Alexis Tsipras arrived on Greece's political stage with bravado. That was in 2012. A few days ago he left that stage with a whimper.
Back in early 2012, I asked my Greek friends who Alexis Tsipras was. They invariably told me that he was bad news. A communist revolutionary who had spent his entire life organizing protests and even destructive activities. And that he was married to a communist. As a great admirer of Che Guevara, they had christened their son Ernesto.
In short, I definitely started with a strong bias against Alexis Tsipras.
Then I made my first observations of Alexis Tsipras in action before TV cameras and with a microphone. This prompted me to write my first of later many articles about Tsipras, dated May 12, 2012. It was titled "Cheers for Alexis Tsipras!"
Needless to say, I immediately recognized his communicative talent: "Alexis Tsipras strikes me like a youthful, energetic and, above all, charismatic individual. The type of natural leader who can easily get people to follow him. Those are the traits which any leader who is hopeful of pulling Greece out of the present mess must have. I do not see those traits with any other Greek politician at this time." There are leaders who lead with passion and there are leaders who lead with brains. Only seldom are there leaders who can do both. Tsipras struck me like a leader who could not do both but who could effectively employ passions. Thus, my conclusion of this article was that "having said all this, I think what Mr. Tsipras needs more than anything else is good advisors."
I listed 10 points which competent advisors should recommend to Tsipras and I even stated that "if he (Tsipras) accepts such advice, I could even envisage recommending to vote for him."
Tsipras' greatest failure was to chose the wrong advisor(s). In those days, the German weekly Der Spiegel put Tsipras on its cover with the question "Is this the most dangerous man in Europe?" Yanis Varoufakis, the chosen premier advisor, set out on a crusade to show the world that he could be an even more dangerous man.
Varoufakis was (and still is) a gifted seducer who was looking for a target to use as a trampoline for personal glory and gain. I can see why Tsipras fell for him. Here was a slick cosmopolitan with intellectual brilliance, supreme eloquence in Greek and English and a wide network of other intellectuals around the globe. The international media were eager to have him display his messianic messages and quotable quotes.
On a rare occasion of honest self-recognition, Varoufakis had stated at an April 2012 conference in April 2012 "until this crisis erupted, I used to be a fairly decent second rate economist. The implosion of my country bestowed upon me the dubious honor and title of being a first class Greek economist." I am fairly certain that Tsipras had already recognized by that time that he had bet on the wrong guy, but it was too late. He could (not yet) extricate himself from the magic of this man.
There is one scene with Alexis Tsipras which I think displayed more than any other the complexity of the man: in the evening of Sunday, July 5, 2015, two-thirds of Greeks were in public ecstasy about the outcome of the referendum. Tsipras was not one of the celebrators even though one would have expected him to be the greatest celebrator of all. Varoufakis later wrote that, that evening, he found Tsipras in no celebratory mood at all. On the contrary, he seemed subdued. Perhaps he was thinking of the Greek proverb that "any fool can throw a stone into the sea, but once he does, a hundred wise men can't pull it out!"
It speaks for Tsipras the man that after his gigantic kolotoumba (somersault), he could achieve re-election a couple of months later. However, the Tsipras thereafter was not the same Tsipras as before.
Alexis Tsipras had begun to enjoy the 'good life'. He found that life was much more pleasant when one is liked by the global elite instead of hated. He switched from being the 'Greek firebrand' to being 'the nice young Greek'. Madame Merkel displayed almost motherly care when she joined Tsipras on a stage. Bill Clinton extended Tsipras fatherly help when he had trouble with English in an interview. Every summit photo showed a smiling group with a smiling Tsipras in the middle.
The global elite had good reason to like Tsipras. After all, he accepted every measure, however brutal and/or nonsensical, which the Troika put before him. In the process, he put his compatriots through an unnecessarily painful adjustment and an hitherto unheard of level of austerity. His goal was to 'exit the program' and he accomplished that with flying colors. No non-leftist government could have gotten away with such 'reforms' because people like Tsipras would have started a rebellion. The irony is that, by doing that, Tsipras unwittingly set the stage for his successor to rebuild after such destruction.
During the campaign for the 2019 election, my sense was that the 'European elite' almost would have preferred Alexis Tsipras to win. Even Angela Merkel did not come out forcefully in support of her political colleague Kyriakos Mitsotakis. After all, Tsipras was a Prime Minister whom they felt that they could control and Mitsotakis was a question mark at the time. Still, Tsipras lost and Mitsotakis won but the irony is that without Tsipras' 'destruction', Mitsotakis would not have found it so easy to 'rebuild'.
Alexis Tsipras strikes me as a somewhat tragic figure. With the right advisors, he could have gone down into history as the man who transformed Greece into a solid social-democratic country with consistent and effective reforms. As it was, the opposite happened. Greece today is governed by a solid center-right government with a certain emphasis on the 'right'. Quite a few things which Mitsotakis has done in his first tenure were things which, if Viktor Orban had done them, would have caused an uproar in Brussels.
Tsipras had started out with 100% passion but borrowed the brains of the wrong people. When he realized that his passion no longer carried the day, he could no longer prove his relevance. Instead, he lost his political compass like a boat which has lost its rudder but was hoping to catch the right wave to carry it to pleasant shores. That wave never came and Tsipras could only watch how a speed boat called 'Mitsotakis' left him in its wake.
If there is one silver lining to Tsipras' tragic then it is the fact that Varoufakis was voted out of parliament before Tsipras resigned. That was some bit of justice, after all.
On the day after the July 2015 referendum (and the day after the resignation of Yanis Varoufakis), I wrote a satirical article which has registered the largest number of readers (almost 13.000) of all the 1.357 articles which I have posted so far. It was intended to be the story of how Varoufakis manipulated Tsipras by pretending to be his greatest supporter only to stab him in the back later on. It was titled: "To: Alexis. From: Yanis. Subject: Thank you!"