The Meaning of Words in Foreign Affairs Counts

The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has excellent verbal ability. It may be his highest qualification for public office.

But his known lack of experience in international affairs is not helping him to understand that often words expressing the political climate and mindset in Greece reflect negatively abroad.

I remember when Tsipras visited the U.S. in January 2013 trying to explain to his interlocutors that they should not be scared of the word “Rizospastiki” –Radical in his party’ s name.

He said it does not mean the same thing at home and abroad, and as a consequence there was nothing for them and the U.S. to worry about.

Recently, as negotiations are approaching their end, coincidentally (?), during his last two speeches to members of his party he used words that elicited applause inside but provoked concern abroad.

For example, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, was disturbed by the characterization of his proposals as “absurd,” and he refused to accept Tsipras’ phone call the next day.

Eventually they embraced when they met a few days later, but the damage was done.

On June 16, Tsipras made an even bigger rhetorical lurch. Again in his speech to members of his party he accused the IMF of having “criminal responsibility” for the damage done to the Greek economy.

Surely there are not many prime ministers in the world using such words, let alone when the people being accused with extreme language – the IMF – will re-appear soon across the negotiating table.

I have no doubt that this language is pleasing to many members of SYRIZA. This is the old language that was used– during Andreas’ days – by PASOK.

That the IMF is to blame for all the suffering in the world and not the irresponsible policies of governments that necessitated – at the invitation of those states, I might add – the intervention of the IMF to avert, by granting loans, the collapse of their economies – is absurd.

Of course, they applied conditions to the loans, as do all lenders.

And the irony of course is that PASOK – during, mind you, the premiership of George Papandreou, son of Andreas – invited the IMF to become part of the troika which would fund Greece.

These declarations demonstrate “provincialism” Latin American style, causing temporary applause but leading to wrongheaded policies, cutting the country off from financial sources… and friends.

Furthermore, they damage the image of the country considerably. Not a small loss. With the global media focused on him, the statements of Mr. Tsipras are conveyed at lightning speed everywhere.

Let’s keep that in mind.