In many ways, Alexis Tsipras’ victory in the recent early parliamentary elections is even more significant than the Syriza coalition’s success in January or even the results of the July referendum on Greece’s relationship with its creditors. The radical left party’s first rise to power was ‘by contradiction’ – a response to the majority of voters’ disillusionment in the demagogy and impotence of the former ‘pillars’ of the Greek political stage represented by the New Democracy politicians and PASOK. Now it seemed that this factor would work against Tsipras, but it didn’t.
There is no doubt that the most important thing here was the actions of the Greek Prime Minister himself, who took the risk of appealing to the people once again for their support. It will be remembered that Greece’s former government was never in favour of the promised referendum on relations with the European Union, having yielded to pressure from external creditors. Tsipras took the risk of putting his mandate and the mandate of the coalition on the line, and his determination played a crucial role in the outcome of the elections. The victory on 20 September is, first and foremost, the victory of Tsipras personally.
A second important factor that influenced the election results was the inability of the opposition, represented by the New Democracy party, to offer voters a clear alternative to Syriza’s policies. One could say that the opposition has now ended up in the same unenviable role that the EU leaders have been ascribing to Tsipras himself for a couple of years. During his premiership, the leader of the radical left coalition not only managed to win the referendum, but also sign a series of agreements with Greece’s external creditors that to some extent are mindful of his promises. In this situation, the rise to power of right-wing forces would only have broken down the cooperation that has been established and disrupted the implementation of adopted legislation, which is to say that it would have plunged Greece into yet another crisis. This is something that the country can no longer afford.
It should be remembered that Tsipras still has to sort through the debris left behind by his predecessors. After all, the 86 billion euros outlined in his agreement with creditors will, for the most part, be used to pay off the debts of previous Greek governments.
With Tsipras’ victory, Greece has been given another chance to find the political stability it has waited so long for, a political stability that will also apply to its relations with other countries. This was highlighted in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s congratulatory message to the ‘new-old’ Greek Prime Minister, in which Putin expressed his «hope for the continuation of a constructive dialogue and active collaboration to further strengthen the mutually-beneficial cooperation between Russia and Greece in a variety of areas, including trade and economic, energy and humanitarian».
The general situation in the European Union, which has changed dramatically in the two months since the Greek referendum, has played an important role in the formation of the new political situation in Greece. The influx of refugees and migrants to EU countries is increasingly revealing the weakness of the European Union by aggravating old knots of interstate and intrastate conflicts and tying new ones. While Berlin, Paris and the European Commission were able to try and talk to Greece in the language of ultimatums back in July, they can no longer afford to do so today.
In the 1980s, the American political analyst Stephen Walt introduced the ‘balance of threat’ theory into the academic and political world. His theory argues that when working out and implementing their foreign policies, small countries are guided more by external threats than by the positions of more powerful neighbours. In other words, the creation of an alliance against an external threat is a determining factor with regard to bilateral relations even with a more powerful, influential and long-established partner. In today’s highly uncertain, rapidly changing configuration of power in Europe, this statement is true not just for small countries – Greece, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – but also for Germany, which has come up against challenges capable of surpassing the capabilities of even this powerful nation at any moment.
Today, the European Union as a supranational organisation and its leading member states have essentially found themselves held hostage by the countries of Central and European Europe, through which the transit routes of hundreds and thousands of refugees pass and onto which ‘Old Europe’ is pushing the most acute contradictions caused by the migration crisis. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Greek society, exhausted by its political crises and social and economic problems, saw an opportunity in the current situation to assert its rights and interests more loudly. All that the Greek people can do now is hope that Captain Tsipras will be able to steer his ship between all the reefs in their voyage on the stormy European sea, a voyage that is risky, but promises certain benefits.