Many believe that the agreement between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos and efforts to cast aspersions on former premier Costas Simitis by launching a probe into his and his family’s finances have had the opposite effect to what the government had intended. That belief is probably correct, but we will know for sure at the next general elections.
For now, it is obvious that while the prime minister and his people approach politics like propagandists seeking to cultivate certain impressions in the minds of the masses, this time around the public discourse is being dominated by the naysayers. Things are not looking very good for SYRIZA and Independent Greeks, as the game of public relations – at which they seemed so adept in the past – is not going their way.
We do not know when Tsipras and Ieronymos first started talking about the plan they presented earlier this month, but the good chemistry between the two has been apparent from the outset. Clearly it is a relationship that dates back several years. However, if we accept that the archbishop managed to negotiate an agreement that benefits the Church of Greece much more than the state, while also helping the prime minister, it must be a public relations stunt on the latter’s part or related to narrow party (or personal) considerations.
Tsipras appears to have gone ahead with the deal believing certain things. First and foremost, he thought he could pitch the agreement to the far-left faction of his party and SYRIZA supporters as achieving the separation of church and state with the constitutional amendment for a “religion neutral” state, but without this ever actually being implemented.
Secondly, he believed he would give the impression outside of SYRIZA that he is on an excellent footing with the church as its leadership accepted the agreement; third, that he would come across as a leader who tackles long-standing issues by clarifying the economic relationship between the state and the church (much to the detriment of the former, but no matter to him) after settling the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; and fourth, that the deal would allow him to free up 10,000 civil service positions that he could exploit to win votes.
It looks like Tsipras failed because, like the archbishop, he did not account for the reactions from the clerics. The government spokesman also jumped the gun by announcing that 10,000 new jobs would be available as of next year, leaving the government scrambling to get out of the bind it created for itself.