Slavoj Zizek: How Alexis Tsipras and Syriza Outmaneuvered Angela Merkel and the Eurocrats

Source: In These Times

The rebels in Greece are waging a patient guerrilla war against financial occupation.

Giorgio Agamben said in an interview that “thought is the courage of hopelessness”—an insight that is especially pertinent for our historical moment when even the most pessimist diagnostics finishes with an uplifting hint at the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. True courage, however, is not to imagine an alternative, but to accept the consequences of the fact that no discernible alternative exists. Indeed, the dream of an alternative is a sign of theoretical cowardice, it functions as a fetish that prevents us from thinking to the end the deadlock of our predicament. In short, true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlight of another train approaching us from the opposite direction. There is no better example of the need for such courage than Greece today.

The double U-turn that the Greek crisis took in July 2015 cannot but appear as a step not just from tragedy to comedy but, as Syriza’s Stathis Kouvelakis noted, from tragedy full of comic reversals directly into a theatre of the absurd. After all, how else can one characterize this extraordinary reversal of one extreme into its opposite, one that would bedazzle even the most speculative Hegelian philosopher? Tired of the endless negotiations with the EU executives in which one humiliation followed another, the Syriza referendum on Sunday, July 5 asked the Greek people if they support or reject the EU proposal of new austerity measures. Although the government itself clearly stated that it supported a “no” vote, the result was a surprise for the government: 61 percent voted “no” to European blackmail. Rumors began to circulate that the result— victory for the government—was a surprise for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras who it was said secretly hoped that the government would lose, as a defeat would allow him to save face in surrendering to the EU demands. (“We have to respect the voters’ voice,” he had said.) However, the morning after, Tsipras announced that Greece is ready to resume the negotiations, and days later Greece negotiated a EU proposal which is basically the same as what the voters rejected (in some details even harsher)—in short, he acted as if the government has lost, not won, the referendum. Kouvelakis put it this way:

How is it possible for a devastating “no” to memorandum austerity policies to be interpreted as a green light for a new memorandum? … The sense of the absurd is not just a product of this unexpected reversal. It stems above all from the fact that all of this is unfolding before our eyes as if nothing has happened, as if the referendum were something like a collective hallucination that suddenly ends, leaving us to continue freely what we were doing before. But because we have not all become lotus-eaters, let us at least give a brief résumé of what has taken place over the past few days. … From Monday morning, before the victory cries in the country’s public squares had even fully died away, the theater of the absurd began. … The public, still in the joyful haze of Sunday, watches as the representative of the 62 percent subordinated to the 38 percent in the immediate aftermath of a resounding victory for democracy and popular sovereignty. … But the referendum happened. It wasn’t a hallucination from which everyone has now recovered. On the contrary, the hallucination is the attempt to downgrade it to a temporary “letting off of steam,” prior to resuming the downhill course towards a third memorandum.

And things went on in this direction. On the night of July 10, the Greek Parliament has given Alexis Tsipras the authority to negotiate a new bailout by 250 votes to 32, but 17 government MPs didn’t back the plan, which means he got more support from the opposition parties than from his own. Days later, the Syriza Political Secretariat dominated by the Left wing of the party concluded that EU’s latest proposals are “absurd” and “exceed the limits of Greek society’s endurance.” Leftist extremism? The IMF itself (in this case a voice of minimally rational capitalism) made exactly the same point: an IMF study published a day earlier showed that Greece needs far more debt relief than European governments have been willing to contemplate so far. European countries would have to give Greece a 30-year grace period on servicing all its European debt, including new loans, and a dramatic maturity extension. No wonder that Tsipras himself publicly stated his doubt about the bailout plan: “We don’t believe in the measures that were imposed upon us,” Tsipras said during a TV interview, making it clear that he supports it out of pure despair, to avoid a total economic and financial collapse.

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