At the end of this darkest and most harrowing of all tunnels waited, patiently, Alexis Tsipras, the 40-year old, former high school agitator SYRIZA leader and his nebulous assemblage of political "tendencies" forming SYRIZA's backbone.
Mr. Tsipras has already gone to lengths to insist that his electoral campaign promises will acquire political flesh quickly and with determined steps. Central to the SYRIZA leader's program is the obvious non-sustainability of the Greek sovereign debt and the urgent need to re-negotiate the one-sided "bailout" agreement with the EU so as to provide a springboard to jump start the Greek economy. This is the first time since the onset of this catastrophe that a Greek political leader articulates the obvious and announces his intention to pursue this objective in the face of Germany's already expressed vicious counter-push.
The main German concern is that "the Tsipras affect" could ignite a wider political debate in other European countries on the effects of dead-end austerity and Berlin's totalitarian approach to the "lazy" and "unproductive" southern Europeans. A message from President Obama, stressing that Greek recovery cannot be based on austerity, further ruffled Germany's feathers. Indeed, as a recent commentary pointed out, Mr. Tsipras's electoral victory has instantly made anti-austerity look "less cartoonish" and, thus, capable of applying pressure upon the "advanced" Europeans to climb down from their high horse and get closer to the political realities of the ongoing pan-European crisis of unemployment, low productivity, and now deflation. These can be trends deeply unwelcome in Berlin. From this standpoint, the SYRIZA victory has already put its imprint upon future European developments. Thorny subjects like European federalism, a unified European tax system, and debt sharing via a federal budget are making a comeback and cause unwelcome pressure on the EU's dominant bureaucracies and the cabal of "central powers" led by Germany.
Domestically, Mr. Tsipra's main battleground will be the radical revamping of Greece's huge, lethargic public sector with its voracious appetite for budget resources that are simply wasted on an army of political party appointees. This is the ultimate domestic strategic test for Mr. Tsipras and his promise to stop the kind of budget hemorrhage which, along with endemic corruption, triggered the Greek collapse in the first place. The task is a political minefield for the new Greek PM given SYRIZA's loose confederation of leftist political groupings, some of which propose "solutions" disassociated from the real world.
On the international front, Mr. Tsipras has jolted Brussels with early signs of non-conformism regarding the EU's flirting with collision policies against Russia. Indeed, if Mr. Tsipras is the "loyal Red" his detractors insist he is, SYRIZA's external strategies may hold unpleasant surprises for Greece's EU "partners," who routinely serve as the useful idiots in the "free world" effort to confront Moscow in a dangerous, resurgent Cold War. The sure sign that SYRIZA's "Russian" shot across NATO's bows irked the European "allies" was a rather brusque suggestion to Athens, delivered by German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen, not to forget that NATO will help only those who remain loyal to the principle of collective support; you cannot ask for "solidarity," the German minister said, when you are not wiling to offer it as well.
Steps like SYRIZA's courting Russia (President Putin has already invited Mr. Tsipras to Moscow) keenly undermine Germany's cherished tactics of striving to "de-ideologize" the European debate and discount the symbolic worth of smaller EU "partners," who find Germany's totalitarian bend disturbing, to say the least. Hence, the thinly veiled German rage over SYRIZA's repeated public reminders of Nazi Germany's war debt to Greece and demands for war reparations – and the veiled German hand in the ECB's sudden announcement that Greek banks won't be allowed any longer to use debt as collateral for gaining ECB financing. The announcement caused the Athens stock exchange to tank, with Greek bank stocks taking a beating, and serves as a glaring reminder of things to come in this developing Greek David vs European Goliath contest.
Prof. Yanis Varoufakis, the new Greek finance minister, has been making the rounds of European capitals trying to put under way a re-negotiation agreement. His meeting with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble, ended with no immediate signs of a consensus rising, leading many international commentators to express fears that "Grexit" is again on the table with unpredictable, and potentially disastrous, consequences upon the whole European project. On his part, Professor Varoufakis insisted that Greece is not planning to default but, rather, to find a reasonable way of putting the emphasis on growth rather than on paying interest and thus robbing Greece of all opportunity for a rebound.
With the "fog of war" thickening, there is at least one condition that is clear: if the EU wishes to avoid the disastrous impact of an ideologically-driven civil war, centering on Berlin's demands for total control, European politicians must sideline EU bureaucrats and assume responsibility for a fair negotiation with the Greek "Reds." Early signs seem to suggest that the idea isn't that distant from the minds of many in countries other than Germany and some of its loyal EU subordinates like Austria and Finland.
Historically, as a recent report suggests, European political parties have chosen to side with the creditors and invest in defending and augmenting their interests. This choice is at the center of the current crisis which is destroying Greece and threatening countries like Portugal, not to mention the risks faced by much larger "partners" like France and Italy. German demands that the creditors are fully protected thus threaten to dynamite the entire European experiment and, by extension, the global economy.
It would be suicidal for the European "central powers" to assume that Greece is too small to be significant. Macho talk about how European institutions are so much "better prepared" to handle a Grexit is of little consequence to those who approach the Greek imbroglio with a judicious view of the stakes involved. History teaches us that huge disasters can occur because of "too small" entities, such as Greece, imploding.
With Europe facing a seemingly unstoppable surge of nationalist and anti-EU political parties, the "Reds" in Athens may be distasteful to Berlin wonks, but their presence is the unmistakable sign of a Europe-wide political undercurrent that can easily hole the European "union" behemoth below the waterline.
The "Reds," therefore, have arrived – despite Germany's efforts to "prove" that January 25, 2015 did not indeed occur in small, peripheral, corrupt Greece and that the trivial worms that emerged from the Greek ballot box can be squashed with impunity.
Mr. Tsipras may not survive politically, but the fuse has been lit. Unions are not built by forcing members into a debt prison cell, and leaving a pistol with a single round in the chamber, on the table. They become stabler and stronger only by finding ways to avoid mistakes they cannot correct.