ATHENS – It was a fast and furious 4 ½ years for Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader when the populist hero and darling of the anti-establishment rocketed to a victory in January, 2015 elections and promised to sweep a Leftist revolution across Greece and the European Union too.
It never happened as he was forced within seven months to seek a third bailout of the beleaguered country, this one for 86 billion euros ($96.59 billion), that came with the kind of brutal austerity measures he swore to reject but imposed.
That included an avalanche of tax hikes that brought the corporate rate to 29 percent, scaring off critical foreign investors many in SYRIZA didn’t want, growing violence and lawlessness in Greece’s capital that the July 7 snap election favorites New Democracy said he condoned.
He gave away the name of the ancient Greek province of Macedonia, letting The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) become North Macedonia, and lifting vetoes keeping that country out of NATO and beginning EU accession talks.
His administration blocked the $8 billion development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport and overhaul of the port of Piraeus by the Chinese company COSCO which operates it.
As his troubles mounted, Tsipras doubled down on his rhetoric against the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) that put up a third rescue package in the summer of 2015 for 86 billion euros ($96.59 billion.)
He lashed out against his ideological enemies – although his government implemented more austerity than did the New Democracy-led coalition be brought down. His political pit bull, Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis embarrassed him with a series of mocking comments even ridiculing a wheelchair-bound Conservative candidate for the May 26 elections for the European Parliament in which SYRIZA candidates took a beating, as well as in the polls for Greek municipalities, including the Mayor of Athens and the Attica Governor.
In a feature, The New York Times profiled the meteoric rise and free fall of Tsipras, who mostly went through the motions in a campaign, seeming to sense defeat while predicting another victory over New Democracy.
With elections approaching, wrote The Times’ Jason Horowitz,” Tsipras has tried his best to remind frustrated Greeks how bad things were and how much better they had become during his four years in power,” the Premier leaving out the part about much worse the lives had become for many.
He reneged on promises to “crush the oligarchy,” let banks foreclose on homes despite swearing, “Not one home in the hands of banks,” backed off a vow to put a 75 pecent tax on the rich, preferring – and admitting – instead to crush the middle class to redistribute some of the wealth to the poor he had hammered too while letting politicians, the rich, tax cheats and Parliament workers escape a 9 ½-year long economic crisis with near impunity.
Greece had been surviving on three international rescue packages of 326 billion euros ($366.15 billion) since 2010 but those ended on Aug. 20, 2018 and while Tsipras claimed he brought a recovery – without mentioning it was largely because he reneged on those anti-austerity promises – the country still hasn’t been able to make a full market return.
Unemployment, still the highest in the European Union had begun to decline, there were signs of slow growth coming back and the formerly anti-NATO, anti-American Tsipras hitched his wagon to Washington, all pretenses of being a radical leftist now shorn.
But he used Leftist rhetoric to condemn the country’s saviors and allies, trying to appeal to the people he had ditched, a swirling stew of the disillusioned, disenfranchised workers, pensioners, poor and those who believed his vision of a revolution, now shattered.
Still, he kept up the illusion. “We want the Greek people to vote not with their anger but with their minds,” Tsipras said at a campaign event at a fruit and vegetable market in Athens. “We remember what we went through,” the Times reported, although neither he nor his Cabinet, his lawmakers or his friends suffered any.
Many Greeks are hurting and angry after a decade of austerity, and they blame him, even if his supporters say that he led them much of the way through the economic wilderness is the way the paper put out even though he surrendered to the Troika within seven months.
If he loses, the architect of his defeat – along with his self-inflicted wounds – will be New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the scion of a storied Greek political family, almost drooling at the prospect of toppling the faux Leftist regime that saw Tsipras align himself with the far-right Independent Greeks (ANEL) for a parliamentary majority.
“National elections are very important,” Trifonas Alexiadis, a former deputy finance minister told the paper. “But it’s another battle. It’s not the war.”
FIREBRAND OR BURNOUT?
“The possibility of such anticlimactic change in Greece is a measure of Mr. Tsipras’s personal transformation from left-wing firebrand to experienced statesman. Win or lose, his supporters believe, Mr. Tsipras is likely to remain the man of the progressive future in Greece,” the Times said, if only because there’s no one else in SYRIZA to replace him.
“Now 44 and eminently comfortable with the trappings of power, Mr. Tsipras is playing the long game. Since exiting the bailout, he has focused on his international status, improving his English and attending all the right conferences,” the feature noted.
But his administration has failed to improve conditions at refugee and migrant detention centers housing 70,000 people, including 15,000 on Greeks islands – the one on Lesbos, near Turkey was called “the worst in the world” by the BBC>
He has tried to rally the EU to stop Turkey’s drilling for energy off Cyprus at the same time playing footsie with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan so that Turkey won’t flood Greek islands with more refugees and migrants.
Tsipras said he’s not going anywhere even if he loses and won’t step down as party leader as usually happens when a former Premier is beaten. There is speculation he will take his party to the streets again, where they could be joined by terrorist killers that could be released under a bill tailor made to get them out of jail.
“He knows that he is going to be on the political stage for many years ahead,” said Foreign Minister George Katrougalos, who called Tsipras “the best Greek politician I have ever met,” despite a litany of failures that saw the Premier smirk through defeats, blaming others.
Tsipras has bitter detractors, including former allies such as Zoe Konstantopoulou, whom he named Parliament Speaker and whose wedding he attended. She quit when he bowed to the Troika.
“He was and is a traitor,” said Konstantopoulou, accusing him of betraying SYRIZA and Greek voters and of being a “perfect puppet” of creditors by signing on to the austerity measures, the paper said, after he mocked former leaders for doing the same.
He has replaced his dissenters with new acoltyes eager for a taste of power, including alleged Independents and those like Terens Quick, whom he named head of Diaspora relations and who left Tsipras’ former coalition partner, the far-right Independent Greeks and now tweets idolizing comments about the Premier.
Tsipras’ right-hand man and advisor, Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas said even if SYRIZA brings in other elements from the center-left and tones down the flaming bombast that the heart of the party wouldn’t change.
“We’re not changing the name,” he said, though he said Tsipras was “100 percent” going to broaden SYRIZA into a pro-European center-left force, abandoning its Che Guevara worship tactics and policies.
“There are parties in search of a leader and leaders in search of a party,” he said. “He’s the second one.”
Kostas Douzinas, SYRIZA’s Chairman of the foreign relations committee in Parliament, said that foreign diplomats from the countries Tsipras once petrified now secretly hoped he would stick around, even though they began cozying up to Mitsotakis before the elections.
In the weeks leading up to the European parliamentary elections that saw SYRIZA beaten like a rented mule, Douzinas said he had asked Tsipras how he managed to campaign so tirelessly around the country although there were little signs that was going on.
“This is my big calling,” Tsipras said, according to Mr. Douzinas. “I have to fulfill it.” Now, it could be gone in a puff of smoke, leaving him to decide between trying to moderate his verbal bomb-tossing, take to the streets against a New Democracy regime or sit back and wait for another opening somehow.