Greece's Fate Is Torn between Athens and Athena

Novinite Insider » OPINIONS | Author: Angel Petrov |June 27, 2015, Saturday // 13:42
Bulgaria: Greece's Fate Is Torn between Athens and Athena Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras leaves the Maximos Mansion after he announced the referendum in a televised address in central Athens, early Saturday, June 27, 2015. Photo by BTA/AP

So blissful was Ulysses when he embraced his wife Penelope after an epic, ages-long journey, that the couple would have remained clung to each other until the morning...

... if Athena hadn't extended the night, forbidding the Titaness Eos, the goddess of the dawn, to rise home as she did every morning.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seems to have put his trust in Athena just like his ancestors did a few thousand years (or a mythological period) earlier - though Athens has now reincarnated into four people and is dressed like several people: Christine Lagarde of the IMF, Jean-Claude Juncker of the EU Commission, Mario Draghi of ECB and, possibly, Angela Merkel of Germany.

Tsipras' latest decision to have a referendum on the controversially perceived bailout agreement between Athens and international lenders is remarkable given that it has to take place after the day Greece is forced to default

The Greek government seems to count on lenders to wait patiently until after July 5, when the "people's will" will have been clearly manifest.

This leaves everybody divided - not only the creditors themselves or Tsipras' party, leftist SYRIZA, but also the citizens themselves.

On Sunday morning some Greeks across the country rushed to ATM to take some money out while they still could. Elsewhere areas around ATMs remained switched to a "Saturday" regime as others, Kathimerini wrote, "cheered the chance for Greece to regain control of its finances."

Greeks already had a chance to regain control of their finance - or at least they thought so. It was called "elections". By rejecting parties which had dominated the country's political landscape for years and letting SYRIZA and Tsipras sweep to power, they said "no" to bailout and austerity policies.

Conditions, however, are now different. To the surprise of many, the arrangement of stars and planets suggest by asking for a referendum he is choosing more wisely than it seems. 

In a poisonously tense atmosphere, Parliament will delay a yes/no vote on the referendum until as late as midnight when another Eurogroup meeting will (probably) have ended. There are some odds that the ruling majority might give the thumbs up, since a rejection of yet another expression of popular will might play into the hands of traditional parties in a society that is still quite divided along pro- and anti-austerity lines.

But imagine how a vote on accepting the bailout deal would have transpired. Many in SYRIZA, which was elected on an anti-austerity ticket, are staunchly against a bailout deal, and Tsipras has had to take them into account. Any move to accept lenders' conditions will meet their opposition. The majority would have collapsed, quarreling over tourism VAT, mass privatization, and pension reform.

Now Tsipras risks going to early elections if Greeks back the bailout deal in a referendum; but would have been facing the same had he said "yes" himself.

With default inevitably looming on June 30, what Tsipras was able to do is tell both Greeks and lenders there is nothing else to do but hope that 9.8 million eligible voters and the newly-embodied goddess Athena will all understand.

Even if Athena fails to show some sympathy (German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first to show signs of reluctance to extending the deadline for payment), he will have at least tried to put some of his populism skills into practice by offering real direct democracy to a people whose ancestors created some of the world's oldest democracies.

Or maybe Tsipras knows that even more is at stake for the international community if it refrains from one last concession.

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Tags: Alexis Tsipras, Tsipras, greece, Angela Merkel, euro, default, Syriza
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