There was speculation Wednesday that the International Monetary Fund’s disapproval of the European Union bailout package for Greece would stiffen resistance in the Greek Parliament against it, but in the end, they voted in agreement with what Reuters describes as “sweeping austerity measures demanded by lenders to open talks on a new multibillion-euro bailout package to keep Greece in the euro.”
However, many members of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party deserted him and voted no, with a final tally of 229-64, plus six abstentions. Tsipras basically had to dump his own party and woo the opposition to get the plan approved … a plan substantially tougher than the austerity package rejected by Greek voters in a referendum just two weeks ago, and a very far cry from the promises of defying austerity while shaking the Eurozone down for cash that got Tsipras elected.
Mark Lowen at the BBC wryly notes that “the old adage of a week being a long time in politics could not be more relevant.” Tsipras was elected as a swaggering socialist Big Spender; earlier this month, he was leading fist-pumping rallies against European demands his party portrayed as a German conquest of Greece. (Few metaphors are more guaranteed to get fists pumping in Athens!) Now, he has been humiliated and transformed into the herald of austerity, brushing political allies aside to tell his government and people they have no choice but to accept the reforms he was telling them to fight not long ago.
Of course, Greek grandees are still trying to blame all this on their unreasonable creditors. “When we started five months ago, it was very difficult to realise how this thing that we call the European Union was going to behave,” Interior Minister General Secretary Dimitris Tsoukalas told Lowen. “We, the government, thought we could convince them that a country in this mess could take a completely different path. But it wasn’t possible. We couldn’t overcome the bankers and northern European elite who have absolute power in this continent.”
Northern European elites? I wonder who he might have in mind. I hear some of those northern European elites make excellent beer.
When Lowen asked Tsoukalas if the anti-austerity referendum had been a waste of time, money, and emotion, the General Secretary replied “not at all” because the referendum victory gave Tsipras a “mandate” to “continue to negotiate,” and was also a victory of Greek pride over such northern European elites as Wolfgang Schauble, who is the finance minister of a certain country the Greeks do not like very much, both despite and because of the gigantic debt they owe it.
That mandate to continue to negotiate ended up bringing home a bailout plan more austere than the one Greece proudly denied with a 61% referendum victory, which is going to be awfully tough for Tsipras and Syriza to spin to disillusioned supporters. The Party can mitigate its political damage by throwing Tsipras under the bus, and indeed he seems resigned to march himself in front of that bus, as the UK Telegraph reports he is talking about stepping down. (One wonders if the earlier dismissal of combative Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was arranged at his request, inspired to some degree by his realization that austerity was simply unstoppable, and his desire to exit the process early enough to both escape blame and maintain his ideological purity.)
The street theater that rolled Tsipras into office has turned ugly, as the Telegraph reports masked anarchist protesters throwing water bombs at police and, later, petrol bombs.
“We are here to protest the fact that this Syriza government is just a continuation of the old right-wing government. We need a completely new system altogether, with our own drachma currency that can allow us to start all over again,” one protester explained. “Our Greek leaders have spent five years fighting austerity measures, and, in the end, despite a ‘No’ vote in the referendum, they have just rolled over and said, ‘Yes.'”
Things were only slightly less heated in Parliament, with Reuters quoting Speaker Zoe Constantopoulou as calling the bailout “social genocide,” and good old Yanis Varoufakis calling it “a new Versailles Treaty,” just in case anyone was wondering if the Greeks were going to tire of hectoring Germany about the Nazi era any time soon.
There are no good options for anyone in the Greek debacle; previous generations of left-wing leadership made damn sure of that. Syriza must shoulder much of the blame for the current unrest – and for the exceptionally tough terms of the bailout Tsipras ultimately accepted – because they tried organizing defiance against fiscal reality, making unrealistic promises to their voters and hatching mad schemes to effectively blackmail Europe into giving them more money. They thought they could frighten their creditors with visions of Greek departure from the Euro, complete financial collapse, and a 100% “haircut” on nearly all of their debt. Syriza’s bluff was called, and they lost a gamble they never should have made.
Every nation on a higher slope of the debt abyss currently swallowing Greece – meaning most of the Western world – should be watching this disaster very carefully, and turning today’s left-wingers out of office in droves. They are all saying the same things about unsustainable debt and wild government spending Tsipras’ predecessors did. Those living in nations vastly larger than Greece do not want to find out the hard way what end-stage socialism looks like.