One day before Greek citizens go to the polls for the third time in 2015, I would like to offer some thoughts on the Greek General Elections. To express them I have borrowed some quotes from Geoffrey Hawthorn’s book “Thucydides on Politics: Back to the present”. Hawthorn offers a brilliant and refreshing political reading of Thucydides that is relevant to modern politics.
The EU Summit agreement of 12th July 2015
“… people engaged in politics and war often do not have a full sense of what they are doing and why.” (1, p.16)
“…also in his (Thucydides) portrayal of individuals, who are invariably complex, often contradictory and in their thoughts and actions governed more by circumstance than any ideology or theory would easily allow.” (1, p.15)
There have been so many attempts to explain why Mr. Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA and Prime Minister at the time, signed the third agreement of Greece with her creditors, especially given the fact that less than a week before, the Greek People had ‘rejected’ a similar agreement by a 61-39 vote. The view that an individual’s thoughts and actions are governed more by circumstance than any ideology or theory would easily allow, provides a simple explanation.
During the campaign that leads to tomorrow’s elections, Mr. Tsipras and SYRIZA have tried to give another explanation of what has happened, along the lines of reaching an honorable compromise, under extreme pressure exerted by the creditors.
“Men assumed the right to reverse the usual values in the application of words to actions.” (2, 3.82.4)
The vote in January and July 2015
” … people are always disposed to ‘indulge in uncritical hope for what they want but use their sovereign powers of reason to reject what they would prefer to avoid.” (1, p.15)
The General Elections of January 2015 and the Referendum of July 2015 reflect the people’s hope to ‘escape’ from the obligations of Greece’s agreements with her creditors, and return to ‘normality’. This comes five years after the first agreement was signed, and while Greece is still in the midst of a severe economic crisis. The winners of the January 2015 elections, SYRIZA, were able to take full advantage of the ‘uncritical hope’ (the key word in SYRIZA’s January campaign was ‘HOPE’) of the people, and engaged their ‘sovereign powers’ in the July 2015 Referendum. Will SYRIZA be able to do the same in September 2015?
This depends on how the majority of Greek citizens have decoded the events of 2015. In their current politicla campaign, SYRIZA have played on the theme of being the ‘NEW’, fighting the ‘OLD’. The ‘new’ is unspoiled, virtuous, full of hope. The ‘old’ is spoiled, compromised, and the source of the disaster Greece faces. If the voters ‘buy’ this, then SYRIZA will be the first party on Monday morning. This ‘NEW-OLD’ dichotomy is also the key reason why SYRIZA do not wish to form an alliance government with “New Democracy”, the only other contender to win the election. The ‘new’ cannot cohabitate with the ‘old’. Therefore no ‘alliance’.
The opposite is the approach followed by the other contender, ‘New Democracy’. They recognize that mistakes have been made, but do not demonize the past. They openly promote an ‘alliance’ government, supported by most of the parties of the so-called ‘democratic arch’, which excludes the fascist party of ‘Golden Dawn’.
What is going to happen after the elections?
“…events would continue to move in unexpected ways and that those involved in them would continue to be as wise, foolish, surprised, delighted, frightened and cast down as those in his (Thucydides) own story…” (1, p.16)
We have to wait and see how the people will react to the measures required by the third agreement. The only thing that is certain is that the political situation in Greece will continue to be fragile and susceptible to sudden changes. No one should assume that the results of the September elections are going to settle anything. Which raises the question “Why were these elections called?”. But this is a question for another time.
1. Geoffrey Hawthorn, “Thucydides on Politics: Back to the Present”, Kindle Edition
2. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War.