Method, madness and a changing audience


Only Aristophanes and Panos Kammenos could have made up a character like Panos Kammenos, our defense minister and governing partner of Alexis Tsipras. Kammenos’s histrionics, his self-righteous pain and rage against countless foes, however, are not symptoms of mental distress caused by endless effort to yoke together the governing duo’s disparate forces; on the contrary, throughout the prime minister’s political career we can see that his tactics have included a full-frontal attack in every direction, using every means at his disposal, without thought for the consequences.

When the need arises for drastic action, this will depend on conditions and the available means, so that the government may remain in power.

If the end justifies the means, then the most necessary, the most important instrument for Tsipras is Kammenos. Only the far-right nationalist and his political vehicle, the presumptuously named Independent Greeks, could offer blind support to radical left-wing SYRIZA, because only through SYRIZA’s efforts could they ever enjoy the perks of power.

For the government it seems a small price to pay that Kammenos should be at the helm of the Defense Ministry. Also, the minister’s outrageous insults toward the opposition were always warmly welcomed by the government, as were his hugs and kisses with Tsipras.

Similarly, the prime minister’s embittered former comrades from the left – Panayiotis Lafazanis, Yanis Varoufakis, Zoe Constantopoulou and others – were allowed free rein on the government’s front line as long as they were sowing confusion among rivals and instilling in supporters a sense of moral superiority and political dominance with their many different opinions. When they stopped being useful, they went their own way.

If Kammenos needs to blow off steam by criticizing government policy but continues to keep the government in power, so be it, as Tsipras would say. In any case, the discrepancy between words and deeds, between different opinions, in the government was always hidden under the unifying mantle of the war on the bailout agreements.

Now the “memorandums” are gone, as the government assures us. We need only to live with the consequences of the austerity and supervision that continue. Also, the dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is, reportedly, over; the government has only to deal with the consequences of the deal and manage the political fallout. The government’s tactics remain the same – anyone can do as they please as long as they continue to support it; this includes saying one thing to creditors and another to voters.

The referendum of July 5, 2015, the reversal of policy and the voters’ approval in subsequent elections convinced Tsipras that he can play the voters as he plays with Kammenos – he can present white as black, right as left, no as yes, division as patriotism. The prime minister’s problem, though, is that while he and Kammenos play the same roles on the stage, repetition can betray even the most brilliant illusionist. The audience’s perceptions are changing.