, his close aides, his hangers-on and impassioned supporters miscalculated the consequences of their actions and inaction over the past five months. Also, the EU proved itself incapable of handling a “family dispute,” allowing it to become a deep rift.
Alone, Tsipras must decide whether to stick to a course that has brought nothing but harm to the country or throw himself into the battle to save whatever he can for Greece. He should know that if he fights for all Greeks, whether he wins or falls, he will find many more allies than he will lose. Many more than he can imagine.