PARIS — As I write on June 30, no one knows what turn the crisis in Greece will take.
I have written enough about my anger at today’s soulless Europe, a Europe without a plan worthy of the name, one unfaithful both to its values and to its founding figures and events—I have done enough denouncing of the pandemic blindness, with a few notable exceptions (such as Jacques Delors), of the actors behind the magic tricks that allowed Greece’s hasty entry into the euro zone 15 years ago—to make it unnecessary to express now my similar feelings about the current attitude of Alexis Tsipras.
For what really, at this point in the story, was being asked of him by the representatives of what he insists on calling, using a rhetoric that resembles that of Greece’s extreme right, “the institutions”?
A minimal fiscal effort in a country that should have long ago understood that a governance structure capable of levying taxes and distributing the revenue in an equitable way is, under Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a basic requirement without which no democracy is viable.
An increase to 67 in the average retirement age, except for individuals in highly onerous occupations, a move that is more or less imminent in the Netherlands, Denmark, Great Britain, and Germany—in other words in a large number of the countries where citizens are being asked to come together for the common good. (And this is without considering the United States, where there is discussion of raising the average retirement age from 67 to 70!)
A reduction—not immediately—in a defense budget that may not be absurdly high given the geostrategic importance of the country but that is, in percentage terms, the highest in the European Union and that places Greece under Tsipras’s Syriza party fifth among the world’s largest importers of arms, right behind India, China, Korea, and Pakistan.
In exchange for which Mr. Tsipras was offered a new package of assistance by the International Monetary Fund—which he tends to forget is not his own personal “phynancial pump,” to borrow a phrase from Alfred Jarry, but also has responsibilities for Bangladesh, Ukraine, and the African countries ravaged by poverty, war, and unfavorable rates of exchange—a package that included relief and restructuring related to pre-2011 aid, which everyone knows will never, in fact, be repaid.
Perhaps Christine Lagarde, who, with Angela Merkel, is Mr. Tsipras’s bête noire, did not communicate all this clearly enough.
But such was the true state of negotiations when, on June 26, he elected unilaterally to break them off.
And, given outstanding liabilities and past errors, it was the best that could be offered by an IMF that, at the same moment, had to decide on the penultimate disbursement of assistance promised to Tunisia, on whether or not to continue the extended credit facility for Burundi, and on revising plans to prop up the health systems of the countries hit hardest by the Ebola virus.
To the plan offered him, Mr. Tsipras chose to respond by once again employing the rhetoric of the extreme right, evoking Greece’s putative “humiliation.”
Instead of identifying those truly responsible for the crisis, a club that includes offshore shipping magnates and a tax-exempt clergy, he has sung ad nauseam the national-populist refrain about evil Europe strangling the exemplary democracy.
Fresh out of arguments and between two cozy visits with Vladimir Putin, Tsipras came up with the idea of a referendum, which, given the context, the timing, and, above all, the careful blurring of the terms of the question to be put to the people, resembles less a fair and healthy sounding of the popular will than an exquisitely worded ransom note addressed to the West.
Did not his predecessor, social democrat Georges Papandreou, do likewise in the midst of the financial crisis five years ago?
Well, no, he did not.
Because what Papandreou did was to submit to his fellow Greeks a rescue plan that he had studied, debated, and verified.
Whereas what Tsipras is trying to do is to pass off responsibility for a looming train wreck that he, and he alone—through a mixture of irresponsibility, dogmatism, and, I suspect, inability to make a decision—has engineered.
Behind the operation one detects the play of factions within Syriza.
One senses, behind a poker face that Tsipras probably believes is inscrutable, the politician with one eye on the radical wing of his party and the other on his image, his personal future, and his back.
Is that any way to govern a great country?
Doesn’t Greece deserve better than a pyromaniacal demagogue who joins with the neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn to force his planned plebiscite down parliament’s throat?
It was Alexis Tsipras who responded that Greece’s poverty “is not a game” when European Council president Donald Tusk observed to him during negotiations that “the game is over.”
One is tempted to return the compliment and to remind Mr Tsipras that a nation’s poverty is not a proper stake for a game of poker or Greek roulette and that one does not lead one’s people to the brink in order to escape from a deadlock of one’s own making.