Something tells me Alexis Tsipras was finished the night he signed Greece’s third bailout deal with the country’s creditors. It was possibly the moment he realized what is possible and what isn’t.
This was a realization that came late because he spent months living in a fantasy and maybe the day will come when we learn what part of that fantasy he truly believed in and what he knew was false.
It would be interesting, for example, to know whether he really expected financial support from Moscow or Beijing, even though he was promised no such thing. Or how he was convinced to call July’s referendum despite warnings of the risks from close associates. What is the back story to that event? Was it the long arm of the drachma lobby pushing him toward disaster? Or maybe the belief that it would frighten the markets and the Europeans into bringing a better deal to the table before the plebiscite?
When visiting St Petersburg and other places and talking so calmly about the possibility of a return to the drachma, arguing that it would be tough at first but would then put the economy back to rights, was Tsipras bluffing or speaking in earnest? It is still too early for us to know the truth.
The fantasy ended in the most unpredictable way on that Sunday of the referendum. Some could say that the highlight of Tsipras’s career was the previous Friday, when he addressed a rally of thousands in the “no to a memorandum” camp. He was in full form, as were his supporters, and exuded such force and passion. It may have been the only moment he believed that he could pull it off and become Europe’s postmodern Salvador Allende.
This fantasy faded as surely as the cheers of the crowds who deified him that Friday before the referendum. While the failure of the referendum was ultimately good for the country, it did a lot of damage. The young people who confused a break with the past and with a rotten political system with the uncritical “no” felt betrayed and Tsipras had to say good-bye to a part of his old self. The new role he has to assume may be one he doesn’t like, and that’s the problem. The inelegant art of governance does not appeal to him. Rumor has it that every cabinet meeting was more of a discussion of bygone ideologies than meting out responsibilities and holdings ministers accountable for them.
Of course, Tsipras is a realist and a cynical player of the game and as is usually the case when threats loom, the survival instinct prevails, together with a rationalization of our weaknesses. Maybe he’s not concerned about winning Sunday’s elections, thinking that he’s young enough to still have a long career ahead of him. But whoever is elected on Sunday will have a lot of grief to pass around, and to exercise politics at this level you need to have fire in your belly.
If you lose this fire, for any reason, you may stumble along for awhile but you won’t get very far and history is brutal about consigning some politicians to the footnotes of history.