Δευτέρα 26 Ιανουαρίου 2015

Greece’s Agonized Cry to Europe


Athens on Monday. CreditLouisa Gouliamaki/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The message from Sunday’s elections in Greece was unambiguous: The Greeks cannot and will not continue to abide by the austerity regime that has brought their economy to its knees. It was a message the Germans and other Europeans who continue to insist that Greece pay off its mountainous debt, no matter what the damage, must hear. Persisting on their dogmatic course is not only wrong for Greece but dangerous for the entire European Union.
It is too soon to anticipate how Alexis Tsipras, the maverick politician whose left-wing Syriza party won 36.3 percent of the popular vote and nearly gained an outright majority in Parliament, intends to deliver on the promises he made to voters to abandon the austerity program while reducing the nation’s debt and retaining the euro.
These goals are fundamentally incompatible, but the new prime minister has signaled to Europeans that he is ready to moderate his ambitions once in office. It is essential that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who is seen by Greeks as the prime architect of the austerity program, and the “troika” of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which manage the Greek bailout, demonstrate a similar readiness to ease the size and conditions of Greece’s debt burden.
Some of the creditors still seem to feel that a debt is a debt to be repaid in full, and that the Greeks “deserve” punishment for their history of profligate spending and habitual tax evasion. But shrinking an economy by a quarter and throwing more than half the young people out of work — policies Mr. Tsipras has likened to waterboarding — is not the way to enable a country to pay back its debts. Greece needs some breathing room, not only to give Mr. Tsipras a chance to turn the country around but also for the sake of the rest of Europe.
Greece may be exceptional in the size of its debt burden, now about 177 percent of G.D.P., and its systemic problems run deep. But Greeks are not unique in their feelings of alienation and anger over the economic crisis that spread to many of the poorer countries of the European Union, and Syriza is hardly the most radical of the fringe parties that have arisen across Europe in reaction to the crisis. If Greece is pushed to the limit and compelled to default on its debt payments, and even to abandon the euro, the economic repercussions would spread through all Europe. Politically, a “Grexit” — Greek exit from the euro — would shatter the assumption that there is no retreat from the euro and further destabilize Europe. And it would certainly add fuel to anti-European Union sentiments that have propelled the growth of far-right parties.
Of course, Mr. Tsipras must use his popular mandate to push through the fundamental domestic reforms that his predecessor, Antonis Samaras, had begun. The moneyed elites’ aversion to paying taxes must be brought to an end, along with the corruption, nepotism and cronyism in government. Opposing austerity does not mean abandoning reform as a group of prominent economists wrote recently in The Financial Times.
There is not a lot of time, though. Greece’s current bailout program expires on Feb. 28. European Union leaders — Mr. Tsipras among them — are scheduled to gather in Brussels on Feb. 12. An announcement there of an extension of the program for several months would be a good signal that the Europeans have heard the cry of the Greeks and are prepared to be more sensible.

Alexis Tsipras pays homage to Greek communists at site of Nazi atrocity

Alexis Tsipras places flowers on the National Resistance Memorial in Kaisariani on Monday.
 Alexis Tsipras places flowers on the National Resistance Memorial in Kaisariani on Monday. Photograph: Alexandros Beltes/EPA
Greece’s new prime minister lays red roses as a symbol of ‘liberty from German occupation’, says his Syriza party
Few places in Greece conjure the spirit of resistance as much as the war memorial in Kaisariani. It stands on the spot where 200 political activists – mostly communists – were executed by Nazi forces on May Day 1944. The monument in a rifle range in one of Athens’ “red” suburbs, is redolent of defiance but, perhaps more than that, the battle against tyranny. That Greece’s new prime minister Alexis Tsipras, Europe’s first radical left leader, should elect to visit the monument minutes after being sworn in, is rich with symbolism – and defiance too. Red roses in hand, resistance veterans looking on, the young firebrand paid homage to the victims in his first act in office. “It represents national resistance to German occupation,” says Panos Skourletis, spokesman of Syriza, an alliance of far-left groups ranging from Maoists to greens. “But also the desire of Greeks for freedom, for liberty from German occupation.”
If explanation were needed, he adds: “It was purely symbolic.”
Tsipras, who at 40 becomes Greece’s youngest post-war leader, is a deft communicator with an army of (mostly) US-trained advisers. For a nation battered by German-inspired austerity and humiliated by international focus, standing up to Europe’s paymaster by whatever means plays well with the gallery.
As the TV cameras rolled, Greek commentators couldn’t help themselves: “It’s another ‘up yours’ to the Germans,” one said.
Tsipras told thousands of supporters in a victory speech on Sunday that he would seek to restore “their lost dignity”. For Greek leftists, widely persecuted after their defeat in the bloody civil war that followed the Wehrmacht’s withdrawal from Greece, such gestures are hugely significant.

The men and women who were shot dead at dawn that day were killed in reprisal for the guerrilla ambush of a German general, Franz Krech, and three of his aides at Molaos, near Sparti, in the Peloponnese.
Famously they began to sing – giving an uproarious rendition of the Greek national anthem – as they were lead to their deaths from the notorious SS-run camp at Haidari, then a suburb on the outskirts of Athens. German soldiers looked on astonished as the Greeks broke into song. Once at the range, the hostages refused to undress – insisting that they go dressed with dignity. It was an act of resistance that in austerity-whipped Greece resonates greatly today.

What was the outcome of the Greek election over the weekend and why were these elections important?


Q&A: Meet the Party That, By Promising Greeks End of Austerity Measures, Won the Election

Within hours Syriza formed a small coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks. It is also worth pointing out that the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party came in third place.
In terms of the future of the eurozone and European integration these elections were historical. The future of Greece in the eurozone and the pace at which economic and political integration in Europe will take place is at stake.Why is Syriza so popular and what did it promise the Greek people? 
Basically, Syriza branded itself as the anti-austerity party. During the elections it adopted populist policies that make for good campaign posters but not responsible government. For example, one of its key policies is raising minimum monthly salaries from €580 to €751. But in the current economic climate this is hardly possible.
Most importantly, Syriza promised an end to austerity measures. It has also pledged to re-negotiate the terms of the multiple bailouts Greece has received in the past few years with the hope to delay debt repayments or even have the some of the debt written off.
How will the rest of Europe respond? Does this mean that Greece might leave the eurozone?
During his victory speech Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, declared an end to the “humiliation and pain” of Greece’s austerity measures. He has pledged to re-negotiate Greece’s debt repayments to the Troika (the European Union, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank).
On the other hand, European leaders have said that, regardless of the electoral outcome, Greece must stick by the terms of its €240 billion bailout agreement.
What we are likely to see now is a massive game of chicken between the EU—led by Germany—and Greece. As this is uncharted territory and anything could happen—including Greece leaving the eurozone and returning to its old currency, the drachma.
What does this mean for the future of the European Union?
The election result shows the political challenges Europeans face in the coming months. Many Europeans are tired of the EU’s incessant push for deeper political and economic integration.  This disenchantment has manifested itself in the rise of extreme parties across Europe. Of course, the most obvious example is  Syriza and Golden Dawn in Greece, but the National Front in France, and extreme right-wing party, won the most seats during the 2014 European parliamentary elections.
This doesn’t bode well for an organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for bringing stability to Europe.
What about the future of the European economy?
It is unlikely the election results will bring drastic change to the eurozone. Countries in Europe’s south have not made the structural reforms needed for long term adjustment. The eurozone’s overall economic freedom is seriously undermined by the excessive government spending required to support an elaborate welfare state. Economic policies being pursued by many eurozone countries are hindering productivity growth and job creation, causing economic stagnation and rapidly increasing levels of public debt.
Regrettably, many still believe that more European integration, not prudent economic policies, is the answer to Europe’s problem.
The EU was created, in part, to help bring stability and peace to Europe but what we see in Greece is the opposite, right?
Yes, that is correct. Over the past six decades the EU has developed into one of the most undemocratic institutions in the western world. Power has been removed from sovereign-nation states and has become consolidated in obtuse decision-making institutions in Brussels. Those countries that joined the Eurozone and adapted the single currency have lost monetary control.
Not since the start of the EU experiment, have more Europeans felt so distant from the decision making processes of governance that affects their daily lives. In the case of Greece, decisions taken by the EU have had a disastrous effect on society. The unemployment in Greece is just over 25 percent. Youth unemployment is closer to 60 percent. A whole generation of young people feel lost in society. This does not bring stability, but breeds resentment.
Why should American policymakers care?
Political instability in Greece could spill over to other places in southeastern Europe—already one of Europe’s most unstable regions.  It has already been reported the Russian ambassador to Greece had been seen entering the headquarters of Syriza, so who knows what influence Moscow might be able to buy—literally— in the new Greek government. Syriza has also questioned if Greece should remain in NATO.
American banks hold some eurozone debt and would take a hit in the event of any default. But the deepest effects would likely be felt through the interconnected global financial system. In a slagging European economy U.S. exports to European markets would start to fall off and would decline, for example.
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Κυριακή 25 Ιανουαρίου 2015

Greeks Vote In Austerity Foes, a Major Shift


Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza party, celebrating on Sunday in Athens. Mr. Tsipras has promised to force creditors to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s bailout.CreditPetros Giannakouris/Associated Press

ATHENS — Greece rejected the harsh economics of austerity on Sunday and sent a warning to the rest of Europe as the left-wing Syriza party won a decisive victory in national elections, positioning its tough-talking leader, Alexis Tsipras, to become the next prime minister.
With almost 98 percent of the vote counted, Syriza had 36 percent, almost nine points more than the governing center-right New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who conceded defeat. The only uncertainty was whether Syriza would muster a parliamentary majority on its own or have to form a coalition.
Appearing before a throng of supporters outside Athens University late Sunday, Mr. Tsipras, 40, declared that the era of austerity was over and promised to revive the economy. He also said his government would not allow Greece’s creditors to strangle the country.

“Greece will now move ahead with hope and reach out to Europe, and Europe is going to change,” he said. “The verdict is clear: We will bring an end to the vicious circle of austerity.”


Greek voters gave power to Syriza as the country’s unemployment rate stood near 26 percent.CreditLefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

Syriza’s victory is a milestone for Europe. Continuing economic weakness has stirred a populist backlash from France to Spain to Italy, with more voters growing fed up with policies that require sacrifice to meet the demands of creditors but that have not delivered more jobs and prosperity. Syriza is poised to become the first anti-austerity party to take power in a eurozone country and to shatter the two-party establishment that has dominated Greek politics for four decades.
“Democracy will return to Greece,” Mr. Tsipras said to a swarm of journalists as he cast his ballot in Athens. “The message is that our common future in Europe is not the future of austerity.”
Youthful and seemingly imperturbable, Mr. Tsipras has worked to soften his image as an anti-European Union radical, joking that his opponents had accused him of everything but stealing other men’s wives. On the campaign trail, he has promised to clean up Greece’s corrupt political system, overhaul the country’s public administration and reduce the tax burden on the middle class while cracking down on tax evasion by the country’s oligarchical business class.
But his biggest promise — and the one that has stirred deep anxiety in Brussels and Berlin as well as in financial markets — has been a pledge to force Greece’s creditors to renegotiate the terms of its financial bailout, worth 240 billion euros, or about $267.5 billion. Squeezed by policies intended to stabilize the government’s finances, Greece has endured a historic collapse since 2009; economic output has shrunk by 25 percent, and the unemployment rate hovers near 26 percent.
While setting up an imminent showdown with creditors, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Mr. Tsipras has argued that easing the bailout terms would allow more government spending. That, he said, would stimulate economic growth and employment as well as help the Greeks who are most in need.
“Tsipras won because those who imposed austerity never thought about the effects of such drastic policies that impoverished millions of people,” said Paul De Grauwe, a professor at the London School of Economics and a former adviser to the European Commission. “In a world where people are so hit, they just don’t remain passive. Their reaction is to turn to the politicians who will change the process.”


Mr. Tsipras, leader of the left-wing Syriza party, cast his vote in Athens on Sunday.CreditPetros Giannakouris/Associated Press

Mr. Tsipras will face immediate challenges. Greece is waiting for a €7 billion bailout payment needed to keep the government running and to pay off billions in debt obligations due in the coming months. Mr. Tsipras has demanded that creditors write down at least half of Greece’s €319 billion public debt to give the country more breathing room for a spending stimulus.
“This is a turning of a page, a historical moment for all of Europe,” Yiannis Milios, the chief economist for Syriza, told reporters. “The Greek people are taking their future into their own hands.”
Europe “cannot go on with deflation, recession, increasing unemployment and over-indebtednesses,” he said. “Greece points the way. Our country, our people, are the groundbreakers of a very big change.”
A Syriza victory would lift hopes elsewhere for parties that are critical of the European Union, especially in Spain. There, the left-leaning, anti-austerity Podemos party, which is less than a year old, already is drawing 20 percent support in national opinion polls. The leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, joined Mr. Tsipras last week for Syriza’s final campaign rally.
“What the whole debate about Greece and Syriza highlights is that voter anxieties, voter resentment and electoral disillusionment over austerity policies can be expressed at the ballot,” said Jens Bastian, an economic consultant based in Athens and a former member of the European Commission’s task force on Greece. “The example of Greece today may become a precursor to what happens in other countries like Spain, Portugal or Italy.”
Mr. Tsipras has said he wants to negotiate directly with Ms. Merkel and other European leaders to reduce Greece’s debt burden. Some officials, however, have characterized Mr. Tsipras’s demands as unrealistic and rife with potential to drive Greece toward default — or even out of the eurozone, the group that shares the currency.


Supporters of Mr. Tsipras cheered as exit poll results were announced in Athens. CreditMarko Djurica/Reuters

Earlier concerns that a Syriza-led Greece would abandon the euro have been fading, but Mr. Tsipras’s confrontational stance on renegotiating the bailout could create a game of chicken with Greece’s creditors. Mr. Tsipras has insisted that he will not adhere to the bailout’s austerity conditions; Greece’s creditors insist that they will not disburse funds unless he does.
Mr. Tsipras has pledged immediate action, including restoring electricity to poor families who were unable to pay their bills. He has promised to raise the minimum monthly wage to €751 from €586 for all workers, restore collective bargaining agreements, prohibit mass layoffs and create 300,000 jobs.
Jens Weidmann, president of Deutsche Bundesbank, the German central bank, warned that Greece would remain dependent on outside financial support and that the new government “should not make promises that the country cannot afford.”
“I hope the new government won’t call into question what is expected and what has already been achieved,” Mr. Weidmann said in an interview with Germany’s public broadcaster.
On the streets of Athens, voters expressed a range of emotions as they went to the polls.
At a polling station in Mets, a middle-class district near central Athens, Achilleas Mandrakis, 47, said he runs a garage but has been struggling since his wife lost her job at a shoe store. “I always voted New Democracy, and I never trusted the leftists,” he said. “But enough is enough, really. We kept giving them a chance, but they messed up. They’ve made our lives miserable.”


Continuing economic weakness has stirred a populist backlash as more voters grow fed up with policies that demand sacrifice. CreditMilos Bicanski/Getty Images

“At least,” Mr. Mandrakis added, “a different party might change something in this mess, anything.”
In a brief news conference late Sunday, Mr. Samaras vowed that his party would continue to play a role in Greek politics and defended his government. “I received the country at the edge of a cliff,” he said. “I was asked to take burning coals into my hands, and I did it.”
Mr. Samaras said that Greece had moved away from deficits and recession and that his government had “restored the credibility of the country.”
For Syriza, the immediate question was whether the party would win the 151 seats needed for a majority in Parliament. Projections suggested a close final result. If he falls short, Mr. Tsipras might align with the Independent Greeks, a center-right fringe party that opposes austerity measures and might push for a harder line in any debt negotiations.
Early returns also showed the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party in third place with roughly 6 percent of the total vote, even with some of its leaders campaigning from prison, awaiting trial on charges of being in a criminal gang.
While Greece sees itself as being punished by creditors’ demands, Germany and a host of European officials have argued that Greece and other troubled nations in the eurozone must clean up the high debts and deficits at the root of Europe’s crisis. They say Athens has failed to make enough progress on structural reforms seen as necessary to stabilize the economy, and they are pressing Greece to raise billions of euros through more budgetary cutbacks and taxes.
Many analysts say Mr. Tsipras must moderate his campaign promises and take a more centrist approach if he wants to save the economy and keep Greece solvent. “That will be the best possible outcome for Greece and for Europe, because it would show that these protest movements ultimately recognize reality — which is that they are in the euro, and they have to play by the rules,” said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
Otherwise, he warned, “things could get a lot worse.”
“Very, very quickly,” he added.

Greek Radical Left Wins Election, Threatening Market Turmoil



JAN. 25, 2015

ATHENS, Greece — A radical left-wing party vowing to end Greece's painful austerity program won a historic victory in Sunday's parliamentary elections, setting up a showdown with the country's international creditors that could shake the eurozone.

Alexis Tsipras, leader of the communist-rooted Syriza party, immediately promised to end the "five years of humiliation and pain" that Greece has endured since an international bailout saved it from bankruptcy in 2010.

"The verdict of the Greek people ends, beyond any doubt, the vicious circle of austerity in our country," Tsipras told a crowd of rapturous flag-waving supporters.

Syriza appeared just shy of the majority that would allow it to govern alone. With 97.6 percent of polling stations counted, Syriza had 36.4 percent — and 149 of parliament's 300 seats — versus 27.8 percent for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' conservatives.

If Tsipras, 40, can put together a government, he will be Greece's youngest prime minister in 150 years, while Syriza would be the first radical left party to ever govern the country.

The prospect of an anti-bailout government coming to power in Greece has revived fears of a bankruptcy that could reverberate across the eurozone, send shockwaves through global markets and undermine the euro, the currency shared by 19 European countries.

The already battered euro was down 0.3 percent Monday, at $1.117, on the news of Syriza's victory. That was its lowest since April 2003.

Syriza's rhetoric appealed to many in a country that has seen a quarter of its economy wiped out, unemployment above 25 percent and average income losses of at least 30 percent.

Tsipras won on promises to demand debt forgiveness and renegotiate the terms of Greece's 240 billion euro ($270 billion) bailout, which has kept the debt-ridden country afloat since mid-2010.

To qualify for the cash, Greece has had to impose deep and bitterly resented cuts in public spending, wages and pensions, along with public sector layoffs and repeated tax increases.

Samaras soon conceded defeat Sunday, saying he had received a country "on the brink of disaster" when he took over in 2012 and was close to ushering it out of the crisis.

"I was asked to hold live coals in my hands and I did," he said.

The country's progress in reforms is reviewed by inspectors from the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank, collectively known as the troika, before each installment of bailout funds can be released.

Tsipras pronounced the troika and its regular debt inspections "a thing of the past."

Greece's creditors insist the country must abide by previous commitments to continue receiving support. In Germany, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann told ARD network that he hoped "the new Greek government will not make promises it cannot keep and the country cannot afford."

The election results will be the main topic at Monday's meeting of eurozone finance ministers. Belgium's minister, Johan Van Overtveldt, said there is room for some flexibility, but not much.

"We can talk modalities, we can talk debt restructuring, but the cornerstone that Greece must respect the rules of monetary union — that must stay as it is," Van Overtveldt told VRT network.

JPMorgan analyst David Mackie said negotiations between the new government in Athens and creditors "are likely to be very difficult" but cannot drag on indefinitely.

"If Greece is unable to honor its obligations this year, then economic, financial and banking stress is likely to lead either to an agreement, or to a second round of elections, or to an EMU exit," he said, referring to Greece's membership in the eurozone.

But Re-Define think tank analyst Sony Kapoor said that while Greece has failed the eurozone and EU authorities, they have also failed Greece.

"The Greek rescue package was financially unsustainable, economically wrong-headed, politically tone-deaf and socially callous," he said. "Syriza deserves a chance, and their victory will force the EU to confront the elephant in the room: unpayable debt and bad policy decisions."

He noted that Syriza's moderation of its rhetoric before the election "is promising, making it likely that it will govern closer to the center than many think."

A Syriza official said Tsipras would meet Monday with the head of the small Independent Greeks party, which elected 13 lawmakers, "to confirm the support and possible participation of the Independent Greeks in the new government." Apart from their mutual opposition to austerity, the two parties disagree on practically every other issue.

The official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the record, said Tsipras would likely be sworn in as prime minister later Monday, and the new government would be formed in the following couple of days.

The centrist Potami (river) party was battling for third place with the Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn, whose leader and several lawmakers campaigned from prison, where they are awaiting trial on charges of participating in a criminal organization.


Raf Casert in Brussels and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributed.

Πέμπτη 15 Ιανουαρίου 2015

Who is Alexis Tsipras?

TAKIS S PAPPAS 15 January 2015

Who exactly is Alexis Tsipras, the man who may very well become Greece's next prime minister?

Alexis Tsipras: prime minister in waiting? Flickr/Daniele Vico. Some rights reserved.

If his party wins the January 25 snap parliamentary election in Greece, and he himself succeeds in forming a government, then Alexis Tsipras, the 41-year-old firebrand leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (or Syriza) party, will not only become Europe’s currently youngest prime minister, but, Cyprus apart, also the first leader of a hard-left government in the Continent.

As his populism does not bode well for the country’s badly harmed liberal institutions and his promise to tear up Greece’s bailout agreement and write off some of its debt has revived fears of a Greek exit from the Eurozone, the question is: who really is politician Alexis Tsipras and, given the circumstances in Greece, what is his leadership potential?

Born only four days after Greece’s transition to democracy on July 24, 1974, in a middle-class social milieu, his early life years were largely unexceptional. While in high school, he joined the Greek Communist Party youth, where he met his current partner, and excelled in school occupations.

As a student of civil engineering at the University of Athens, he became an active member of the student union. After that, he followed the typical career of political apparatchik. He joined the Synaspismos (meaning, coalition) party, then a merger of radical leftist forces, and served consecutively as political secretary of the party youth and an elected member of its Central Committee. In the 2006 municipal elections, the party chairman, Alekos Alavanos, proposed the 32-year-old Tsipras as a candidate mayor of Athens, thus elevating him to national prominence.

It was at that time that Tsipras also made a brief, ill-fated attempt towards a professional career as an engineer, but, according to his own admission, the technical firm he helped establish was not particularly active, and even incurred some losses. In early 2008, Alavanos stepped down from the leadership of the party, which had been renamed Syriza, and was replaced by Tsipras, who now fully dedicated himself to his party and national politics. That was exactly when Greece entered its own political, and subsequently economic, whirl.

In the political crisis that commenced in Greece in December 2008, after the police shooting of a schoolboy in Athens and led to three weeks of violent mass rioting across the country, Syriza actively championed street mobilizations. Although many young people began to identify with the party, its electoral support still remained low: in the 2009 parliamentary elections it gained a rather poor 4.6 percent of the national vote.

Things however changed decisively once the fresh government of George Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) was forced in early 2010 to ask for a bailout of Greece in exchange for the implementation of harsh austerity measures. Then, a massive segment of Pasok’s electorate migrated to Syriza, which stood uncompromisingly against austerity.

In the election of May 2012, Syriza’s share of the national vote was 16.8 percent and in the follow-up election of June 2012, it climbed to almost 27 percent, with most of the credit going, of course, to the young party leader for his successful opposition tactics. As new elections now loom, Syriza is the clear favorite to win the contest and Tsipras to become premier.

In both popular parlance and the news media, Alexis Tsipras is often presented as a charismatic leader and, to press the point, compared with the late Andreas Papandreou, the populist founder in the mid-1970s of Pasok, and, since he first won office in 1981, a long-time – and, indeed, charismatic – prime minister of Greece. But the comparison could not be more misleading for the sharp contrasts between the two leaders in almost every respect – social and intellectual background, prior professional history and career achievements, political authority and over-the-party command, and resonance of their messages to society.

Papandreou, first, the scion of a political family (his father, George Papandreou, had been twice Greece’s prime minister – in the 1940s and again in the 1960s), belonged to the upper class, received high-quality private education, and was groomed for ambitious roles in life. In his youth, he felt the strong attraction of progressive socialist ideas and became well versed in the intellectual debates of his era, both inside Greece and in the broader world.

Before entering politics, initially in the mid-1960s, as a minister in his father’s government, and then in the 1970s, Papandreou had also to show an impressive professional record. With a Harvard PhD in economics, he became a well-known economist in the United States and served as professor in several academic establishments, including Berkeley. He was a true cosmopolitan with a wide, and very convenient, network of acquaintances in both the academic and the political worlds.

When he decided to enter Greek politics after the collapse of dictatorship in 1974, Papandreou was firm on his decision to build his own party, instead of inheriting what was left of his father’s pre-authoritarian one. After engineering a series of expulsions and other purges of his internal party opposition, Papandreou was able to an absolute authority over Pasok, thereafter remaining its sole and supreme leader.

Even most important was the fact that, as opposition party leader, Andreas Papandreou put forward a positive radical message, full of political vim and optimism: socialism. Greece at the time was a country with a plenty of confidence. It had just undergone a successful democratization, its economy was developing relatively well, and, by 1981, it became a full EU member. The promise of socialism seemed not only attractive, but feasible as well.

History of course repeats itself, but, as usual, the second time as farce. Greece’s 2015 is not its 1981, and Alexis Tsipras is not Andreas Papandreou. He lacks the social, professional and political experience that is necessary for the task he is called for; is mostly adept at low-level party politics, but still leads a motley coalition of forces he is not in complete control of; and, for all his genuine wish to put an end to austerity and hardship in Greek society, he lacks a concrete plan of action for achieving it. For, it is one thing in politics to say what you want to pull down, but an entirely different thing to explain what you are going to build up instead, and how.

Ironically, what Greece needs at this time of immense and enduring crisis is a charismatic leader in the truest sense of the term, that is, someone capable of forging a new social majority into a mass political formation under the banner of a sensible program for economic development and national regeneration. Most definitively, Tsipras is not that person. Which brings me to the theme of a famous lecture given my Max Weber to the Free Students Union in Bavaria in 1919, during the German revolution that led to the establishment of the Weimar Republic.

Warning that the revolution will not turn out well, Weber cautioned his audience of a coming “polar night of icy darkness and hardness,” during which hopes will collapse and politics will fail. For that night veil to be lifted, he urged, it would take leaders who consider high-level politics as their true vocation – men or women who, in the face of severe crisis, can still reasonably cry out “In spite of all, I have a realistic plan.”