By Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Greek word “kolotoumba,” or somersault, indicative of a complete reversal in one’s thinking or policies, has become the new catchphrase of the Greek political scene, repeatedly trumpeted in the local media as well as the foreign press.
Greece’s newly elected, radical-left Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has already performed his first kolotoumba by opting for a coalition with Panos Kammenos of the right-wing Independent Greeks, a party, like Tsipras’s, that is staunchly anti-austerity but that derives from the complete opposite end of the political spectrum.
Yianis Varoufakis, the country’s newly appointed Finance Minister, also did akolotoumba as he is no longer putting an emphasis on a reduction of the Greek debt by indicating that a lengthening of the repayment terms could be an acceptable alternative.
The European Union also made a kolotoumba of its own as it does not appear to be threatening the new government with ultimatums but, rather, encouraging a new dialogue in the hope of finding a potential consensus.
Alexis Tsipras performed another kolotoumba by putting aside his pre-election promises to restore public sector salaries to their pre-crisis levels, rehire all dismissed civil servants and do away with the crippling taxes imposed by previous administrations, merely promising to raise the minimum wage and restore electricity to the country’s impoverished.
By Sunday evening, Tsipras, the leader of the radical-left Syriza party who triumphed in Greece’s national elections by claiming 149 seats in the Greek Parliament, only two shy of an outright majority, started the kolotoumbas and his European partners quickly followed, making the word the key when it comes to the subject of the country’s future in the eurozone.
The Europeans are seeking a new deal with Tsipras in order to keep Greece within the group. Although Germany insists that Greece must adhere to its debt obligations, other voices in the European Union are musing about the possibility of an elongation in the repayment of the country’s debt in order to make it viable for the crippled Greek economy.
Even Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the stern chairman of the Eurogroup, has stated that although there is minimal support for any debt write-off negotiations, there will be discussions on the issue. And, even the hard-line Prime Minister of Finland and the Finance Minister of Belgium have left open the possibility of extending or reducing Greece’s debt load.
Yanis Varoufakis, who was adamant in his pre-election discourses, at times even discussing a potential return to the Drachma for the country, told the BBC that a “Grexit is not on the cards; we are not going to Brussels and to Frankfurt and to Berlin in confrontational style..” and indicated that there is great potential for a mutually beneficial solution to be found.
Of course, all discussions are premature at this stage as the situation is very fluid in the country. The people, tired and humiliated after five years of recession, with unemployment at 26 percent of the population and at 50 percent among its young, with a large exodus of talented Greeks going abroad in the quest of a job and with 2.5 millions Greeks subsisting below poverty thresholds, voted massively for Alexis Tsipras, providing him with a solid mandate to negotiate an end to the country’s harsh austerity measures.
On the other hand, the new Prime Minister, along with his associate in government, Panos Kammenos, has the delicate task of concluding a new loan agreement with his European partners while also maintaining a tough fiscal line in order to keep the budget balanced or, in the least, not let it exceed the European benchmark of three percent of GDP.
At the same time, the boisterous leftists in Syriza are pushing Tsipras to deliver on his pre-election promises, pledges that would dramatically increase the deficit, while Kammenos remains rather skeptical to any such ideas.
The various conflicts within Syriza, with its hodgepodge mix of radical and extreme-radical leftists and more moderate socialists, and those within the new governmental alliance, foreshadow difficult days ahead for the people of Greece who voted for change and relief but want to remain in a united Europe. Perhaps, from here on in, hope in Europe’s future may be spelled k-o-l-o-t-o-u-m-b-a!