“Tsipras and Varufakis: Swimming in Troubled Waters”, by Bruno Adrie

In February 2013, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Greek Radical left-wing coalition (Syriza) published an article in the French monthly newspaper Le Monde diplomatique that must have given back hope to a population overwhelmed by unemployment and dropping salaries, direct consequences of the reforms imposed by the so-called Troïka. He asserted, that “the “bail-out” programs for Southern Europe had failed, digging a bottomless pit that the tax-payers are invited to fill.” Avoiding a frontal conflict with those who had carved-up his country, he invited them to set the bases of a discussion in order to “reach a global, collective and final solution to the debt problem.” In his mind, this discussion was meant to become a “European conference on the debt based on the 1953 London Conference on German debt (…) the only realistic solution beneficial for all : a global response to credit crisis and to the assessment of the failure of the politics implemented in Europe.” He was asking for a “reduction of the cumulated debt face value”, “a moratorium on the debt service”, “the establishment of a development provision” so that the debt repayment wouldn’t nip in the bud the economic recovery” along with “the recapitalization of banks, with the amounts concerned being kept on the record of the public debt of the country.” He was also proposing setting up “reforms aiming at a fair redistribution of wealth.” By saying that, he was questioning the privileges of the Greek ruling classes, of the “financial oligarchy, this bunch of businessmen who had taken the State hostage, united ship-owners (…) media moguls, jack-of-all-trades bankers (on the verge of bankruptcy) who are responsible for the crisis”, a class favoured by a very unequal fiscal policy characterized by the fact that, since the beginning of the crisis, the taxes had skyrocketed by 337% for the poor and had only increased by 9% for the wealthiest (Bourassi). He was denouncing the fact that Greece had become a “financial colony of the Eurozone.”

Elected in January 2015, he appointed the economist Yanis Varufakis as prime minister, the man who announced soon after to the British journalist Paul Mason that his project was nothing more than the destruction of the system on which the Greek oligarchs had build their domination.

If Greece had decided to honour its four staggered payments to the IMF (total amount $1.6 billion) in June, it would have become “unable to pay salaries and pensions.” Facing Mr. Yanis Varufakis who threatened to default on the debt, the IMF gathered those payments and postponed their settlement on June 30th (Godin). Alexis Tsipras was counting on the delay to renegotiate the repayment conditions but he couldn’t obtain anything in front of the rigidity of the Eurozone lenders. Given that the situation had reached an impasse, he announced on June 27th that a referendum would be organised on July 5th to ask the Greeks if they accepted to take one more step in the austerity purgatory. Against the will of the lenders, who campaigned to promote the yes vote, the no vote won by a massive 61% vote. But instead of taking the advice of the heterodox economists who believe that a Grexit is the only solution to reactivate the Greek economy, Alexis Tsipras accepted to sign a third memorandum, action that compelled Greece to finance “ a Ponzi scheme through austerity measures that guarantee with complete certainty the increase of the weight of the Greek debt and the future inability to repay this debt. Unavoidably, it will be necessary to propose a fourth plan that will promise a fifth one…” (Godin)

Tsipras apologized to the Marxists all over the world, while not being one himself. He demanded Mr. Varufakis to resign and replaced him by the millionaire Euclid Tsakalotos. In the night between July, 15th and 16th, while protesters opposing the measures were assailed with tear gas on Syntagma Square by a police force who guarantees a social order favorable towards the ruling class, he had a first set of laws approved by the parliament, leaning on political forces situated on his right and, after the vote, got rid of five dissenting ministers. One week later, in the night between July, 22nd and 23rd, “the parliament [adopted] two voluminous laws in the framework of a procedure that [looked] like those of the black years of the Troïka (2010-2014). As denounced by the president of the Greek parliament, the MPs [had] received the text of one of those two laws in the night between July 20th and 21st and had to vote 48 hours later without the possibility of proposing any amendment. Let’s clarify that this take-it-or-leave-it document has 977 pages.” (Toussaint)

This practise, that consists in accelerating the legislative process, enables to circumvent and neutralize the democratic process, considered too slow by the technocrats, bankers and financiers. In the opinion of Zoe Konstantopoulou, this was “a violent attack against Democracy.” This event has the advantage of revealing that the business community really wants to exclude the electors from the decision making processes that concern them. By pressing the “forward” button, by compelling the MPs to read such a huge document impossible to absorb on so short notice, the business community was sure that there would be no debate.

Through this manœuvre, they have passed “a reform of Justice wanted by the lenders and the previous government” and rejected, in December 2014, “by all the country’s lawyers” (Toussaint) as well as a modification “in favour of the banks, of the legislation on bankruptcy and on the household debt. If a company bankrupts, the banks will be the first to be paid on the available assets whereas the retired persons and the workers of the company used to have priority. Concerning the mortgage debts, the privileges of the banks vis-à-vis the household in debt, are strengthened so that they can proceed to evictions more quickly and to the sale of the real estate.” (Toussaint)

Under Mr. Tsipras, who took office, thanks to the people, to say no to austerity, Greece is becoming a neoliberal paradise. People are gagged, democracy is abolished. In spite of the “opposition of 31 Syriza MPs (including the president of parliament), the legislative texts have been adopted with a majority of 230 yes votes composed of Syriza MPs along with the 4 right-wing parties MPs (New Democracy, Pasok, Independent Greeks and To Potami).” (Toussaint)

Is Mr. Tsipras’s objective to save Greece or to remain in power? Why hasn’t he resigned? Has the opportunist thrown away the mask? As far as Mr. Varufakis is concerned, he opposed the first part of the agreement one week ago, and now as a MP, he has said yes.

Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Varufakis really look like two generals who have decided to go to war to save their city from a siege that has lasted too long. Climbed on top of the walls, the inhabitants look at them go away. They pray God to give them strength and invincibility so that they should win the war. But they come back defeated, they are welcome, they apologize for their bad luck (“We didn’t expect it would be so hard a fight!”). Some people want to keep on fighting and take up arms, but the two heroes call the guards and have them arrested. Then they open the gates – the Enemy is here, just behind, waiting – and begin the carnage to make things easier for Him.

Sorry, but I’m afraid those two guys are swimming in troubled waters.

Bruno Adrie

References (in French) :

Alexis Tsipras, « Notre solution pour l’Europe », Le Monde diplomatique, février 2013

Nabil Bourassi, « La progressivité inversée des hausses d’impôts, l’autre drame des Grecs », La Tribune, 21 mars 2015

Romaric Godin, « La Grèce repousse ses paiements de juin au FMI à la fin du mois », La Tribune, 4 juin 2015

Romaric Godin, « Grèce, la vraie nature du troisième mémorandum », La Tribune, 15 juillet 2015

Eric Toussaint, « Post-scriptum : les conséquences de la capitulation », CADTM , 24 juillet 2015

Zoé Konstantopoulou, « Lettre de la Présidente du Parlement grec au Président de la République et au Premier ministre”, CADTM, 23 juillet 2015