OPINION

Beast of populism bites back

beast-of-populism-bites-back

The beast of populism is biting back at Alexis Tsipras. Greece’s leftist prime minister pet the beast, fed it and rode on its back to climb to power. This can be highly intoxicating. The problem is that this is a beast with an insatiable appetite. Of all the politicians who rode it, none survived.

There are plenty of examples. It’s hard to explain that the fence along Greece’s frontier with Turkey in Evros, set up to curb the flow of undocumented immigrants is, after all, necessary and that you cannot just let anyone pass through the border. Or that privatizations are not anathema because the people will starve if fresh foreign capital is not invested in the local economy. Or that the country’s social security system will collapse without cuts to the already small pensions.

This is the essence of the problem. Tsipras is not a very strong or decisive leader. Because if he were, he would have gotten rid of the loons and hardliners in his party long before the disastrous referendum, or would have severed ties with the West and the eurozone while leading Greece back to the drachma. It took the leftist leader some time to do the former; and (thankfully) he was too afraid to do the latter.

Tsipras still has political capital. As an experienced observer was saying the other day, even if her were to admit making some major mistakes in public, he would still get the people’s vote.

Perhaps the people unconsciously want to see Tsipras go all the way. After all, this is what they did with former socialist prime minister George Papandreou who paid for the mistakes of his late father, Andreas Papandreou, and the old PASOK. It’s like they are saying to Tsipras: “you told us that there is an easy way out. Now prove it.”

Tsipras is still battling with his inner divisions. He is not sure if money from investments is good or bad money. He does not really believe in anything except survival and power. It’s hard for him to transform himself into an Eastern Mediterranean version of Lula and convince Greek society about the need to introduce much-needed reforms. He is looking for enemies and wants to put on a good show for the people. But this is not a game from which you can come out unscathed, especially when you’re allied with those in the gutter in order to clean the gutter.

I detest fanaticism. I would hate to see Tsipras go down because I believe the country would most probably go down with him. If Tsipras fails to tame the beast of populism, the next one to ride it will most likely be very dangerous indeed.