Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras admitted to being naive enough to believe that his European counterparts, whose countries have loaned Greece billions of euros, would go easy on him. “You can accuse me of ignorance of the state of play in Europe,” he told Skai TV on Tuesday night, referring to the early days of his government, adding, “We had the naivete to believe that our partners would respect the popular mandate.” Could this mean that his predecessors were not traitors and “Merkelists” after all? That maybe they were just not naive and that they understood the reality?
Shouldn’t the prime minister have a better understanding of the state of play? Did Tsipras’ inexperience justify his stance? It is true that he was just 41 years old when he took office and had not even been a minister up until then. But having been chief of the main opposition for two-and-a-half years, he should have known better. At the very least, he should not have accused his rivals of surrendering the country to foreign creditors and made promises that were impossible to keep. Promises to tear up the memorandums, to offer Greeks their lost national pride, only to ultimately mortgage a chunk of the country’s public assets to the so-called “super-fund.”
So, yes, he did act irresponsibly, dangerously so, leading the country to the brink of disaster. “We were prepared, but the others were better prepared than us,” he told Skai TV. “We were on the edge of the cliff, with our back against the wall,” he said, attributing the pressure exerted on Greece to Germany’s then-finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble. He was right on that, but that was nothing new. The German Finance Ministry had already warned in December 2014 that if SYRIZA came to power and did everything it promised to do, Greece would not receive anymore credit from the European Union.
Tsipras’ predecessors also had to contend with “big bad” Schaeuble, who had famously told his then counterpart, Yannis Stournaras, “Forget it Yannis,” when the latter – with the backing of the International Monetary Fund – asked the Europeans to consider a debt write-off. Schaeuble had warned Greece back in 2012 that “European solidarity is not a one-way street,” saying that anyone claiming differently was “deceiving” himself and his voters.
Tsipras’ predecessors were also subjected to pressure – occasionally even humiliation – and were forced to adopt painful measures. This was especially so in the first few years of the crisis when the magnitude of the deficit demanded a severe fiscal adjustment.
As for the cost of his “national negotiation” in summer 2015, the prime minister himself admitted that “there were consequences,” even though he hastened to add that they weren’t devastating.
A man who has been so misguided, not to mention deceiving, has no right to attack his opponents who saw the big picture in such a vulgar manner. Quite the opposite. He should have the courage to apologize. Not for the criticism he leveled when he was in the opposition – which is what the opposition is expected and supposed to do – but for the arrogance of his ignorance, and for the exaggerations and insults that have so divided society. It would have been an important step toward healing the wounds.