Hard to understand

Foreign journalists – be they correspondents based in Athens, stringers or just visiting during one of Greece’s multiple crises – often have an issue with understanding the inner workings of the Greek political system, the circumvolutions of its seasoned practitioners and occasional newcomers. Of the latter, one might remember the near-Grexit architect Yanis Varoufakis, more recently the resolutely off-the-beaten-track Stephanos Kasselakis.

The ten years of economic and social upheaval marked by three successive EU /IMF Adjustment Programmes and by Greece’s confrontational relations with “Europe”, by deep recession in the economy and explosive demonstrations in the streets of Athens, had raised much international interest over Greece. When some kind of normal was reached again, such interest receded. Every now and then, an election altering the prevailing political balance (such as the ebbing away of ex-radical Left SYRIZA, the party that spearheaded the clash of Greece with its European partners), or else a catastrophic event like climate change-related wildfires and/or floods or again human disasters traced back to migrant flows in the Aegean/Mediterranean or the Greek/Turkish border, lead to a revival of foreign media interest. Contacts used back in the climax days of the Greek debt crisis are revived, explainers as to how thing work in today’s Greece are sought.

This time around, questions raised by foreign journalists to their Greek sources sounded even more puzzled than during the Greek crisis years. They have to do not so much with the way that the party that was at the helm at the peak of the Greek crisis melted away in successive elections – after all the economic and social pain incurred by Greeks could not leave behind warm feelings for a radical-Left party that tried unsuccessfully to counter austerity measures and ended applying them with rigor. That much can be explained – but the antics of the leadership SYRIZA acquired/adopted after its successive defeats left even seasonal Greek politics-watchers bewildered.

So now, after a longish spell of time such matters were off the radar of foreign media – largely fawning over the comeback of the Greek economy when not concerned about human rights and the (effective) rule of law in Greece – the phones of Greek interlocutors of foreign journalists keeping tabs with “Greece” on them somewhere on their desks have started to ring again.

Questions abound – sometimes not so kind or good-natured – about the inner workings of SYRIZA; of its recently-acquired /US finance-spawned leadership; of its decidedly anti-conformist style; of its relations with other parties of the Opposition and/or its own splinter groups. Decisive party votes announced; earlier leader Tsipras throwing his weight in but being tossed aside; announced votes go out of the window.

Not an easy thing to explain, nor some kind of future to look into, especially so since things seem to evolve on moving sands. It is so easier for one to retrench behind platitudes of the kind: “You know, Greek politics are one of a kind!”. And for Greece-watchers to be left to their own devices, to look anew for explanations once the stagnant waters of Greek society start to ripple once more.