Tuesday, February 3, 2015
There’s No Compromising With the Greeks
Wall Street Journal
February 3, 2015
New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his colleagues in the far-left Syriza party have until the end of the month to conclude a deal with the country’s international creditors either to wrap up a new bailout program or, potentially, to default and exit the euro. Commentators have focused on Mr. Tsipras’s radical politics as the major impediment to reaching an agreement. But there’s a looming cultural problem as well.
In the Greek popular vocabulary, the word “compromise” has very negative undertones. It’s a synonym for betrayal, a sell-out. The concept of a positive-sum game is alien to many Greeks. It’s no coincidence then that the level of trust in the country, according to the Legatum Prosperity Index ranking, is extremely low and diverges from the European average.
Greeks are rational enough to prefer compromise to sudden death. But they need this compromise to be dressed as a heroic triumph and not a practical agreement that includes concessions (another vilified word). And even in the case of the country’s greatest modern leaders, Greeks have punished politicians for making difficult but necessary decisions. This history offers perspective on the challenge Mr. Tsipras now faces.
Eleftherios Venizelos, the most acclaimed political leader of modern Greece, used to say that there are no national rights, only national interests. He was not only a major liberal reformer but also a cunning diplomat who managed to double Greece’s land area by joining winning alliances in three consecutive wars from 1912 to 1920.