Ghosts of the past


Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has the opportunity to exorcise many of the ghosts that emerged after the dictatorship. He has already made progress. Who, for example, would have dared a few years ago to openly thank the Americans for their support as he and other top officials of this government did a few days ago? Who could have imagined a left-wing government agreeing to the privatization of 14 regional airports? And conceding them to a German company no less?

There are many more taboos that remain to be broken, with some saying we will know this day has come when we see private businesses holding career days at the National Technical University of Athens – the emblem of left-wing resistance.

The truth is that this government has the opportunity to make changes in areas that could never have been touched by a New Democracy or PASOK administration. This may be because SYRIZA is still new in power. It could also be that the left side of the Greek brain simply refuses to see certain things. It is indeed impressive. Just half of what Tsipras has already agreed to with foreign creditors would have sparked riots were it anyone else. Older politicians feel cheated, as though the left and the powers of populism enjoy a great degree of immunity when they are violating their own taboos.

The problem is that so far at least Tsipras is not taking on these ills of the Greek political and social system because he wants to; he is doing it because he has to, like an atheist crossing himself out of habit or fear. At the end of the day, though, what matters is that the country moves forward. If the airport privatizations go through and the social security and pension system is put to right, Tsipras will have paved the way for subsequent governments to do their jobs without being haunted by ghosts of the past.

The risk is that the ghosts will not be entirely vanquished but will, instead, in typical Greek fashion, be temporarily locked away in a closet, where they will continue to fester for years to come. When a popular leader is afraid to defend a tough decision as something that is in the national interest and presents it instead as something imposed from the outside, he poisons the public mind and paves the way for someone who is even more extreme and even more anti-European to open the closet door and once more release the ghosts.

Tsipras will come under enormous pressure from inside his own party as well as his coalition partner in the days to come as the memorandum reforms start coming into effect. He will be called a traitor but he has no other choice. Either he will become the exorcist the country so badly needs or he will destroy all the progress made so far.