The electoral victory of Alexis Tzipras may provide new hope for the overwhelming majority of Greeks, who are living in Third World-like conditions as the economy deteriorates and external debt piles up. While many European political leaders, starting with Angela Merkel in Germany, see a leftist Greek government as a threat to their politics of austerity, they should recognize that their own approach has failed utterly and that Greeks deserve a chance to take a fresh approach.
Tzipras has announced priorities that, at least on paper, sound reasonable and necessary from a human-interest point of view. As reported by the New York Times (www.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/world/europe/alexis-tsipras-greece-debt.html), his plan starts with addressing Greece’s humanitarian crisis, in which millions have fallen into poverty and loss of work; stimulating economy with government funds rather than (in the usual manner of austerity programs) cutting social welfare to the bone; negotiating debt relief with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European bankers and governments (external debt now stands at around $270 billion); and seeking “fairness” and equity in society by zeroing in on wealthy tax evaders and corrupt politicians.
The Germans and others who hold Greece’s debt seem to care far less about the human costs of austerity than they do about ensuring that the debt is repaid. They have staked out a tough negotiating position—no debt writeoff—that contrasts with Tzipras’ expressed hope for compromise without “submission.” In fact, Tzipras has made clear that far from reneging on Greece’s debt, what he wants is “time to breathe and create our own medium-term recovery programme.” He wants a new debt agreement, not extension of the bailout deal that expires at the end of February. The IMF and its European partners need to be supportive of his new direction, acknowledging that Tzipras was elected to get Greece out of a crisis that they failed to resolve. Holding his feet to the fire will improve nothing and hurt many.