The revelation that on the night of Monday, 23 July, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras staged a show for television cameras at the Fire Service Operational Centre, even though he and his government had been informed by EMAK rescue teams that there was a substantial number of dead in the area, created the image of a government that is both incompetent to handle the responsibility of governance and cynical in its efforts to remain in power at all costs.
It is obvious that it was a conscious choice not to offer information about the dead that night, and for the prime minister not to make the related announcements. He would then have to explain why he chose to receive an award in Bosnia on the most dangerous day of the year for wildfires.
Even as the government knew about the dead, the PM chose to speak about an “asymmetrical phenomenon” and to offer the impression of a “destabilisation plan or “terrorism”, with the aim of ensuring an a priori alibi regarding the collapse of the state mechanism in the management of the crisis.
The prime minister stated that he “assumes the political responsibility”, but he did not apologise to the victims, nor did he admit that mistakes were made. Obviously he did not resign.
Worst of all is that Alexis Tsipras these days is not engaging in communications management. He is just being himself.
When Alexis Tsipras does not apologise, it is because deep inside he feels that he personally does not bear responsibility for the tragedy. He is simply annoyed that his narrative about the “exit from bailout memorandums” collapsed.
He does not feel guilty or truly responsible, because he really believes that everybody else is to blame.
Alexis Tsipras represents a very specific version of the Left. It is the Left that was comfortable with links to the political system, which occasionally backed a small movement, recruited, pursued posts in the trade union movement, and engaged in pseudo-philosophical chatter on the islands of Amorgos or Koufonisia.
That Left never believed it would govern and assume real responsibilities. It was comfortable with criticising others and sustaining itself.
That is who Alexis Tsipras is. He emerged from that environment and carries its mentality. He acted like a professional politician since he was a university student. The only thing he knew how to do was to maintain a good image and climb the party ladder. He was never the leader of any movement – though he appeared on television during the 1990-1991 student sit-ins – nor did he pay any price for his political enlistment.
Arrests, imprisonment, torture and other elements that were the “basic training” of the Left in previous eras are unkown to him.
This man found himself in a position to govern the country. In a social explosion and a collapse of the traditional political system, he managed to represent hope and expectations. Yet, he did not have the least interest in truly preparing to govern.
If one remembers the 2012-2015 period, one will find that Tsipras spent more time on rehearsing one-liners of Andreas Papandreou in front of a mirror, than on acquiring a programme, knowledge, and strategy.
Then he became prime minister. Faced with a difficult negotiation with creditors, without a Plan A or Plan B, he did not have the slightest idea on how to deal with creditors. The result was the loss of six months with retractions and retreats, and then the drama of the referendum, and the humiliating, disorderly retreat on the memorandum.
It was then revealed that the only thing that interested Alexis Tsipras was to be prime minister – at all costs. He could stage a rupture with creditors or even resign if he felt he was forced to implement policies that contradicted his principles.
Then, this man, who never really worked in his life, who is not well educated (he always errs when quoting authors), whom everyone remembers since childhood as having the air of a professional candidate, decides that above all he should become prime minister. It matters little what policies he implements. The basic issue is for him to claim to be a “leftist prime minister”.
He is supported by cadres who are also ready to sacrifice every ideology for the sake of power, and gradually discover that ministerial posts are nice, as you can offer jobs, offer services, and set up little projects.
This is a prime minister without a strategy, but with a target – to stay in power at all costs, even if he has to implement more memorandums than Papandreou and Samaras combined.
A prime minister without a programme is a PM without responsibility. That makes him dangerous – more dangerous than others.
We have had many dangerous politicians in this country – neo-liberal, autarchic, and devoted to “allies”. They were the heirs of the collaborators with the Germans. They wanted to re-incorporate junta supporters in civil society. They were controlled by businessmen.
Still, all of them understood that there was political cost, and if they engaged in misdeeds a good excuse was needed.
Alexis Tsipras believes that because he is heir to the historic visions of the Left (all of which he has betrayed) he does not have to be held to account by society, but rather that he can hold society to account.
He does not have to apologise to residents of Attica who saw their relatives and homes burn down. It is the resident that must apologise to Tsipras because he had an illegally built home, and because he diverted attention from the “exit from the memorandums”.
Such a government and such a prime minister will manage any crisis through communications. They are concerned only about the image. They will not prepare to avert a crisis and they will not make the necessary changes to avoid a repetition.
That makes him even more dangerous.