Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The new government

Immediately after Tsipras was sworn in as Prime Minister on Monday, January 26th, there followed the next day the swearing in of the new government.

Many did it like Tsipras without swearing the oath in the presence of an Orthdodox priest. However, Kammenos and his party affiliates did so. This initiation act was meant to give a new sign of change, just like all the designated ministers not wearing a tie and for the first time a Prime Minister living together with a woman and having two children with her, but in not being married. For the youth that means something especially since Greek society is deemed by them to be extremely Conservative.

Syriza did not win an outright majority, but only 149 seats in a parliament consisting of 300 seats. Consequently to everyone's surprise, Tsipras entered a coalition with Kammenos, to form the new government. The two had already agreed ahead of the elections not to fight each other in Parliament as both agreed in their anti austerity stance. As a consequence this coalition with a party of the Right known for its ant-migrant rhetoric and anti-German stance (Kammenos has been a forceful voice in demanding war reparations from Germany) has raised concern about the deeper implications thereof. For instance, the coalition contract between Syriza and the Greek Independent Party stipulates that the church-state relationship shall stay unchanged. Whether or not this will mean a blockage for changes in need to be made, that remains to be seen.

Another, still deeper concern is to what extent this coalition government will be committed to Europe as it may well be tempted by various backers and forces to seek a reconstruction of national identity based on a national self sufficiency of the economy, and therefore willing to risk a break with the European Union. Already Kammenos went on record that if Europe does not provide the money, then Greece can go to Russia, or for that matter even to China or the United States of America.

Still many were taken by surprise at the speed in which the new government was formed. Yet it should not have come as a surprise. Syriza did very well in the last election held on June 17, 2012 when coming in a close second behind Samaras and Nea Democratia, one of the two traditional ruling parties besides PASOK. Thus they knew with a certain degree of confidence at the next election, they would be the winners. Thus they had time to prepare themselves while still in opposition to take over the government. Consequently it is said that they have a very good communication amongst themselves. That will matter a great deal on how Tsipras shall coordinate all the Ministers and the various political appointments to be made in the various Ministeries.

Given this outlook, a crucial test shall not only how well this government shall respond to all issues and challenges, but also whether or not it can really implement the policies it seeks to realize. For it should not be forgotten that the state administration is full of appointees of previous governments while there are those who will not take the loss of power very lightly. For it is a political art to evoke changes without creating unnecessarily enemies too often the case in Greece when outside experts are asked for advise, but then never paid.

The motivational crisis underlining the overall Greek crisis and state deficit has not only to do with 'corruption' and intrigues which block any honest and good effort, but also the 'morality of payment' implies too often good work went not only unrecognized, but was not compensated adequately, if at all and where payments were made, then too often only after a huge delay in time. It amounts to a form of convenience to take but not to pay, or never even to give feed-back. The frustration honest bureaucrats feel and experience is undescribable. Even prior to the election itself, over and again Syriza was asked on how will they deal with this problem of the state administration.

One possible answer is to be a large enough group of engaged people who can initiate change without being corrupted. At the very least, this is the virtue of this new government. It consists of people who have not been involved in the usual games of corruptions and compromises made all the time by providing friends and clients with exemptions from the law or in providing them with favours by being the first to be informed.

There are countless practices which have led to this enormous crisis, public procurement just one of the many cases in need to be altered. Tsipras has promised to keep his promises and earlier made speeches suggest that his government intends to alter especially financial controls. Whether such measures shall be sufficient, that depends whether or not the really needed change in culture can be attained. For no such change will succeed if they are only enforced by various types of control. Rather the people themselves have to be prepared to pay their taxes and adopt a new way of working together in a transparent and open way, otherwise this government will not succeed.

So what are the chances of this government being able to make a significant difference, and therefore set Greece on a new course of not just economic growth, but cultural development? One significant change is that many of the newly designated ministers are truly new faces but who have gained a positive reputation in what they have been doing up to now. It is even noteworthy that the youth considered to be the lost generation and which has turned away completely from the prevailing and dominant institutions and way of governance, that they have become enthusiastic.

The new government might be even the chance to restore trust in the political process. If so, then a New Deal can be made not only with Europe, but within Greek society. Syriza could succeed if able to gain this trust and then translate it into a new constitution. There is definitely the need to replace the old one which had been adopted in 1975, that is after the Junta fell since it contains such exemptions like ship owners not having to pay taxes and has contributed to the enormous social injustice incurred in Greek society.

Public intellectuals in power

The new cabinet:


Altogether the formation of the new government has been received well by the general public. It signifies a promising start, even though some of the newly appointed ministers committed right away the mistake of believing politics is already made by speaking into the microphone. Rather policy is only made and implemented by going through a long process, and even then it is not sure what comes out in the end was what was intended at the beginning. Especially many Greek laws have been over and again circumvented in this way. Somehow the proof will be, for instance, if the new government succeeds in installing the land registrary. Twice this attempt has been foiled for different reasons even if and despite the European Union having given a lot of money to have this institution in place.

There has been made the promise to redo the property tax with only larger land holdings with high value being taxes, but then this amounts again to what measure shall be applied. The current property tax is deemed unfair since the nominal land value is derived from times when the Greek economy was not in crisis. 

The new government wishes to undo the decision of Samaras and relaunch ERT, the Greek television station with a huge archive containing seventy years of history. ERT reached not only remote villages, but as well the Greek diaspora in especially Australia, USA and Canada, something private television stations cannot fulfil. Also these private stations have often been exempted from having to pay the public frequencies they are using, and thus an indication of how the media has been deeply involved in the upholding a certain level of mutual interests and therefore in the interest of all as well a certain silence. Some issues were never taken up or if they flared up, simply very quickly forgotten. The media interest distorted therefore quite well the public interest in public truth, something missing in a society not open to public discourse.

Thus all in all there is a measure of optimism which promises people to restore their dignity. Tsipras goes so far and promises to heal all those wounds caused by the austerity policy which has been imposed, so the Greek and left wing version, by the Troika. It should be admitted that it was not merely the Troika's doing, but how the Greek politicians came to an agreement of no agreement, since the usual tactic was to agree only half heartedly and even then always wishing to renegotiate what had been agreed upon. But once the Greek government came under pressure due to the delay of reforms, then crude measures were taken as part of a patch up work done with the pretense of wishing to fix the problem, when in reality it was but a fake measure. The decision of Samaras to close down ERT was justified by him and others by pointing out the employees of ERT were over paid and yet the station was no longer deemed to provide good services with only 27% of the population following its channels. Yet to put 2 500 people in one stroke out of work so as to fulfil one of the required measures by the Troika, namely to reduce the number of civil servants, is one thing, to shut down an entire historical institution - ERT had survived seventy years, including German occupation and the Junta - is quite another.

So will the hope for change be fulfilled? In the long run, it shall depend on two critical things: what conditional hope will allow for a new learning process to start, and can academics or even intellectuals make a difference in a period of time when the world is full of troubles and wars? The new government shall face the critical issue whether or not they can change the value system under which things have functioned and failed so far? Linked to the prevailing value system are the models of success. They are based on pseudo values of success while the cutting edge has become that much sharper, so as to leave 28% unemployed and over 50% of the youth. The latter are not merely without a job and hence cannot pay for their health insurance nor pay into the pension fund, but they see no future. Hence many are forced to go abroad like so many Greeks have done so in previous periods of time. So what hope can make a difference and can the knowledge base the new government has as its disposal be sufficient to alter the political course while ensuring that Greece stays a member of the European Union and in the Eurozone at one and the same time?

Principle of hope

When Dina Vaiou was interviewed by the BBC in a street market as to her expectations of the election outcome, she answered Syriza stands for 'hope'. 

Clinging to hope says something about what the past five years amount to. It seems there is no longer any rational solution left to try out, for everything has failed. Only hope is left that finally a change will come and by electing a new government formed by the 'Radical Left', that things can be turned things around and show Greece a way out of the debt trap. Definitely it means a rejection of the austerity linked with the measures which have been imposed by the Troika. Dina Vaiou expresses a deep desparation about the state of affairs which has reached many, including her. It needs to be said that she is an outstanding academic who has been engaged for years by now together with her husband Costis Hadjimichalis to bring about a "Rethinking of Radical Spatial Approaches." It indicates already the intellectual background of Syriza.

One example is cited as making hopefully a difference when viewing the new Cabinet members and the way Syriza shall approach the most critical aspect of governance, namely how to handle policy and administrative practice when the very institutions set up for purpose of governance are deeply rotten, and misconstrued due to a 'culture of corruption' most difficult to change.

  Source: Corinna Genschel, "Impressions from Athens", 29.1.2015

Yet some caution should prevail. First of all, Camus said 'to hope is to resign, and to live is not to resign'. Secondly, Ernst Bloch made clear in his book 'Principal of Hope' how important is to distinguish 'conditional' from 'unconditional' hope, since the latter will lead to even violent retaliation once hope has been disappointed due to obvious failures lying ahead. Bloch said only 'conditional hope' will allow for learning out of failures. Thirdly, there is a beautiful poem by Katerina Anghelaki Rooke about hope. It would be worthwhile to ponder over her words, since it puts hope into a personal life context and therefore at a distance to what politics usually does with the principal of hope, namely to misuse it as a form of propagana devoid of any real substance.

Form and Content of Hope

Hope contains the dream

the miracle.

Hope is conversative

like grandfater and grandmother.

Hope is subversive

like children.

Hope is generous:

we all have a life waiting for us.

Hope is selfish:

let him die so that I can live.

Hope is natural:

it forces you to cohabit

with the monster of survival.

Hope is abstract:

besides hunger everything else is undefined.

Hope is precise:

I am waiting for this flower

dressed in that way

with this light round the neck.

Towards the end

hope will marry terror

and thus you'll be hoping and trembling

with the same breath

that you may stay and suffer

or quit life.

Katerina Anghelaki Rooke

Taken from Translating into Love Life's End


There was one main criticism levelled: although Tsipras had promised to reduce the number of Ministers (down from over twenty in the government of Samaras to 15 in the government headed by Tsipras), there are 40 deputies who have been appointed. One rationale for this is that a relative strong group is needed if the entire administration is to be put into gear and serve the purpose of implementing the new policy. This may also be the outcome of the strategy adopted for the election with small teams with focus on sepcial topics having been formed, so as to prepare for government.

The Academic Background of most Ministers

A closer look at the background of the new ministers reveals something which Aljezerra notices, and which it calls cunningly 'Athens' new philosopher kings':

"Tsipras has surrounded himself with people of a considerably different breed. Unlike most Greek and European politicians, his Cabinet members don’t come from the business world. A lot of them have little experience in politics and appear committed to their electoral pledges. Except for Tsipras; the governor of Attica, Rena Dourou; and the president of parliament, Zoe Constantopoulou, a big chunk of Syriza’s new leadership is made up of first-time parliamentarians from the world of academia. These are Athens’ new philosopher kings, and their emergence signals the return of the left to the mainstream in Europe."

Source: Yiannis Baboulias Athens' new philosopher kings Aljazerra 12.2.2015 http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/2/athens-new-philosopher-kings.html

Definitely a more detailed study of their respective backgrounds shall be needed, but already a word of caution can be linked to what has been one of the strongest criticism of Rosa Luxembourg when she saw what Lenin did to keep out the opportunistic elements when forming the Communist Party in Russia. She criticized him for including the academics since to her these are the opportunists par excellance.

It leads also to the question if it is possible to go from 'theory' to political practice, when deducing theoretical reflections out of practical experiences made while attempting to alter things along a 'learning hypothesis' would be much more preferable.

A good example thereof might be the new Finance Minister Varoufakis said to be an theoretician in economics, and who specializes on 'game theory'.


Hatto Fischer

Athens (first draft: 27.1.2015, revised 15.2.2015)

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