Tsipras shakes up Greek political conservatism

  • Dejan Azeski

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. Macedonian historian, journalist and publicist Dejan Azeski has analysed recent events in Greece following the ratification of the Prespa agreement by the Greek Parliament  in view of the upcoming parliamentary election in Greece scheduled for 20 October 2019. His article entitled “Tsipras shakes up Greek political conservatism” is published here in its full version.


Tsipras shakes up Greek political conservatism


Ratification of the Prespa agreement[1] has radically shaken up Greek political conservatism.


On 25 January 2019, Greek MPs passed the Prespa agreement with 153 votes, thus ensuring that Greece will no longer block the Euro-Atlantic integration process for the Republic of Macedonia provided the country changes its constitutional name and some of the articles of its Constitution.


This represents a historical step for the whole region which will finally be able to close the last chapter of Euro-Atlantic integration for the most problematic part of Europe – the Western Balkans.


Nevertheless, this (in European terms) breaking news was overshadowed by the speech delivered by Alexis Tsipras before the Greek MPs one day earlier.


At first glance it may seem a routine motivation speech usually delivered by the party leader  before any significant voting in the parliament. However, the true connoisseurs of the situation in Athens know it came like a bolt from the blue and radically shook up the Greek political conservatism. The speech was so good and significant that it can be said to have marked the beginning of a new era or at least to denude Greek political delusions that have been present and unchanged for 189 years.


Tsipras speaks before MPs about topics forbidden since 1830


Not many know that the modern Greek state was born at the beginning of the 19th century in the Istanbul quarter called Fener. For centuries, this part of the city was the home of Greek intellectual elite which, known for its Greek resourcefulness and adaptability, performed the most problematic diplomatic tasks for the Ottomans.


Like rats abandoning the sinking ship, Phanariotes (the Greek inhabitants of Fener) decided to establish their own state after they noticed the weakening and sinking of the great Ottoman empire.


In 1948 the Jewish state of Israel was established in the area which had not been under Jewish authority for over 2000 years – a practice that still causes constant problems in Israel.


Similarly, the Greek elite wanted to establish their own state on the Peloponnese and Attic peninsulas, although the area had been reigned by the Turks for 400 years and before that by the Romans and the Byzantines for 1500 years and the Macedonians for 100 years.


Thus the continuity of Greek statehood which should have been restored on Peloponnese and Attica in 1829 was interrupted already in 338 BC with the Battle of Chaeronea. This interruption lasted for 2168 years – an extremely long period which had to be somehow justified.


A genius idea was constructed in Fener: the modern Greek state must be the ideological and (what is even more terrifying) genetic successor of not only the antique Hellenic poleis but of the whole Byzantine empire along with its millennial historical continuity.


From today's perspective this idea would seem hilarious were it not for its extremely tragic truth.


Since even worse things were accepted at the beginning of the 19th century, the Greek state which was established with the support of the super powers somehow managed to push forward this idea which even seemed attractive in the post-renaissance Europe.


However, the Greek fairy tale continued monopolising the history. The weakening of the Ottoman empire created the conditions for even greater ambitions of Greek post- Phanariotes ideologists and historians.


In 1843 Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Kolettis conceived the so-called Megali Idea (“Great Idea”) which represents the most irredentist document in the history of modern European civilisation: according to it the small Greek state should expand to cover five seas and two continents (the whole of Epirus, Thessaly, the geographical region of Macedonia, Thrace, the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria, Bosphorus, the Dardanelles and the Sea of Marmara, as well as the whole Aegean coast of today's Turkey). The capital of this new state would be Constantinople as the successor of the Byzantine capital.


The idea itself wouldn't have been so problematic were it not followed by interpretations and documents aimed at “raising the awareness” of all the population of those territories regarding their antique Hellenic and Byzantine origin, which led to the “Greekization” of the whole Balkan and Asia Minor regions.


Greek archives contain documents and even complete strategies showing how those ideas should be implemented through Church and school or, ultimately, even through the army.


When the eminent Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos managed to capitalise on Bulgaria's and Serbia's efforts during the 1912‒1913 Balkan wars and annexed 58% of the geographical region of Macedonia to Greece, the above plan started to be actively enforced upon the population of that region.


That process lasted till 1948 when during the civil war several hundred thousands of Macedonians fighting on the communist side were expelled from the territory of Greece.


In his speech before the Greek parliament Tsipras dealt with topics that no one had dared to mention in the parliament since 1830. Thus he brought up the Macedonian (or as he called it: Slavic Macedonian) national issue regarding the territory belonging to today's modern Greek state. Thus Tsipras directly called on the communists in the Greek parliament, reminding them that “Slavic Macedonians” fought and gave their lives for them.


“I don’t want to criticize the Communist Party of Greece (KPG) on the basis of its history.  But I will mention the Slavic Macedonian dictionary which KPG members distributed in the refugee camps in Tashkent to the children of the Slavic Macedonian fighters of the Democratic Army of Greece.  I will mention the 70.000 refugees from the Civil War and how the Greek state denied them repatriation in 1983.  I will mention the Slavic Macedonian Mirka Ginova – a Communist and first victim of the Civil War in Greece.  I will allow you to think about this and to confront your own conscience. stated Greece Prime Minister Tsipras.


In those few sentences the new Greek Abraham Lincoln confirmed everything that is stated in this analysis:

  1. that Slavic Macedonians from north Greece and Macedonians from the Republic of Macedonia are the same nation and not a fictitious communist nation (as was claimed),
  2. that the presence of Macedonians in the territory of Greece was a reality,
  3. that at least 70,000 of them were expelled from their homeland,
  4. that Macedonian dictionaries existed in Greece in the past, and
  5. that the Greeks who vote against the Prespa agreement should confront their conscience with the dark history.


If Macedonians all over the world have remembered and celebrated for 70 years Georgi Dimitrov who officially recognised their presence in Bulgaria, they should remember and celebrate Alexis Tsipras for the next 700 years.


Will the messiah be outplayed again by the elite


Tsipras will be faced with a difficult challenge at the regular parliamentary election on Sunday, 20 October 2019.


However, the biggest problem will not be his nation (whom he literally saved for four years from the EU debt trap) but the Greek political elites and dynasties.


When we refer to Greek dynasties we should be aware that they represent many generations of real aristocratic families which make the Kennedy and Bush families in the US look like small children.


Tsipras's key opponent is the current opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis who represents the fourth generation holding the leading political positions in his family.


Nevertheless, that wouldn't be so problematic if Tsipras belonged to one of such Greek dynasties or clans.


For example, the Papandreou family had three prime ministers and three foreign ministers in only three generations  or the Venizelos family has had the highest politicians for five generations.


Regrettably – or fortunately – Tsipras does not belong to any such dynasty. He comes from a mixed family of immigrants from Epirus and Asia Minor and is therefore probably well aware of the above mentioned dark history. Which is why he doesn't enjoy the support of Athens' elites.


He is further hampered by his association with the strong left-wing which has been literally anathemised in Greece since the 1948 civil war and proclaimed as an antisocial sect.


Even the public opinion polls are not in favour of Tsipras: they have shown that even if Tsipras manages to form the government it will be so fragmented and dependant on various structures that he will lose the room for manoeuvre and the possibilities to adopt important decisions such as the Prespa agreement.


This may pose new obstacles for the neighbouring Macedonia – or now the Republic of North Macedonia – on its way to the European Union and possibly even lead to a direct attempt to revise the Prespa agreement on the Macedonian name change.


Tsipras has always been full of surprises


Nevertheless, we shouldn't give up on Tsipras. The Americans have the saying “never underestimate the underdog”. Anything may be expected from the man who managed to undermine the Greek political monopoly held for centuries by PASOK and the New Democracy and the man who turned from Brussels's (EU) “enemy number one” into its best partner and the factor of stability for the whole region. One never knows – he may even win the Nobel Peace Prize.


Ljubljana, 19 February 2019     


[1] The Prespa agreement is an international agreement signed by foreign ministers of the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece Nikola Dimitrov and Nikos Kotzias on 17 June 2018 in the Greek village of Nivici on the shore of Lake Prespa. The agreement was co-signed by the UN Special Representative for the Macedonia naming dispute Matthew Nimetz. The Prespa agreement replaced the Interim Accord signed in New York on 13 September 1995 and represents the final resolution of the Macedonia name dispute and the basis for establishing strategic cooperation between Greece and Macedonia. According to the agreement the Republic of Macedonia will change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia or short North Macedonia, while Greece will recognise the citizenship of Macedonians as the citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia and the Macedonian language as its official language.

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