Thursday, 17 September 2015

An election without aspirations in Greece

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Ahead of Sunday's snap vote, both front-runners are vowing to stay in the Eurozone - and that means continued austerity.

Athens, Greece - Former prime minister Alexis Tsipras is attempting to turn adversity to advantage.

His capitulation to European Union-imposed austerity policies, which he had vowed to abolish before being elected, split his Syriza party like an iceberg adrift in the tropics. Tsipras lost the support of 39 of his 149 parliamentarians when he brought Greece's third bailout agreement home on July 16.

When he presented the first implementation bill to parliament on August 14, the defections rose to 44. Six days later, he resigned and called for a snap election.

In both votes, Syriza failed to muster the 120 MP threshold considered necessary for a major piece of legislation to be constitutionally sound. That's because ruling parties must have the support of at least 120 of their own MPs in votes of confidence. Failure to reach this threshold in a major bill is an indirect censure from one's own side.

As Tsipras laid bare in a televised debate on Monday, however, the decision to resign seven months after coming to power was also the result of opportunism. 

"In the previous election we got 149 [seats in parliament], when there was a danger of leaving the euro. Now that that danger is gone … we can get the two extra MPs we need," he said, referring to the 151 absolute majority a party needs to rule in Greece's 300-seat legislature. 

Syriza leapfrogged to power by triggering early elections, as the austerity crisis wore down Greece's traditional power-brokers - the socialists and conservatives.

It jumped from 16 to 26 percent of the vote in 2012 by refusing to join a conservative-led coalition, leading to a hung parliament and repeat polls. It came to power with 36 percent of the vote by refusing to support the conservatives' choice of president this year, triggering another premature election.

Still in favour

When Tsipras resigned on August 20, Syriza was still riding above its January performance in some polls, though its support was dropping fast. The party's hopes of retaining power are now pinned on Tsipras' modest and telegenic personality.

"He's young. He's honest. He hasn't been in power long enough to be corrupt," says Katerina, an out-of-work hairdresser from the western Athens suburb of Aigaleo. "It's the other parties brought Greece to this pass over 40 years. I shall never vote for them again."

She forgives him his negotiating stumble with Europe's debt-collectors, saying "it was clear that he wasn't ready, but there were interests in Greece and abroad that wanted him to fail".

"There was never an alternative [to austerity]," says Nikos Divis, a pensioner, who believes Germany's Christian Democrats led a pan-European crusade to eradicate the emergence of the left in southern Europe.

"The Europe of solidarity and partnership doesn't want solidarity… It's all about who will strangle whom."

Despite the unpopularity of austerity, four-fifths of Greeks still favour remaining in the Eurozone. Both frontrunners - Syriza and the conservative New Democracy - are now pro-Euro parties vowing to do what it takes to keep Greece there, and that makes them pro-austerity.

"The Greek people are humbled, exhausted and deeply disappointed. They just want a bit of peace," says Petros Raptis, a film-maker and lifelong leftist, who believes the fighting spirit that elected Syriza to overturn austerity last January has evaporated.

"[Greeks] will no longer elect Tsipras in the ordinary sense. They will give him not so much a mandate as a vote of tolerance." 

'Logic of no growth'

There is a true alternative to austerity propagated by Popular Unity, a party made up of former Syriza backbenchers. It says prosperity is not possible within the Eurozone, because creditors will not allow Greece to do what it must to properly restructure its economy.

"The debt ends up shaping the entire economic policy of Greece, and that policy means austerity and liberalisation, privatisation and so on," says economist and Popular Unity candidate Kostas Lapavitsas. "That's a dead end for Greece... That's the logic of no growth."

Lapavitsas says a mere extension of its repayment schedule is no longer enough for Greece to prosper. The debt must simply be forgiven - or unilaterally defaulted on if necessary - and cease to loom over the country.

Popular Unity also says private enterprise cannot rebuild the economy with banks in private hands. It would nationalise the banking system and pump liquidity into small and medium-sized businesses.

"Greece has become already a marginal and insignificant country in the monetary union and the EU," says Lapavitsas. "Why? Because it's going nowhere economically. It's a beggar, fundamentally, and it has terms dictated to it. We want to reverse that."

Lapavitsas says Tsipras was simply naive. "The leadership had the wrong strategy," he says, "and the strategy was, 'we've got a good programme, a sensible programme… If we go there and argue coherently, our friends and allies and partners will understand the error of their ways… In the end they will back down.'

"Syriza went there… It came up against a brick wall, basically. In the end it was subjected to blackmail because that's the nature of the monetary union, the power relations there, and it surrendered completely."

In sentimental terms, many Greeks agree. "There was an alternative to austerity, but they didn't negotiate right - nobody did," says Roula Ifanti, a disgruntled civil servant. "We answered to the Germans before and we are still answering to them."

Ignoring the alternative

But it is doubtful that Ifanti or many other Greeks will vote for Popular Unity. Polls suggest it will win only single digits.

While many people say the current austerity plan won't work, a poll by Rass published by the non-partisan newspaper To Paron last month had 81.2 percent of respondents saying Popular Unity's alternative proposal would be impossible to implement.

"There wasn't overwhelming support from people for a period of hardship," says Raptis, who spent years in exile under the seven-year Greek dictatorship in the 1960s and '70s.

"In other times, Greece might have relied upon domestic products. Now we have no manufacturing, or it is bought out by multinationals. We can no longer subsist, and starting the economy from scratch requires a long, long primary period to yield results."

Constitutional lawyer Yiorgos Sotirelis says the election is about a cynical political calculation.

Greek electoral law awards the top party a 50-seat bonus in the legislature, equivalent to 17 percent of the vote. By virtue of that bonus, whoever pips the other at the post, even by a single vote, wins the premiership and command of a coalition. For Syriza and New Democracy, that primacy could prove existential.

"The electoral system falsifies the election result," says Sotirelis, who supports more proportional representation. He puts parties' failure to alter what he describes as "one of the worst election laws this country has ever known" down to "political Machiavellianism".

However, both front-runners are stuck in the high 20s in opinion polls. It is conceivable that whichever wins will only be able to govern through a marriage of convenience with the other.

Such a grand coalition took place once before, between socialists and conservatives. It lasted five months and is remembered by Greeks as a vehicle hijacked by the country's creditors.

Even in the plodding, non-aspirational atmosphere of this election, such a marriage of convenience is unlikely to last long.

Friday, 11 September 2015

A tragedy of errors

This review of The Full Catastrophe by James Angelos was published in The Weekly Standard under the title, "Greece on the Edge". 

When journalist James Angelos embarks on a series of trips to report on the Greek debt crisis, he finds that no-one is to blame for it.

On Zakynthos, for example, three quarters of blindness disability beneficiaries were exposed as frauds. The island’s ophthalmologist had liberally handed out certificates of blindness, countersigned by the prefect.

Angelos approaches the prefect first: “The doctor!” he says. “Only he has responsibility. The doctor puts you down as blind. Not the prefect.” Angelos duly interviews the ophthalmologist: “One of the people who put down a signature was me,” he admits. “Even if there are a thousand signatures, if the prefect doesn’t sign it, no-one gets anything.”

More astonishing than these men’s self-defence is their eventual fate. Although the island is buzzing with talk of the scandal, the prefect runs for its parliamentary seat and wins. The ophthalmologist quietly retires from the national health system with full pension.

Anyone left incredulous at this lack of accountability should enjoy Angelos’ telling of how two treasurers at the municipality of Pangaio, in northern Greece, lured their mayor to a rendezvous and shot him dead with an Uzi submachine gun. The treasurers could not account for €700,000 missing from municipal accounts. At their trial, they claimed that the mayor had forced them to embezzle.

The jury convicted, but embezzlement and murder notwithstanding, the treasurers were able to continue to provide for their families at public expense for nearly four more years. Even after they lost an appeal, the disciplinary process “took really long to start functioning properly,” as one government official put it.

The Full Catastrophe is based on stories Angelos originally covered for The Wall Street Journal. Reworked and expanded, they illuminate the nature of the problems that led Greece to its present pass - opacity, unaccountability and lack of meritocracy in a bloated public sector, and among many who have dealings with it.

Angelos’ prose is beautifully light, and capable of large, yet unobtrusive, shipments of information. He has a Herodotean gift for quoting direct speech. What people say and how they say it are his chief means of observing them, since his interviewees are strangers to him. The cumulative effect is that rather than drawing heavy-handed conclusions, Angelos ripens them in the reader’s mind.

Occasionally Angelos leads readers to judgments without cultural context. In a chapter on the vast influx of Europe-bound war refugees Greece has received in recent years, he quotes dreadful racism in the mouths of Greeks: “If you were an old man and saw fifty blacks walking down the street past your house – and I’m talking very black – wouldn’t you be afraid?” and old man asks him in the border town of Tychero (p192).

It is true that many Greeks say such things, but Angelos’ Western readers are sophisticated enough to understand political correctness. His sources are not.

On the few occasions when Angelos expresses an unabashed conclusion, it is well aimed. After listening to rants against Jews, Muslims and Turks, Angelos says: “The monolithic, ossified brand of Greek nationalism that has long concealed evidence of past pluralism has served to denigrate the concept of Hellenism itself, making it trite, insular and fragile.” (p. 187). This is the manifest anguish of a worldly Greek lamenting attitudes that ultimately imperil his ancestral homeland.


The Full Catastrophe requires one important caveat: while it does very well recording primary problems that led Greece to over-borrow, it spends almost no time discussing the secondary problems created by creditors’ prescribed therapy.

In 2013 one of those creditors, the International Monetary Fund, acknowledged that it had miscalculated the so-called multiplier effect of austerity. Whereas it had estimated that the economy would shrink by 50 cents for every euro cut from public spending, the lack of competitiveness in the Greek economy made it twice as vulnerable. A report by the Bruegel Group, a Brussels think-tank, reached similar conclusions the following year. Miscalculations such as these emboldened Greek parliament speaker Zoi Konstantopoulou to make the absurd claim that Greece’s entire debt is due to austerity, and that Greece should repay none of it.

As early as 2010, the IMF told the European Union that attempting to finance Greece without a generous, up-front debt reduction was unsustainable. The EU did not want to listen, largely because French and German banks held more than €100bn in Greek debt. A haircut to the Greeks meant another bailout of European banks, two years after governments spent €1.3tr refinancing them.

Some debt reduction came in 2012, when the IMF threatened to pull out of a second institutional loan to Greece, but this was foisted upon the private sector. This meant that 80 percent of the €103bn discount came from Greek banks, Greek pension funds and Greek educational institutions, whose savings at the Bank of Greece had been converted to bonds. Pension funds, which lost €12.8bn, have remained crippled ever since, and must be subsidised with budget money.

Finally, creditors prescribed a €50bn privatisation plan, through which Greece guaranteed bailing-in public assets. But privatising every shred of public infrastructure taxpayers had built, including the power grid, roads, rail, ports, and airports, would not be enough. Vast amounts of public land would have to be bundled, securitised and dumped on the market, severely devaluing the real estate banks held against non-performing mortgages.

Compounding these grave design flaws were Greek errors of execution. The Greek civil service represents over 15 percent of all people in work. It is Greece’s best-paid and most tightly unionised workforce, capable of swinging elections. Governments opted for across-the-board wage cuts rather than layoffs. These had a knock-on effect on the private sector, reducing minimum wage by a fifth, to €3.33 an hour. Unemployment remains at 25 percent despite the wage cut, but the civil service continues to enjoy tenure. The state is a Holy Cow that continues to lie across Greece’s road to recovery.

Crisis-era governments also kowtowed to pensioners and the nearly retired, together more than a quarter of the population. They have suffered benefit cuts of more than 20 percent, but in a country where only 3.5 million out of 11 million people still work, this isn’t enough. Retirement benefits still haven’t come down as much as health spending over five years (over 50 percent) and funding for higher education (three quarters), nor have they allowed a much-touted corporate tax cut from 26 percent to 15 percent – all of which would arguably have helped the economy more than pensioner-driven consumer spending.

In short, Greek governments never claimed ownership of reforms the country needs. It is easier to take orders resentfully and blame creditors for policy failures. For pensioners and the civil service, who together claim more than half the budget, they contemplated only generational change, as though these groups should never be disabused of their expectations, which have become entitlements writ in stone. So just as people benefited unequally in the good times, they have suffered unequally in the bad.

The Greek failure of leadership and the creditors’ foul-ups now mean that years of austerity have brought a balanced budget but little prospect of growth or jobs. Many Greeks now believe that the bailouts weren’t even meant in good faith, but as a means of economic colonialism. They have a sense of their fight for sovereignty and dignity as the vanguard of a global struggle for the soul of capitalism.

It is this resentment and mistrust that brought the leftwing Syriza party, or Radical Left Coalition, to power in January. Syriza promised to focus on growth and end the vicious cycle of austerity and recession by rescheduling Greece’s debt.

Greece currently has 16 years to repay the €204bn principal to the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The level of wealth extraction from the Greek economy required to achieve this is as high as 4.5 percent of GDP a year. Syriza wants this lowered to between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of GDP. In a debt sustainability analysis the IMF recently agreed, suggesting that Greece be given a 30-year grace period followed by a 40-year repayment period – essentially the rest of the century.

After five months of tortuous negotiations, a third, €86bn loan was agreed on July 13. Greece was offered a €35bn investment fund and a promise to discuss debt sustainability in the autumn. But Syriza got this is in return for going back on its promise to end austerity. Apart from further – needed - cuts to pensions, consumer tax and corporate tax will rise.

This has caused a rift within the party. The crisis has halved the life expectancy of elected governments and moved voters towards extremes. More badly implemented austerity will, sooner or later, give further impetus to that trend. 

How does one reconcile Angelos’ diligence with the lack of cultural context and a more balanced view of the multiple causes of the crisis? One believes Angelos when he claims a “fondness for Greece and many of its people”. The answer could be that Angelos’ perspective remains that of a diaspora Greek struggling to understand the complexes of his ancestral home.

Angelos has a good ear for popular wisdom. Greeks’ relationship with authority – both their own government’s and the European Union’s - has been transformed by this crisis, and not for the better. Surely the most fitting Greek saying for The Full Catastrophe is: Good friends don’t strike good bargains. Good bargains make good friends. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

On ‘The Black Road’ Into Europe With Syria’s Refugees

This article was published by The Daily Beast.

EIDOMENI, Greece — At first glance, nothing seems amiss on Greece’s northern border. Corn and wheat are slowly ripening in fields on the frontier with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Along their edges, the uncultivated dirt bursts forth with poppies and chicory.

At dusk, the scene comes to life: Scores of people emerge from among the stands of poplars and plane trees that line the Vardar River. By nightfall, groups of hikers carrying backpacks and long walking sticks made from stripped branches gather at the borderline, preparing to cross north. They speak little, and only in whispers.

Afghan refugees crossing the railroad that runs north from Greece into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. (Photo: Leonidas Kolokythas)

Almost all of them are fleeing war or repression in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Most are trying to get to Germany, where they hope to apply for political or humanitarian asylum. They hope to follow the Vardar valley all the way to Serbia, often walking on a freight track that follows the river’s gentle contours. From there, they plan to walk through Hungary and Austria.

The leader of one such group explained why he was there with his two eldest sons, aged 15 and 16. “I decided to leave Yemen so that I will never see my children fight for al Qaeda or any other side. Sooner or later, one militia or another will approach them.” Hashim, as he identifies himself, has had to leave behind a wife and four younger children he may never see again.

On the particular night when I met him, Hashim decided not to cross. Just yards away, on the far side of a cluster of trees, we heard a loud and rushed conversation of people who clearly weren’t trying to conceal themselves.

Hashim has heard of the rival gangs that prey on those travelling north for their money, mobile phones, and passports. In effect, they enforce a smuggling fee of approximately $4,000 from Turkey to Germany. Few of these people can afford it, and those who are intercepted bring back stories of ambushes and beatings. Migrants have dubbed the freight track the Black Road, because of the number of travellers who’ve been found dead on it.

Evdoxia Poutpara, a doctor at the Polykastro health center some 15 miles away, has seen the wounds.

“I’ve seen fractured shins, thighs, arms, and forearms, fractured fingers, bruised faces, broken noses, skull fractures… These are not accidents, but the results of violence,” she says. “Sometimes sharp objects have been used on the head, face, and abdominal injuries, and also crowbars.”

The French group, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is the only organization to actively try to assist migrants, even though, as war refugees, most are entitled to state protection. MSF has set up posts along the entire route that migrants follow. It offers them medical checkups, water, high-energy food, and sleeping bags.

Stathis Kyrousis was part of an MSF observation team that followed the route 18 months ago. The doctor calls the railroad track that runs through Macedonia “a road strewn with a lot of death and a lot of pain.”

“We saw people in Serbia who fainted in front of us because they had been walking for three days straight without any food or water,” says Kyrousis. “We saw frostbite. We saw a man who had no legs and whose friends had carried him, over a two-year period, from Afghanistan. We saw blind people led by others.”

Refugees gather at the northern Greek border at dusk as they prepare to walk north into Former Yugoslav Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany. (Photo: Leonida Kolokythas)

Many travelers have suffered war injuries. Ahmed was shot in the lower spine by a sniper in Syria, and walks on crutches. His group was lucky enough to reach the Macedonian town of Veles. “From time to time four friends carried me 100 kilometers,” he says.

As they boarded a bus for the capital, Skopje, police moved in. The group found itself in Gazi Baba prison in the capital, Skopje.

“We were all in one room—men, women, and children, about 25 of us, including five or six women and six children. This prison is very dirty. There was trash everywhere. We spoke with the [Syrian] women who were already there. They said that if they asked for anything, the police would demand sex… There were two rooms. In one, the women who were unwilling were kept locked up; in another, those who were willing were allowed to come and go, and anything they needed was provided.”  

Migration into Europe has risen for the last two years. Flows into Greece are set to triple this year. The Hellenic Coast Guard and police intercepted 42,390 people crossing onto Greek islands from Turkey last year, which was quadruple the 2013 figure. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, more than 77,000 people have crossed so far this year

If the figures continue to go this way, we can expect an increase of three or four times,” says Ioannis Mispinas, harbourmaster on the island of Kos, which faces Turkey.

“They’ve stayed in Turkey or Lebanon for a year or two. But as they see that the [Syrian] war doesn’t end, they are encouraged to leave,” says MSF’s Kyrousis.

MSF calls this the “consequences of EU members’ policies that are ignoring their humanitarian duty,” and calls on European leaders to “radically revise” those policies.

In response to this tsunami of humanity, the European Union is doing three major things. 

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has announced “an emergency relocation scheme.” Under current rules, refugees and asylum seekers may only apply in the EU country where they first alight.

This means that frontline states like Greece and Italy bear the brunt of asylum applications. Typically, about one in five is granted. Those who want to increase their chances must smuggle themselves deeper under Europe’s skin, as they are doing at the northern Greek border. Relocation is an effort to share the burden, but participation is voluntary. 

The EU is also tripling the resources allocated to Greece and Italy to police European external borders, making operations Poseidon and Triton the largest maritime policing actions it has ever undertaken.

The UN High Commission for Refugees has called on the EU to “rapidly adopt” and “fully implement” these measures.

Controversially, the EU also took the decision on May 18 to create a naval force to “identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers” off the coast of Libya.

The situation off the Greek islands of the eastern Aegean is different, however, and the purely humanitarian Triton operation is invaluable. At 3 miles from Turkey, Kos is one of the closest islands—so close that the most intrepid bypass smuggling rings and paddle over in life vests and on tiny inflatable dinghies.

Kos’s harbormaster, Ioannis Mispinas, describes the evolution of the traffic: “Last year we were facing a kind of invasion of very fast boats with a smuggler on board, and we needed to deploy our patrol boats to tackle this situation, and make some hot pursuits as well. Now we’re faced with different tactics—sending migrants without a smuggler on board in small inflatable rafts.”

A local boatyard that stores court evidence clearly displays the change. On one side are speedboats with powerful engines. All are riddled with bullet holes made by the coast guard.

Beside them lie stacks of black inflatable rafts that have been knifed open. This is something migrants are instructed to do when the coast guard spots them. Once in the water, they are technically shipwrecked, and international law demands that they be rescued.

Scores of migrants wait patiently on the quay outside the Kos police station for fingerprinting and identification. Technically, they are in police custody, but there aren’t enough cells for them. 

Kos recently persuaded a bank to open up a repossessed hotel to house waiting migrants. Even that, though, is overflowing. Men sleep on wall-to-wall mattresses strewn across the lobby floor. MSF tents are pitched in the garden. In a chivalrous arrangement reached among the migrants, only women and children enjoy the upstairs rooms.

Whatever the perils of a journey on foot from Syria to Germany, people like Murhaf, a 38-year-old taxi driver from Hama, are determined to make it. He has been forced to leave his wife behind, because a bomb that destroyed their house three years ago disabled her. But he has brought with him his two sons and two daughters, aged 7 to 11, as far as the northern Greek border.

“The Assad dynasty does whatever it likes,” says Murhaf when asked why he undertook the journey. “In one day, 300 people were killed after Friday prayers in Hama. We emerged from the mosque carrying flowers as a symbol of our desire for a change in government. Police just opened fire into the crowd with machine guns. They killed children. It was a peaceful march. We were unarmed.”  

Murhaf was thrown in jail for three months. “They beat me a lot, day and night, with iron rods that had been heated in a fire. They put the rods through my wrists and feet,” he says, showing the wounds. As he does so, his youngest daughter, Hanin, buries her face into his side and begins to sob.

The perils Murhaf and his children face on their forbidden journey are enormous; but it is the horror they have left behind that drives them on.

The New Athenian will be taking a break until late August and wishes readers a good summer!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Syriza grows up fast

A shorter version of this article was published by Al Jazeera International. 

"We’ve handed the keys to the country over to the Germans,” fulminated Yiorgos Trangas, a practitioner of opinionated radio journalism, as details of Greece’s new deal with creditors emerged earlier this week. 

Trangas roundly summarised Greeks’ feelings. Yet by early Thursday the deal with its accompanying new austerity measures had been passed in a stormy session of parliament by a majority of 229 deputies in the 300-seat legislature, stretching across five parties in both the ruling coalition and the opposition.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) with European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker (C) and French President Francois Hollande in Brussels over the weekend 

The bill’s passage unlocks the process of approval for an €86bn third financial aid package for Greece, but has crippled the ruling leftwing Syriza party with 39 defections – almost a third of its members of parliament – leaving the party deeply divided.

“We can’t have a government with two majorities,” said opposition socialist lawmaker Evangelos Venizelos. “an anti-austerity majority for the ‘good’ and ‘innocent’ bills and a majority which bears the national responsibility for the ‘difficult’ ones.”

Even Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who negotiated the deal in a Marathon, 17-hour session in Brussels, was uncharacteristically apologetic.

“I’m not going to tell the Greek people that I shall come bearing a success story,” he said in a nationally televised interview on Tuesday. “This policy is not helpful to us, but we shall do what we can. People need to understand the alternatives. We reached the end. One alternative was what I did… the second was disorderly default and the third was consensual exodus from the euro.”

Tsipras has said he was "blackmailed" into accepting the deal. This stance has raised serious questions about whether Syriza intends to implement it. "We need the prime minister to tell us if his government undertake the responsibility of this bill and the execution of all that it contains,” Venizelos said.


Four fifths of Greeks have been polled as wanting to stay in the single currency. Earlier this week, seven out of ten said they wanted the parliament to pass the measures.

What rankles with Greeks, however, is that Tsipras was elected to keep Greece in the Eurozone on terms that do not reduce it to poverty. Tsipras played hardball for months, then suddenly capitulated. On Sunday he went to Brussels having asked parliament to pass all the measures creditors had demanded on June 26, when talks broke off. Evidently emboldened by the five-sixths majority Tsipras got with government and opposition support, Germany then asked for much more.

The result is a split in the ruling leftwing Syriza party, or Radical Left Coalition, whose meteoric rise to power under Tsipras was based on presenting itself as an alternative to austerity policies espoused by Pasok socialists and New Democracy conservatives. Many people now see its about-turn as the unravelling of a party whose unity was based on a dream.

Syriza was formed by the coalescence of disparate leftist forces, known as its ‘components’.  Panayotis Lafazanis, who leads the most powerful of them, the Left Platform, predicts doom for the measures rather than the party.

“This agreement may pass through parliament with the help of the New Democracy votes, Pasok votes and The River,” he said, referring to a new, centre-right reformist party, “but it will not get past the people, who will annul it in practice through their unity and their struggles.”

Tsipras took over the party when it held five percent of the popular vote just seven years ago. He won 36 percent of the vote in January, after moving the party incrementally towards the political centre. But he has known that he may have to jettison his far left, and now signals that he is ready to do so.

“I fought this as no one else, and took difficult decisions,” he said in interview. “There is no ideological purity under such circumstances. If someone wants to preserve it, he will also have to shoulder his responsibility.”

A stillborn agreement?

Tsipras did, in fact, bring home something defensible.

Greece is being offered €86bn to finance the government for three years. For the first time, its creditors - the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund - recognise that the spending cuts they are asking for will trigger a recession, so they are offering €35bn for development to offset the ill effects. 

Tsipras is also bringing home a promise to start a discussion on the sustainability of the Greek debt in the autumn. Creditors had promised to do this in 2012, but never did.

“Greece’s debt can now only be made sustainable through debt relief measures that go far beyond what Europe has been willing to consider so far,” warned the IMF in a report on the Greek debt published on Tuesday.

It calls on Greece’s European creditors to offer Greece a 30-year “grace period” before asking it to start repaying the principal on its €321bn debt. Greece should then be given at least 40 years to repay it, the IMF has said.

Hardliners say the deal should be rejected because of austerity provisions Syriza had promised never to succumb to. For instance, Greece has been told to extract another €1.8bn a year from the economy through VAT (or consumer tax). Tsakalotos says he will achieve this by more efficient collection and by extending VAT to private education.

Lafazanis disagrees. “The changes to VAT mean the Greek people will pay an extra €2.4bn a year… while €850mn a year will be lost from main pensions as people are asked for larger copayments to national health,” he says.

Alternate Finance Minister Nadia Valavani, responsible for tax collection, resigned on grounds of principle. In a letter she wrote on Monday, while talks were ongoing, but made public on Wednesday, she calls the measures “stillborn”.

Like many Greeks, she believes that Germany’s goal was “the complete humiliation of the government and the country”.

Scheauble hadn't intended to humiliate Greece,” says psychologist Alexandros Ioannidis, “Greece humiliated herself by being totally unreliable and irresponsible.” He believes Tsipras’ five month-long negotiations were “a way of hiding his total unpreparedness and improvisation. Only, this cost some tens of billions euro to the Greek people.”

Like many Greeks, particularly educated urban, middle-class professionals, Ioannidis is furious with Syriza for toppling the previous conservative government, which had managed to produce two balanced budgets and primary surpluses, and was selling debt successfully on money markets for the first time in four years.  

The conservatives lost after it was revealed that their finance minister, Gikas Hardouvelis, had considered implementing pension cuts and improved VAT collection worth €980mn this year. The deal Syriza brought to parliament this week involves an estimated €12bn in austerity measures over three years.

Ioannidis believes Syriza’s problem is not political but psychological. “The well-known Greek tendency of always blaming others for one's grave faults is simply unforgivable, and in psychiatric terms is simply paranoid,” he says.

Accelerated political decrepitude

Tsipras is now in danger of being abandoned by key constituencies. His rise to power has been partly backed by the public sector, the country’s largest, best-paid and best-organised workforce, which still enjoys lifelong tenure. At a billion euros a month, it is also the government’s second-biggest expense after pension subsidies, absorbing a fifth of the budget.

Even though he made good on a promise to hire back nine thousand state employees sacked by the previous government, Tsipras has now suffered two, one-day strikes by ADEDY, the state workers’ federal union. This is partly because

The union has managed to make preservation of its privileges synonymous with standing up to Germany, which Tsipras’ left-wingers support.

“There is a prevailing theoretical difference between those who believe that all disagreements can be solved through the European legal framework, and those who believe that the legal framework is a new colonialism under the leadership of Germany,” says Yannis Schizas, leader of the Radical Ecologists, one of Syriza’s leftist components Tsipras has lost the support of.

“These colonial forces want to reduce the southern states, and especially Greece, into the status of a second class country,” he says. By and large, Syriza’s left wing sees a return to the drachma as a return to sovereignty.

Like Lafazanis, Schizas predicts an unimplementable law. “There will be resistance on each individual measure,” he says. “Second, there will be an invisible economy... More tax evasion and more black economy - that will be the result.”

Nonsense, says Ioannidis. “Of course the new deal can only be implemented with enormous difficulty,” he says, “but Scheauble is only partly to blame. The main responsibility is due to the incapacity of the Greek political elite of the last five or six years, but also to the extreme immaturity of the Greek people, who did not understand that the fake prosperity they enjoyed would come to an end eventually, which it did; and now they want it back, at whatever cost.”