GRIEF, psychiatrists say, has many stages, from denial to acceptance; and Greece seems to have raced through them all. Ten days after 62% of voters rejected the terms of a harsh bail-out package, the country’s parliament voted with clenched teeth for an even tougher set of reforms.
After a long, anguished debate, with protesters hurling petrol bombs outside, some 229 members backed the changes needed to unleash a new aid package, while 64 voted against and six abstained. At least 38 of the 149 legislators who belong to Syriza, the ruling leftist party, refused to back the changes, Among the rebels was Zoi Konstantopoulou, the parliamentary speaker, who spoke of a “ very black day for democracy in Europe”.
Still, rather than cry “betrayal”, seven Greeks out of ten accepted that bowing to the European Union’s diktat was the right thing to do, according to a poll. A similar number said that Alexis Tsipras, who called the July 5th referendum in a spirit of defiance, but later settled for a much worse deal, should remain prime minister.
Indeed his transformation has been a big shock. The firebrand leader looked chastened after a 17-hour negotiation in Brussels; compatriots who disliked his demagoguery sympathised with him for the first time. During the parliamentary debate, his voice rose again: he said Greeks had a choice between waging an “unfair battle” and “handing in their weapons”.
The vote left Greeks who want stability waiting anxiously for several more things, including a lifeline from the European Central Bank and approval from other euro zone parliaments. They also hoped Mr Tsipras would not rock the boat by calling snap elections. A better chance of keeping Greece afloat seemed to lie in teaming up with smaller parties, like the once-mighty Pasok and the centrist Potami (River) or making an even broader coalition.
The euphoria of the July 5th vote has given way to fatigue. “At least we tried,” says Anna, a law student who, like most young people, voted “No” but wants to keep the euro. After the roller-coaster they have ridden, Greeks seemed strangely resigned to the hard place where they landed. The nation is suffering from post-traumatic stress, Mr Tsipras told Greeks on July 14th. His tone was conciliatory, calling creditors “partners” and admitting his wild former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, might not have been ideal for politics.
Islands hard to reach
But not everyone is convinced by the new Mr Tsipras or the medicine he has swallowed. Pharmacists, municipal workers and others went on strike on July 15th to protest the impact that the reforms will have on their livelihoods. Public sector workers fear for their jobs, with reason.
On far-flung islands, where the writ of Athens does not always run, raising taxes may be an even harder and less desirable proposition than on the mainland. But Xenophon Petropoulos of the Greek Tourism Association said he mostly welcomes the more steady chapter that this week’s vote will bring. He admits that tax hikes for his industry will be “very tough” for a country competing with other euro-zone destinations, as well as Turkey. But he craves a Greece stable enough to reassure visitors; and he hopes that after the vote, late bookings (which as of last week were down 30% on 2014) will pick up again.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, an ex-banker and leading figure in the centre-right New Democracy party, is confident that private capital will start flowing back as soon as political stability returns. But to get to that place, banks will need to achieve some semblance of normality and the political order will have to look more durable.
Mr Tsipras faces a mammoth task: the financial system is creaking, unemployment is rising and the recession will surely deepen. And given the emotional swings that the Greeks have already exhibited in the last few weeks, nobody is sure that the spectre of Grexit has been banished.
“Alexis Tsipras, after coming to terms with reality, now has a historic responsibility,” said Niki Kerameus, a New Democracy MP. Much depends on which side of the prime minister’s complex persona prevails, and how he deals with leftist rebels.
In the immediate future, if there is any politician who can steer Greece away from the temptations of the hard right, or forces well to the left even of Syriza, he is probably the one. Still, even if he behaves perfectly, and even if Grexit doesn’t come back onto the table, it seems hard, to people in Athens as much as Brussels or Berlin, to see how the shattered relationship between the Greeks and their (northern) European neighbours will be repaired.