It was exactly two years ago when Alexis Tsipras became the youngest and first leftist prime minister of Greece, an event that filled the 2.25 million Greeks who voted for him with optimism because of his grandiose promises and youthful appearance. “Greece is turning the page” was the headline of emblematic newspaper Ta Nea that day.
The first move Alexis Tsipras made on January 26, 2015, the first day after his victory, was to go to Kaisariani and place flowers on the monument of 200 resistance fighters who were executed by the Germans during the 1941-1944 occupation. It was a symbolic move to please his leftist voters. Yet, it showed a tendency to look in the past, to show how the Greek Left fought bravely against the Nazis. But you cannot “turn the page” while being glued to the past. The Nazis were beaten 70 years ago and the world has moved on.
More symbolic gestures and slogans followed, turning out to be a replacement of substantial policy and actual work, actual governing.
After that symbolic move it was time to work, to “change Greece,” “change Europe,” work “for the people.” It was time to honor the pledges and promises Tsipras so generously made during his election campaign. A campaign filled with the word “memoranda” and the war against them, a catchword that meant everything and nothing in debt-ridden Greece since 2010. A word on which the whole career of Tsipras and his “comrades” was based on. They were the “anti-memoranda fighters.” There was no work done, but repeated symbolic gestures and empty slogans.
The “abominable” memoranda were the two MoUs that the previous governments had signed for Greece’s bailout, basically two loan agreements. Previous administrations had literally emptied state coffers and needed cash to keep the country afloat. Greece was borrowing much more than it could pay back. And it was time to pay back.
Tsipras’ biggest pledge was that he would “repeal memoranda with one bill, one article in Greek Parliament” once SYRIZA came to power. Instead, in July 2015 he signed the third Memorandum of Understanding with the harshest austerity measures that literally brought Greek society to its knees. And he is about to sign a fourth to finish the stalled evaluation of the bailout program.
Another promise was that he would bring minimum wage at 751 euros per month. It is at 586 euros.
Tsipras promised he will abolish the single property tax (ENFIA) and was urging Greeks to not pay the “insane” tax when in opposition. Once in power, he raised ENFIA.
The prime minister had promised that low-income pensioners will be receiving a 13th pension each year. Not only he did not give the extra pension, but he brought pensions to poverty levels.
He had also promised to bring back pensions to pre-crisis levels and never make any cuts, especially to the supplementary pensions for low-income pensioners (EKAS). Not only did he cut EKAS, he also asked from pensioners to return retroactively a few months of previously received EKAS.
The prime minister had promised that the unemployed will be receiving unemployment benefits for two years instead of one. The unemployed get unemployment checks for one year only.
Tsipras had said that on the first day of his premiership he will sell the costly presidential airplane. He kept it so that himself, ministers and friends can take leisurely trips with the excuse of doing “government work.” For instance, does anyone really believe that going to Fidel Castro’s funeral with an entourage of buddies was “government work”?
The Greek prime minister had promised to change the electoral law to the simple, proportional ballot. He didn’t change it and won a second election in September 2015 with the same “unfair” — as he called it — electoral law. About a year later, when he saw that he is trailing way behind in opinion polls, he brought back the issue of the proportional ballot.
He also promised that he will not make privatizations and “sell out” state property. Once in power, he sold the state railroad, Piraeus Port, the former Athens airport and other state assets for less than previous governments had negotiated.
The prime minister had pledged that no houses will be auctioned for debts to banks. Under SYRIZA, and for the first time ever, people see their homes confiscated and auctioned for debts to the State.
Alexis Tsipras had promised he will fight corruption and clientelism in mass media. Stavros Psycharis, owner of the powerful Lambrakis Press Organization, claims the prime minister had approached him four times before the 2015 elections and asked him to present him favorably. Furthermore, the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition not only failed to fight corruption, but tried to establish their own friendly media by funding websites, turning the public broadcaster into a state broadcaster, helping their own to acquire television licenses and attacking all media that criticize the government.
The prime minister had also promised to hire thousands of doctors and nurses to public hospitals and health benefits to all Greeks. Today, hospitals are even more understaffed, with doctors and nurses emigrating abroad, and the whole National Health System on the brink of collapse. The ill die in hospitals because most ICUs are out-of-order.
One of the slogans and promises Alexis Tsipras had stated was that his policies would change Europe(!) and Europe’s austerity policies. Well, for better or worse, Europe is still the same.
Greece is definitely in much worse shape, though. While the prime minister and cabinet speak of great economic figures, Greeks are definitely poorer in the past two years and they are becoming more vocal about it, as polls show. The latest tax-raid has eliminated the little savings they had. It is ironic because one of Tsipras’ slogans was “people are above numbers.”