If we were to stick with what the government says, we would be very confused. It is not only that it pulled off the major achievement of taking a resounding “No” in a referendum and turning it into a humble “Yes” – and then still managed to win a national election. It is mainly because every new measure is accompanied by loud wailing, either from the SYRIZA side or from its coalition partner, Independent Greeks, or both, and yet Greece remains on its European track. We were not ejected from the eurozone, nor from the EU. The government accepted a new bailout agreement, the banks were recapitalized, new “prior actions” demanded by creditors were adopted, a contract awarding the running of 14 airports to a private contractor was signed, and on Thursday the government withdrew its “parallel program” which – without the creditors’ acquiescence – was aimed at alleviating the social cost of measures in the bailout deal.
The “pain” of which Transport Minister Christos Spirtzis spoke when he signed the airport concession this week did not move anyone. What counts is that the deal was signed. We all remember the tears of then Labor Minister Andreas Loverdos in 2010 when he introduced a bill that brought sweeping changes to our social security system, but what is more important is that this law is the basis for further cuts in the coming year. SYRIZA MPs and officials keep saying that they are forced to do things against their will. But they do them. They display the flexibility first shown by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras when he chose the personal humiliation of surrender rather than national catastrophe.
His persistence with his prior policy, however, had a huge cost. The fact that most Greeks had prepared themselves and had hidden money at home softened the immediate consequences of capital controls but the long-term impact on the economy has still not registered. The proud “negotiation” with creditors had as its most direct result the loss of the last grain of trust between Greece and its partners and creditors. The continued lack of stability in the economy frightens off investors, whether they be Greek or foreign. Reality is very different from the one that SYRIZA peddled to voters before its U-turn in July: The government has very few options, unless it chooses to propose Greece’s exit from the eurozone and follow the path of the puritanical fantasists who broke away from SYRIZA before the last election.
While we contemplate the abyss between words and deeds, it is worth noting the instance of Panos Kammenos and his Independent Greeks, how they manage to invest in an uncompromising image and yet do everything possible to remain in power – from accepting a new bailout to rejecting the government’s bill on the cohabitation pact without bringing down the coalition (the measure was assured of the opposition’s support). Equally noteworthy (and I write this without irony) is the fact that in the general turmoil the government goes ahead with such risky measures even when it could avoid them. Earlier this month, Tsipras quoted an Arab saying that the dogs may howl but the caravan continues on its way. Perhaps he was thinking of his own coalition partner as well as the opposition. Perhaps, too, he was advising us to judge not by the howls but by the result of his government’s actions.