A Citizen’s Guide to Greece 2015


November 13, 2015

The Bourgeois of Calais

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Written by: DW

Le référendum a été un désastre : tels les bourgeois de Calais, Tsipras a dû se rendre à Bruxelles le 12 juillet avec un projet d’accord encore plus dur que celui qu’il avait soumis à référendum.

It’s not an allusion I expect a Greek journalist would make under the circumstances. I so took for granted the frame of reference of French journalist Jean Quatremer’s recent blog post in Liberation, dedicated to assessing the fruit of Tsipras’ Eurozone negotiations earlier this year, that I had to explain to myself why it was potentially subversive to a supporter of Tsipras’ efforts to renegotiate Greece’s debt burden.

I do not imagine most contemporary Greek readers would readily compare Alexis Tsipras to a Bourgeois of Calais, with reference to negotiations between Tsipras’ government and Greece’s partners in the Eurozone. The Siege of Calais, an episode in the 100 Years War, and the debates it has engendered over the ages, are quintessentially part of the Western European path to modernity, no less than the Fall of Constantinople is embedded in the national consciousness of modern Greeks.

Quatremer’s note ostensibly elucidates for his center-left Francophone readership certain elements of Tsipras’ leadership style, if such it can be called. For in reality Tsipras seemed rarely to take decisions on his own, even as he appeared to be preoccupied to cement his status as leader of his government.

Primus inter pares, “First among peers,” Quatremer calls him, in keeping with the allusion to the Middle Ages, in delicious irony, a medieval suzerain at best. At issue actually is the significance of Tsipras’ climbdown from his campaign promise to tear up Greece’s debt contracts with the Troika.

How will future generations explain Tsipras change of heart after his triumphant victory in the July referendum? Will he be viewed as a hero confronting an implacable invader against all odds? Will his change of tack be understood as a theatrical submission to a widely accepted international order?

One thing seems clear.  partisan rhetoric regarding the memoranda and the economics of austerity only go so far to help understand this episode and the positions of the various actors.

Editor’s note. Jean Quatremer will deliver a Dukakis Lecture at the Municipality of Thessaloniki on Friday, November 20, at 7 PM, under the auspices of the Dukakis Center and the Institut français de Thesalonique.



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