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13° Nicosia,
18 February, 2019
 
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Tsipras’s last card

Then came the “kolotoumba”

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Tsipras started out like a rock star in the eyes of the European and American left. He was seen as being at the vanguard in the so-called battle against austerity.

Every time Tsipras set foot in Rome or Paris, he was welcomed with enthusiasm by young people and left-wing officials who saw him as a rival to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a representative of a “rupture” with the European status quo. It all culminated in Greece’s bailout referendum in the summer of 2015.

Then came the “kolotoumba.”

Tsipras does not really reverberate with the radical folk anymore. In fact, that section of the electorate appears to have found a new rock star in the face of Yanis Varoufakis, Tsipras’s former finance minister and co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement, DiEM25. In the minds of these people, Tsipras is a leader who made compromises.

Paradoxically, in a stunning transformation, the Greek prime minister at some point tried to become the rock star of the financial markets. The truth is he could have. The priests of capitalism love the stories of left-wing leaders who gave up their credo while in power and followed the precepts of their own gospel.

It was all set for Tsipras. The markets had bought the narrative that he had managed to implement painful reforms in Greece without disrupting social peace while believing that none of his political rivals would survive politically if they tried to introduce similar policies. Meanwhile, they patiently waited for big or impressive moves that never came because Tsipras was held back by the party’s grass roots.

The markets however are not patient and they do not cultivate personal ties or expectations. They simply wait to try out the next leader.

Yet, a politician like Tsipras, who was only recently led into the circle of movers and shakers, is naturally in their thrall. He pays attention to how he is perceived today, and is also looking to the day after.

All that might explain his insistence on pushing the Prespes agreement and its ratification in the Greek Parliament. He has never really acted against majority will in the past and obviously knows well what the cost of seeing the deal through will be. Having lost his appeal among much of the left and with his sway over the financial markets in decline, this is perhaps the only international card he is left with and he will be playing it in the coming months.

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