Don’t Bet on Syriza

Jul 02, 2015 · 112 comments
R. R. (NY, USA)
Greece’s prime minister has revealed that his partner and the mother of his children has threatened to leave him if he cuts a deal with creditors to stave off bankruptcy.
Richard Besserer (Canada)
You forget the personal elements here. The young Alexis Tsipras had no interest in politics. Betty Batziana, his high-school sweetheart, introduced him to the radical left after an injury left him unable to continue to compete in sports, his true passion.

Not only did Mr. Tsipras never find stable employment outside politics, but unconfirmed rumours suggest Ms. Batziana, now his partner, has threatened to leave him if he capitulates to the institutions.

Bluntly put, Mr. Tsipras has nothing to personally gain from compromise, and everything he has in the world to lose.
PredictionPlanet (Canada)
One of our users is predicting a "NO" vote on Sunday:
They argue:

"...In the worst case, they may burn what remains of their economy to the ground - but in so doing they will shake the very foundations of the EU and possibly set a faster course to eventual financial stability. It may be a wholly Pyrrhic victory, but at least it would be a kind of victory.

In the best case, the Troika (and Germany) may blink in a sort of emperor-has-no-clothes moment - acknowledging that there are weaknesses in their monetary union and acquiescing to the needs of a member country with a financial gun to their heads and arguably little to lose.

Whatever the outcome, a NO vote would teach a lot of people some difficult but important lessons. And if we can't learn from these bouts of profligate idiocy, how will we ever face the really big problems?"
R. R. (NY, USA)
Greece should never have joined the euro zone:

They frauded their way in.

And devaluation of the drachma was the only way Greece collected the money the government needed to function.

With an incompetent government, bureaucracy, standard operating procedure tax avoidance, and devaluation of the euro impossible, Greece will remain bankrupt.

The Greeks are unable to change their economic malfeasance, and so, despite the crushing depression that will ensue, they must leave the euro zone.
David Gottfried (New York City)
This article was, in short, reprehensible.

The people of Greece and their left wing Syriza party are gallantly fighting the good fight. But this author has contempt for good fights as witnessed by his breezy dismissal of the resistance, to the Nazis, in WW11. The author thinks that the people should be mute and passive and simply endure even greater tax hikes and further cuts. No Way.

The oligarchs will be in retreat. IN Greece the people are aroused and soon they will, hopefully, be aroused in the US as well (Eg. Tonite 10,000 people showed up at a Bernie Sanders rally, the largest crowd that any candidate has gotten so far in this season)
blgreenie (New Jersey)
This is a welcome piece, bringing some balance to Times coverage that's been heavy on faulting creditors. Missing also from Times pieces has been a serious look at Mr. Tsipras. I find his "no" strategy rather sophomoric and his hurling insults at EU figures strangely contradictory if he wants to work with them. Prof. Mazower crafts a useful picture of Tsipras, especially describing the activist influences that led him to who he now is.
j. von hettlingen (switzerland)
Another "Greece's extreme weakness" is that most Greeks believe that, we, Europeans owe them a debt of gratitude for giving the continent their history, culture, philosophy etc, and that we have to stand by them through thick and thin.
Last week Tsipras instilled this sense of pride in his supporters, raising their awareness of what Greece meant two thousand years ago, and what Greece's exit would mean today to Europe.
Indeed the country would be "an attractive site for foreign investment, putting its geopolitical position to good use" after a "Grexit". But it would need to borrow money to clean up the mess, before foreign investors came. It would be difficult for Greece to find lenders. Russia doesn't have the money, that Greece needs to get its act together. Its only hope is the current creditors, in order to pull through.
Anna Yakoff (foreigner)
Oh could you please leave Greece end the Middle East alone?
I bet these regions would develop faster and more intensive without the American influence on the opinion of the Western community!
Eric (NJ)

In America we are allowed to have and share an opinion. For example, in my opinion Greece is a "Western" nation, and the article is not about the Middle East.

Thank you for sharing yours
Sabine Atwell (Salinas, California)
The " region" as you call it, Greece is not the Middle East, has not been functioning well for over thirty years. It has had a weak and poorly managed economy and once it joined the EU has started to believe that the lack of productivity did not matte and borrowed and borrowed.....Greek-Americans , friends of mine emigrated over 40 years ago because of that. They are doing this again now in droves.... They have had poor leadership and a misguided public, but they all shared in the fraud! Now it's time to pay up as it always is...
Che Beauchard (Lower East Side)
Mr. Mazower would have Greeks continue in penury permanently, with pensioners impoverished to aid the rich. His opinion piece continues in the tradition that blames the victims for the situation, We saw this in America with those who blame the poor for accepting loans that were offered to them by corrupt bankers when the bankers knew that those borrowing could not repay. We are in an era in which the victims of con artists are blamed and the con artists are protected. Bail out the poor. Stop bailing out the rich.
Eric (NJ)
Caveat emptor
Stan Nadel (Salzburg Austria)
The Troika used "Greek aid" to pay off the German and French banks, not to help Greece. Now that their bankers are in the clear they are determined to get their money back from the Greeks at any cost to the Greek economy and are happy to use their power to crush Syriza as an example to any others who might want to abandon their insane austerity politics. They are the ones driving Greece and Europe into a crisis, not Syriza which has made major concessions to avoid one, but which is being driven to the wall by German (and other) hard liners.
Yiannis P. (Missoula, MT)
I have admired professor Mazower's scholarship as it applies to Greece for a long time. I had considered him a true philhellene. So I was especially disappointed with his current. By making no serious mention of the disastrous policies masterminded by the Troika for the past five years, he appears to absolve the banksters and plutocrats and ascribe to Syriza's six-month reign and its desire for a plebiscite with the blame for the current impasse.

Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Steiglitz from Columbia (as is Mazower) stated a few days ago with reference to the Troika's policies on Greece: "I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate." In what way is a continuation of Troika policies which a "yes" vote this Sunday will most likely lead to preferable to whatever ensues from a "no" vote (including Grexit)? What would a "national unity government" accomplish if the "yes" vote prevails? By necessity, it would include members of the two political parties (N.D. and Pasok) responsible for the origins of the crisis and for presiding over the economy's destruction ever since. (Who else is there to provide a fresh approach? Golden Dawn? To Potami--a regurgitated and unimaginative extension of N.D./Pasok? The Communist party?)

No doubt Syriza has often acted brashly, with aims that occasionally seemed contradictory. But who else could have done better when faced with the mulish intransigence of the Troika and its desire to punish and humiliate?
Karthik (Chennai)
Just a few days ago the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the US said it saw its job as not to read the text out of context but to follow broad congressional purpose. As he put it: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

Yet, Mr Mazower criticises the Greek Government unconstitutional strategy of holding a referendum on a matter which would affect every citizen of Greece as 'cavalier'.

Surely, the purpose of the Greek Government is to 'improve the lot of the Greek people, not to sell them into slavery to the troika and Germany', to paraphrase Chief Justice Roberts. So what if they have to deviate from the letter of the constitution in doing so?
Posa (Boston, MA)
The Guardian published a piece earlier this week showing almost twenty years more of intensified killer austerity and mammoth debt payments due.

On less the Eu agrees on debt write downs, ten Greece is better off leaving the Euro--- but they may still remain the EU.
JMC (Lost and confused)
Yet another harangue against an "ill-advised plebiscite".

Don't the Greeks know they should just do what they are told by the Troika and continue to watch their country, their lives and their families sink deeper and deeper into a hopeless economy? It is truly shocking and upsetting to allow people to voter on their fate.

The IMF's own research department has concluded austerity is not only not working but making the situation worse.

Two economics professors with Noble prizes (Stiglitz and Krugman) have strongly condemned the endless austerity and have come out on the side of a NO vote.

Meanwhile we have a column from a history professor afraid of letting people vote and longing for a return of the parties that led their country down the ruinous austerity path.

I think I'd go with the Nobel prizes in economics.
DocSnider (Germany)
I would not go, for two reasons
1. There is no such thing as a Nobel Prize for Economics
2. If you must choose between Skylla (yes) and Charybdis (no), it is better to choose Skylla (like Odysseus), you will loose some people, but you can still sail on. If you choose Charybdis, everything is over.

Greek should listen to Circe.
Ingy (Wind)
In good old EU tradition, a "national unity government" means the center-left unites with the center-right to implement right wing fiscal policies. No, thanks.
ejzim (21620)
Swimming upstream is for salmon. (And, when they get there, they are trapped and eaten.) This is a situation where floating on the current will be more beneficial. People always want to be forgiven their mistakes, but never actually have to pay for them.
Roland Berger (Ontario, Canada)
Mazower is right. That goddam socialist Greece should be crushed. The weak should always bend in front the strong.
Marc Kagan (New York)
Professor Mazower ends with his recommendation: a national unity government. But what is the basis for "national unity?" Is it continued acceptance of the 5-year austerity, but with Syriza signing on? Mazower doesn't say, because it weakens his argument which focuses on process (a referendum is not legal? Really?) rather than outcomes.

Clearly, there is no happy magic-wand waving outcome here. Pretty clearly, the endgame of a "No" vote is the drachma, because the northern Europeans are so adament on punishing the Greeks, making this a morality play. Especially see yesterday's "Hard Line on Greece."
So a "better bargaining position" will do no good.

But why is that the worst outcome? Syriza does have an underlying radical program. But they came to power on a more limited program - by telling Greeks they would fight harder against austerity. Well, they have. Now they are asking people to decide - what next? No one in that government is spreading the delusional idea that by a "no" vote Greeks would be "striking a decisive blow against international finance capital." This is a straw-horse effort to simply bad-mouth Syriza. Where exactly is "the potential for domestically generated growth" that Mazower's unity govt would supposedly produce?

Why is it a "test of democratic institutions" to allow the Grrek people to participate in bottom-up democracy?" For this, Syriza should be applauded.
randy tucker (ventura)
Honest question: Is there any agreement or decision that can be made that will not result in near complete economic disaster for the Greek working class and pensioners?

On a separate issue, the main part of Mazower's argument which bothers is he completely omits the reality that Syriza inherited this disaster less than a year ago from more centrist and right leaning 'mainstream' governments. Syriza didn't build this fiasco. Syriza is struggling to balance issues of national sovereignty, domestic economic havoc and international economic hegemony.
Cormac (NYC)
This column is typical of the red-baiting lens through which Tsipras has been presented by his opponents since his election:

Once again we have the dishonest Tsipras, pretending he wants the Euro while scheming to leave. We have the egomaniacal Tsipras, who has “worrying disregard” for democratic institutions. We have the demagogic Tsipras, “castigating powerful offstage villains” (without basis?). We have the childish Tsipras, still mired in student activism. We have the venal Tsipras, putting party and power ahead of the public good. We have the callous Tsipras, playing “game theory” with people’s lives.

And now from Mr. Mazower we have the psychopathic “schizophrenic” Tsipras, who dreams of martyrdom through “collective suicide.”

Isn’t it just possible that instead of a duplicitous, unbalanced, murderous, suicidal terrorist, Tsipras is exactly what he presents himself to be: A social democrat who believes that austerity regimes are socially unfair and economically counterproductive? Who believes that the specific austerity the Troika has demanded of Greece the last five years has made things worse, both on the balance sheet and in the lives of the population? Who believes that continuation on the current path offers no hope of improvement?

He might well be wrong about all these things, but given that many of the world’s leading intellectuals agree with each of these statements, why question Tsipras’ sincerity – and sanity – for believing these things?
Carlo 47 (Italy)
The Greek situation cannot be worst than today, thanks to the previous right-wing governments and the connive Troika.

Mr Tsipras was ridiculed by all the Chiefs of States, by their Finance Ministers, by the useless Eurocrats like Mr Juncker and Mr Dijsselbloem, first because he doesn't wear a tie, second because he asks a debt restructuring, third because he want to decide the reforms needed in Greece instead of being told what to do by the reborn Troika.

Now he called a referendum in the best ancient Greek democratic tradition.
The vote is very street forward:
YES means accepting the old SLAVERY imposed by the Troika and coming back to the 2014 socioeconomic conditions of Greece,
NO means rejecting the Troika's impositions and choosing FREEDOM to self-decide the Greek socioeconomic future.

If the Yes will win Tsipras will resign and the Nazi party Golden Down will come next.
So the final choice is between Syriza and Golden Down.
Syriza in those six months showed to be a left party with moderate intentions and very prone to help the people, and, as all European left parties, has no Soviet dreams.
Golden Down I don't know, but the experiences with the Italian Nazis are devastating for robberies when they rule and violent overwhelming attitudes.
That's why I prefer Syriza at the Greek Government, even if I don't bet on it because I am not a gambler.
PA (Massachusetts)
Readers that suggest a "no" vote will strengthen Greek government's hand in future negotiation ignore the political reality in other Euro members that by yielding to Greek government's demands they could topple their own. This is especially true for governments in Spain, Italy and Portugal and to a lesser extent in Easter European Euro members.
This should be made clear to Greek voters that the almost certain outcome of a "no" vote is departure from Euro, not strengthening Tsipras's hand in future negotiations.
Nicos katsoulis (Englewood cliffs, NJ)
Me. Tsipras has now boxed himself into a corner, by simply losing the trust of his lenders. Mrs Merkel is aware that the current events will only lead to a crumbling of the Greek economy very quickly, possibly before even this weekend. An overwhelming YES vote is almost a certainty, and this is why Tsipras attempted to negotiate with the EU this morning. He is desperately trying to agree with the EU prior to the referendum, so that he can call it off. As Prf. Mazauer indicated, he overplayed his hand. Having lost his credibility with the European leaders, he has very few alternatives. I believe he will soon be ousted.
Sabine Atwell (Salinas, California)
Activist leftist politics are exciting to students but they are no solution for a country deeply mired in a thirty year prolonged crisis. Its small EU neighbors to the North have done well by comparison by investing in research , education and their people, not in pension schemes and tax evasion. Just look at Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium and others right there in your neighborhood...
Si (Omaha)
I bet on Syriza!
Pierre Guerlain (France)
Even if one accepted all the points made in this article there would remain the question of how damaging austerity packages are. The EU had been "trying" to solve the Greek debt crisis for 5 years and made the situation much worse for most people. This is the wrong way to stabilize a country if by stabilization is meant helping the people. If the human costs have been catastrophic why go on in the same destructive way? Argentina did not pay back the IMF & it is doing better now. Iceland is a good example to follow. Kowtowing to bankers only means more austerity, more poverty and no solution in the end. Permanent debt and permanent helplessness.
St.Juste (Washington DC)

They would leave the Euro and let Russia lease some warm water ports and the Chinese purchase the abandoned German villas, as Germans become very unpopular in Greece. I for one hope they are and they do. It's not that the Russians and Chinese are saints but I for one am tired of capitalists destroying lives to obtain power and claiming their moral superiority while they do so.
Winthrop Staples (Newbury Park, CA)
Let the Greeks vote and pick their poison. If they value their "sovereignty" of an apparent national culture or ethics of corruption and wink, wink theft at every opportunity from top to bottom. And some arcane remnant of the rights of nobility, those with wealth and power, to not pay their taxes and display any patriotic concern for the common welfare then perhaps Greek society deserves to be a pauper, poverty stricken failed state. Its time for Greece to grow up and act like an adult ordered society, civilization. Its citizens should be allowed to chose, to descend into 3rd world status or not. After all one of the remarkable things about actually letting democracy function, not having the all to often pretend "representative" kind run by the 1%, is that after a period of its being a miserable 3rd world hell hole. The people of Greece in the future can chose vote by referendum to become a disciplined ordered society where everyone is expected to and required to obey what are supposed to be the rules.
Prof.Jai Prakash Sharma, (Jaipur, India.)
The Referendum call by the Greek PM is simply a matching political response to the forced austerity on Greece employed by the European creditors as the political weapon masked under fiscal prudence to control Greece and its resources.
lzolatrov (Mass)
Sanity may yet prevail and a “yes” vote on Sunday may finally lead to the formation of the national unity government the country has lacked since the crisis started.

Okay, a national unity government that will do what exactly? The Greeks have no way to repay all the money they owe and strangely even Tsipras never mentions the French and German banks who recklessly loaned more and more money to the Greeks and who have now been repaid (yes, minus a "haircut" by European tax payers. But that was always a recipe for disaster and one made by Merkel etc. So what is the solution now? I notice you don't bother with that pesky little item.
C. V. Danes (New York)
The memory of financial markets is short. Today's financial miracle was yesterday's debacle, and vice versa. If Greece leaves the euro and can stabilize its economy, then this whole mess will be forgotten, because the bankers will always line up if there is money to be made. Thus, the obstinance shown by the financial elite is not about finance, but about something that scares them even more: liberal democracy. In voting to leave the euro the Greeks may inflict short-term financial disruption, but in doing so they will preserve something much more precious: a devotion to democracy and democratic ideals.
Radio (Warren, NJ)
Iceland held a referendum on an economic crash and miraculous to say the nation still stands.
PA (Massachusetts)
The more fundamental issue is that EU leaders don't trust that a Greek government led by Tsipras will implement the reforms under any deal. As a result, even if Tsipras manages to stay in power under a 'yes' vote (I don't see how), EU leaders would insist on short-term a deal that would require verification of agreed upon measures in in every step of the way.
Long term agreements require some level of trust, a rare commodity when it comes to the relationship of today's EU and Greek gov't.
Reed Erskine (Bearsville, NY)
Essentially this referendum will come down to demographics. People with gray hair (or little hair) will vote "yes". People with lots of hair (and small bank accounts) will vote "No". I predict that the "Ayes" will have it, because about 1/3 of the population is over the age of 55, the overall median age about 43. This is a mature population, more interested in stability than revolution.
Lida A. (Arlington, VA)
Tsipras and his government have been arrogant, shallow and small-minded. Samaras did not enact a single reform required by the sequential bail-out packages his government received. Greece has zero credibility toward Europe and -after the referendum debacle- even less good will.
But Europe has made many mistakes over the last years including a total disregard for the fate of Greece's vulnerable populations, youth and pensioners, and expecting Greece to repay a staggering debt that -even with the strictest reforms- will take multiple years struggling the all-but-destroyed Greek economy.
It takes two to tango.

George Seferis wrote "wherever I travel, Greece wounds me". As an Greek expat, I have felt the truth of these words time and time again. But now, it is not only Greece in freefall, but the dream of a united, unified, Europe is no longer relevant. The fate of my country is dark but the future of the European Union is even darker. For me, and for those of us who aspired to one Europe, that is the bitterest pill.
iamcynic1 (California)
As I've said before:let the leftist politician run the country for six months and then blame him for the crisis which the austerians brought about.I think Mr Mazower lives too close to Manhattan."Global status quo" indeed. If the austerians regain ideological sway we can expect the rise of the extreme left wing in more places than Greece. I think that this is what the global financial elite really fear most. The book "Shock Doctrine" really tells the story most accurately.
Diogenes (Belmont MA)
This column represents the perspective of international bankers: we lent them the money so they better pay it back. Most of the money lent went to pay down the liabilities of the banks themselves. Very little went to help the Greeks with their social safety net, unemployment, or even to help stabilize their economy.

I hope the Greek voters ignore Mr. Mazower and other elites and vote No.
This will strengthen the Prime Minister in his effort to deal with the bankers and their political representatives in Berlin and Paris. If he can't persuade them to take a big "haircut", Greece should leave the Eurozone, and devalue its currency, which will encourage tourism, its most vital economic sector in the short run.
indisbelief (Rome)
The debts to banks were not liabilities of the banks....try to get your assets and liabilities straight...
Ruppert (Germany)
I must admit that I admire these Marxists who are holding key posts in the Greek government. They have played their cards well in the negotiations. Maybe calling a referendum was a mistake, but Tsipras has still a good chance to achieve a positive outcome for Greece. A remark that he twittered today:

"After the #referendum was announced, better proposals were received- especially in regards to restructuring the debt." - Who would have thought, a few months ago, when Mrs Merkel was strictly against it, that a debt relief for Greece would eventually be on the table?
dairubo (MN)
Time to call upon an expert in bankruptcy like Donald Trump. He can explain how to get rid of your bad debts and still hold on to your assets. It will be interesting if Syriza manages to hold tough and call the troika's bluff. Hard to say what the troika would do at that point. Maybe it would fall apart and be devoured by bankers turning on their own.
Mitch Abidor (Brooklyn)
How sad that Prof. Mazower, who wrote such a moving book on Greece under the Nazi Occupation, should write a piece like this one. He who praised the Greek Resistance should show at least some sympathy for a party and government trying against all odds to save their country from austerity polices that have all but killed it. The dilemma facing Tsipras and Greece can't be solved by a national unity government that would simply impose more hardship on the country. But this seems to be Prof. Mazower's wish.
Julia Craven (New York New York)
Professor Mazower fails to pontificate on the huge contributions to the devastation of the Greek economy by the Creditors punishing and counterproductive austerity measures. To expect more of the same to be a remedy seems to me just as foolish as the writer seems to find Mr. Tsipras' actions.
Mr. Tsipras has completely failed in these negotiations and has failed to make any real gains in the past five years. If Greece leaves the EU, brings back the Drachma and controls their own monetary policy, they can get out of this hole eventually, but certainly not under the 'leadership' of Mr. Tsipras. Greece should never been let into the EU, but with it's own currency, it will once again become an attractive tourist destination and will encourage foreign investment, because the prices will be more attractive.
PressBias (Upper West Side)
The problem is Syriza has NO success stories based on its ideology. Can any of you supporters name one country? Venezuela, Argentina, perhaps Cuba? I applaud the author for his common sense article. The NY Times editorial board and the delusional Krugman, who I used to agree with on many issues relating to the injustices in the world, are becoming the lone and ever marginalized wolfs in the US liberal media, while even the Huffington Post and Washington Post are realizing that Syriza couldn't run a hot dog stand successfully. They also have no negotiating skills and depend on insults and threats to try to get their way.
Jason Galbraith (Little Elm, Texas)
Looking at its sustainability and relatively high human development, Cuba is indeed a success story.
Cormac (NYC)
Cuba? Syriza has no coherent "ideology" because it is a broad coalition of people with some very different views. But if you had to place the party as a whole in a general place ideologically, it would be closer to the Social Democrats to be found in Scandinavia then the Castro regime. And I seem to recall that the efforts of those folks over the 20th century worked out pretty good for their countries.
rb (central coast.)
"It talks about the people’s will but shows a worrying disregard for the democratic bodies and procedures it says it is protecting." What gets more democratic than the people voting on their own future? Perhaps you were talking about the troika, which imposes its policies in an absolutely non-democratic fashion?
jiminy cricket (Right here.)
The glass of water's half empty. No wait, it's half full. Just a minute, it looks half empty again. Oh very sorry, I was wrong, the glass is half full. Etcetera. (Terra)
Clearly Tsipras has gambled Greece's fate, bluffed into trying to strike fear of contagion to other EU nations, and other doom and gloom in exchange of funding while promising vague measures ... increases in taxes in a country with a self admitted 70% tax nonpayment? his bluff has been called. This and all the posturing by him and his finance minister bad mouthing creditors and their negotiating counterparts, childish at best, highly irresponsible considering the stakes to their country at worst.
Reading the terms they signed last time there are 2 glaring terms in small print.... no reduction in military spending which accounts for 2.5% of GDP, which is the highest in the EU and even 0.5% over the recommended spending set by NATO, which would save 980mill/yr should this be reduced to 2% (UK spends 2.2 and Spain 0.9% respectively) not to mention the march agreement signed by the current govt to purchase Russian AA missiles at the tune of 1.9 billion which would pay either the IMF arrears or twice over the social relief plans Tsipras wants to roll to the poorest in the country.
Also glossed over is the fact that already a 100 billion hair cut was taken from their debt a few years ago.... evil EU/ECB indeed.
As a citizen of another EU country (which has mindbogglingly spent 26bill in Greek govt debt) I say enough! They have to fix their own house and put realistic measures to be able to stand by themselves. Signing up an agreement now and we'll be in the same spot in a year.
Jason Galbraith (Little Elm, Texas)
How is it that 70% of Greek taxes are never collected? Don't they have income withholding over there?
pontificatrix (CA)
Jason: taxes from salaried workers are collected, but this is a minority of all the taxes owed. A huge part of the economy functions in cash, and bribes to tax collectors keep income safe from the government. Tax evasion is like a national sport.
Jack Archer (Pleasant Hill, CA)
I'll bet on Syriza, with some trepidation, because it represents a break with Greece's recent history. As for leaving, or rather, being forced out of the eurozone, that is either a mixed curse or blessing, depending on whether you know anything about economics or are as ignorant of it as Prof. Mazoner appears to be. He should take a crash course from Stiglitz, who teaches at his university, I believe, or from Krugman, two Nobel laureates who do know a thing or two about the subject. The eurozone is based upon bad economics; in fact, fundamentally flawed economics, which the ongoing crisis makes clearer as time goes by. Greece will suffer either way this farce turns out, but if it leaves the eurozone, a result about which I believe Syriza is split, it stands the chance of clawing its way out of its misery. Otherwise, it will dance to Berlin's tune forever -- a backward province of the new European empire, dominated by Germany and its "beggar its neighbors" economic policies.
Si (Omaha)
I'll bet on Syriza also.
Paul (Bay Area)
I have great respect for Professor Krugman, but not being a European he (and you) failed to recognize two major objectives for the Eurozone at its inception :
- create a unique market with a single currency
- contribute to bring the European countries closer, politically speaking, so as not to repeat a bloody past
These two goals have been met very successfully, and believe it or not, this is what the Europeans care about.

That said everybody in Europe is well aware that the construction of the Eurozone has not been completed yet, and that it will take more decades to complete. Should Europe have waited for a unique, and sound, economical governance, the Eurozone would still be only a dream. It was the right choice to create it and figure out along the way how to resolve issues.

I fail to understand why non Europeans (well Americans mostly) are so prompt to criticize the Eurozone, would it be perceived as a competitor ?

Oh, and by the way, should Puerto Rico drop the dollar ?
Paul (Bay Area)
Saying the Eurozone is based on flawed economics is a very narrow minded perspective on Europe. It is true that the Eurozone lacks a unique management policy, the founders were well aware of this and knew it would take decades before this would be able to take places. You do not create an entity like Europe over a few years, but rather over generations. So was this a reason not to launch the Eurozone ? Certainly not, many of the original goals have been achieved for which the Europeans are grateful.

By the way, let me throw a question here : should not Puerto Rico drop the dollar as a currency ?
John Grannis (Montclair NJ)
This situation is fraught with psychology. While the writer makes an attempt at analyzing the motivations of the Greek leadership, he ultimately dismisses them as children in need of stronger discipline. He understands the Greek populace not at all. After years of deprivation due to the bitter medicine of forced austerity, why would the Greek people accept the European prescription of more of the same? The unspoken element is the psychology of the financial masters. As omnipotent as they may seem, they hold a deep fear in their hearts. What if debtors of the world rose up against the perpetual burden of crushing debt? If Greece can do it, why not Spain, or Italy, or American students? Could this be why the only response to this crisis from international capital is more austerity? As the saying goes, "The beatings will continue until morale improves." Don't bet on it!
Eric (Toronto, Canada)
"After years of deprivation due to the bitter medicine of forced austerity, why would the Greek people accept the European prescription of more of the same?"

Do they have an alternative, really? Does Greece generate sufficient wealth to support Greeks in the manner to which they have become accustomed? With or without Europe, this is surely the question. There's no free lunch.
slama (wynnewood)
It's fantasy to insist that the problem with Greece is Tsipras and Syriza. The Euro "starkers" have been hoping to dump Greece from the Euro for at least three years, long before Syriza. See what Schauble told Tim Geithner about Greece in July 2012.
Steve (Los Angeles)
Tough call. But why would banks keep lending given that they have all the financial knowledge and where with all at their finger tips? The banks knew all along that they and the Greeks were getting deeper and deeper in a hole. They knew this 10 to 15 years ago. What was in it for the banks that they were willing to keep lending money to Greece?
lspieler (South Florida)
There's a lot of stupidity to go around, but this last gambit by Tsipras has got to be one of the most under-handed and bone-headed in this downward spiral.

To set an illegal referendum and then to set it AFTER a hard deadline would benefit Greece how?

After a week of panic in the streets I would anticipate an overwhelming YES vote and the resignation of the Syriza ministers.
Mihail Papadopoulos (Greece)
I am terribly sorry to burst your bubble, but referendums are not illegal under the Geek constitution. Maybe there are in your country, but certainly not here.
Denis Pombriant (Boston)
First, the Greek plebiscite is not over a fiscal matter once you add in the foreign nature of the revenue and the straight jacket it would put the voters in. Government gets its power from the people and this is a time when an extra legal vote is needed. There are strong parallels to the Continental Congress and the meeting at Philadelphia that yielded the U.S. Constitution. So a vote is proper here.

Second, economically Greece has an unemployment rate that mirrors the Depression of the 1930s. There is tremendous slack in the economy that, if taken up, could generate growth which would make debt payments more manageable.
Third, therefore, any future loans to Greece should be made as investments in productive capacity, not as fuel for an economy that is too focused on pensions and not enough on making and selling thngs. This will not end the crisis over night but it will make the economy run, which is something all prior effort has crushed and that the nation sorely needs. Austerity is a bureaucratic answer to a question that has not been asked.
Impedimentus (Nuuk)
Professor Mazower's opinion piece is nothing more than a thinly veiled deficit scold, austerity hawk propaganda piece. He and his international bankster friends care not for the people of Greece and their suffering, and only for the international cartel of rapacious financial institutions. This kind of propaganda continues to flow from the friends of the same people that almost brought the world to financial collapse in 2008.
Chicago Teamster (Chicago)
"..a future of growing pauperization on the margins of Europe beckons." But that's exactly what the troika have imposed already. And what the troika insists continue. Europe's democracy deficit grows every time anti-austerity is equated with incompetence or extremism.
KarlosTJ (Bostonia)
The EU should short-circuit the problem and divest itself of Greece. Better that the taxpayers who funded the wild and crazy previous spending in Greece up to this point should suffer pain now, than to have them suffer even more pain in the future. Greece will become a pariah nation, which will have to trade actual products and actual services in order to earn foreign cash to pay for incoming values. Foreign investors will flock to Greece once they can be assured that Greece provides them with a profitable investment. Which won't happen so long as a quasi-marxist is in charge.

Without the EU, Greece will have to stand on its own. Which is what it should do.
Frank Brodhead (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY)
Professor Mazower says: “Thanks to this ill-advised plebiscite, Greece faces major turmoil that will test the democratic institutions it established after 1974.” For an historian of Greece and of Europe who has written some excellent books, this conclusion seems extremely narrow and short-sighted. For an alternative explanation, with some useful context, see:
Dausuul (Indiana)
"Collective suicide?" What kind of a situation does a country have to be in for such talk to carry weight?

Austerity is crushing the Greek economy. Yes, Greece has been irresponsible in the past, but that does not justify putting an entire nation into the equivalent of debt peonage. If Greece were a person or a business, it would long ago have declared bankruptcy. Even the IMF, which is nobody's idea of an advocate for irresponsible borrowers, agrees that Greece's debt load is unsustainable.
kwb (Cumming, GA)
Tsipras is like Khameini - tells his base one thing while knowing that he has to make a deal unpopular with that base.
Bobby (Palm Springs, CA)
Austerity has been a disaster. Greece has had five crushing years of depression with no end in sight. The troika demands even more, which will drive Greece back to the stone edge in a downward spiral. Vote no, accept the short term pain, and leave the Eurozone.
Tom Cuddy (Texas)
So democracy is a farce. Why bother with elected government at all when their is a 'correct' choice and an 'incorrect' choice? Greece should just dissolve its government and hand over the country to EU technocrats and then go on collective hunger strike. Since they will starve and die anyway might as well make it political. Only when there are no Greeks will austerity be deemed to work
An Observer (Europe)
The slight sticking point is that Syriza and its supporters propose to reduce Greek austerity using other peoples' money. And the 'other people' (now primarily the citizens of the Eurozone countries) no longer trust any Greek government enough to lend them more money.
Antonio (NY)
Mazower is another member of that group of wise pundits, the very serious people, ridiculed by Paul Krugman.
Jason Merchant (Chicago, IL)
Wonderful and accurate assessment. US-based readers simply haven't been exposed to the full range and history of the actors in Syriza, and it is hard for even well-informed readers outside Greece to truly appreciate the depth of the magical thinking, in Mazower's apt phrase, that infects Syriza and its supporters.
Cormac (NYC)
Excuse me, but what does "the full range and history of the actors in Syriza" have to do with anything?

What should be at issue is what they have proposed, vs. what the Troika has proposed. What the economic effects of each will be. And what what decision Greece should make concerning the EU's "take-it-or-leave-it" inflexibility.

The idea that Tsipras' childhood, or the views of Syriza's oddest members even be in the dialogue is deeply illegitimate. Real debate concerns the merits of an argument, not the history or character of the person who put it forward.
Concerned Citizen (Boston)
No mention by Professor Mazower of the incredible callousness of the troika in taking their sustenance away from old people and children, and their medications and medical staff from the sick. No mention of the tens of thousands of people driven to suicide. The money taken from humble citizens went to service high-interest debt that major banks lent Greece, full well knowing the risks of this small economy.

For what reason?

As Paul Krugman points out again and again, Greece did not have remarkably high debt levels when the financial crisis hit.

One can only conclude that they are doing it to make the point, that the claim bankers have on money they lent must prevail over the claim human beings have to food, shelter and medical care.

Not only that, but the high interest rates which supposedly relate to the riskiness of a loan, in this ideology relate to nothing because the debtor will be forced to pay with their lives if not with their non-existent money.

Professor Mazower adds his voice to those who insist that lives don't matter. That's not good for the rest of us, whose turn at being at the receiving end of this ideology may come some time.
David Wisner (Thessaloniki, Greece)
I recommend Mazower's book "Inside Hitler's Greece" for a useful corrective to the contention that "lives don't matter."
Elena M. (Brussels, Belgium)
Someone - I don't remember who now - summarised the origin of the Greek economic crisis like this: there was a big pile of cash on a table in a room with the lights off...
And the Greek government helped themselves.

Then the citizens woke up one day and found themselves owing the money.

I can understand them feeling desperate, but so desperate that they would place their hopes on the retro-revolutionary Marxists? It is tragically hilarious.
John (Retired Prof) (Beaverton, OR)
the always excellent Micheal Lewis wrote that but it included many other countries not just Greece e.g. Ireland, Iceland and, yes, Germany.
Steve (West Palm Beach)
I guess so, Mark. But I fear the United States is going to need its own dose of something like Syriza in the coming generation to upset the apple cart and make some real progress against the awful economic inequality that is strangling us here. "Democratic" bodies and procedures in the U.S. just seem set up to perpetuate the status quo.

Believe it or not, I so hope I'm wrong.
Eric (Atlanta, GA)
This is myopic. There's a much simpler explanation:

1) Syriza won on no more austerity and staying in the Euro
2) They've spent six months negotiating just that. It's gone nowhere.
3) Instead of kicking the can down to December and losing support -->because this is going nowhere<-- he's put the choice to referendum. What do you want more, voters? A) Give up resistance to austerity? B) Give up the Euro?

So, there's a stark choice for the voters to decide on. He'll resign if the voters want the austerity since that's what he ran on.

I understand that a politician actually doing what they campaign on is a new concept to high political thinking. But, the actions of the Tea Party and subsequent surprise of the Republican Party these past years should have provided a clue.
An Observer (Europe)
When politicians make irresponsible and ignorant promises to their voters, it is better for the country if such pledges are not kept. That goes for the Tea Party too.
Stavros H (Cyprus)
The EU is going down the drain no matter what happens with the Greek referendum. It's all a matter of time. The best thing for Greece right now is to be the first rat off the sinking ship.
Dr. O. Ralph Raymond (Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315)
Syriza, it is true, is dogmatic, and Prime Minister Tsipras has badly played a weak hand. Also true: for years Greece has not effectively addressed domestic inefficiency, corruption, and massive tax avoidance by the well off.

Still Professor Mazower surprisingly passes over some other truths in silence: European financial institutions, especially German banks, encouraged Greeks to borrow beyond what any competent lender would perceive as excessive and inappropriate, i.e., beyond the borrower's ability to pay back, especially in bad times--like those that struck the United States housing market in 2008 and precipitated a global crisis that quickly spread to Europe.

Nonetheless, German financiers calculated the risk was worth a seductive overextension of low-interest loans. If the European financial institutions anticipated a problem, they assumed that the Euro was too big to fail, that EU institutions--driven by German economic power--would bail them out by forcing the Greeks to pay up even if it meant the destruction of the Greek economy for generations.

That is where we are now. Any immature leftist rigidity on the part of the Greek government has been more than matched by the punitive rigidity of European and German financial authorities based upon a pig-headed version of "They hired the money, didn't they?" Mere inability to meet impossible austerity standards and repay is no excuse, when a greater power, loan-shark like, is able to smash your knees.
rpoyourow (Albuquerque, NM)
My impression is that the people suffering now, and those who will continue to suffer, are not the free market buccaneers who got them into this predicament. All indications suggest that the culprits are now and were then aligned with the present-day austerians.
Joseph Capston (Dublin)
Shameful. Mark Mazower would like to take the economic and social destruction of the last five years in Greece, overseen by Pasok and the center Right, and leave it at the feet of Syriza, in government since January, and under siege by the EU bureaucracy from the day one. Syriza, in principle, had the audacity to shun centrist political norms and call a referendum, effectively on membership in the eurozone.

The Syriza government has not been radical enough, hesitating at every turn (today's letter accepting basic terms of last weekend's demands from the creditors is just the latest example), and confusing its supporters about the trustworthiness of the Troika, presenting the Brussels negotiators as "partners" and not the adversaries they really are.

The Troika's aim is very clear: to make a political example out of the Greek left, out of Syriza (especially of its left-wing), in order to forestall the rise of similarly left and left-center anti-austerity forces elsewhere in Europe. It is astounding that Mazower sees in the tentative steps to make good on the modest plans outlined in Syriza's Thessaloniki Programme—protecting pensions, restoring electricity, rehiring civil servants etc.—some creeping Bolshevism, which the holy forces of the EU are somehow correct to crush.

There are basic truths which Mazower suppresses. Greece cannot recover on an overvalued currency. Creditors wish to be repaid at any costs and to prevent the political self-determination of the debtors.
Jason Galbraith (Little Elm, Texas)
Your last sentence has always been true, throughout the world, and always will be. Indeed, I love your whole comment.
Simon Sez (Maryland)
Tsipras and his Syriza party are proud Marxists, or so they say. I believe that Marx would be spinning in his grave if he knew what has been done in his name.

The fact, as you point out, that the Syriza party ignores the constitution and has created a referendum on financial matters which the constitution forbids, is of no importance to them.

Like many such pretenders to justice, the end serves the means.

In this, they are not unlike those they criticize, big business and capital.

They do not consult the people they claim to be liberating from the yolk of oppression. Maybe they will announce a People's Democratic Dictatorship like their kin in the good old "Socialist" bloc years ago. The fact that the lowest paid are being hit the worst by the austerity packages they support and that the country is going from bad to worse economically doesn't seem to bother them. They are, after all, the representatives of the working class whom they praise but treat with such disdain.

History has shown us that such people are not to be trusted.

Whether the referendum passes ( in which case Tsipras says he will resign - fat chance that will happen from such an inveterate liar and opportunist) or not, Greece is in for some hard times.

You can blame the creditors and big finance all you want. But the simple fact remains, no one forced the Greeks to borrow way beyond their means and with no way to repay their debts.

Now the rubber is hitting the road and it ain't going to be pretty.
Donald (Yonkers)
"You can blame the creditors and big finance all you want."

Thanks, I think I will. There is a sadistic cruelly in the demand for austerity, and frankly, I don't think the average Greek or the average citizen in any country really knows enough to keep track of what is being borrowed, yet somehow it is always ordinary people who suffer when the big boys play games with their lives. There are plenty of corrupt Greeks and arrogant bankers on both sides, but somehow I doubt the people who benefited from the corruption will be the ones to suffer.
Cormac (NYC)
"Tsipras and his Syriza party are proud Marxists, or so they say."

Actually, they don't say that at all. The founding documents of Syriza doesn't mention Marx once. It describes the party as "progressive." It does say they seek, as a long term goal, "socialism" but they define it differently then the common usage attached to "Marxist" in English. They are also committed to democratic means, making them Social Democrats - very mainstream in Europe and not what people describe as "Marxists."

Syriza is a coalition, and some of the parties in the coalition describe themselves as "communist." But not all do. Tsipras comes from one that used to, but doesn't know. He does not does not generally describe himself as Marxist or communist, but as leftist, progressive, or socialist.

In short: Neither Tsipras or (especially) Syriza "say" they are "proud Marxists." Not a vey promising start for you lecture.
Ivo Skoric (Brooklyn)
Repudiating debt would be a good idea now, too, because global situation is not so much different than in 1932: the entire world should be doing it again. And hasty. Before it becomes too late. Before the "overheated rhetoric" stops being just rhetoric. Some people already have nothing to lose but their chains. And as their numbers grow the international financial capital position grows more morally untenable. Syriza may fail. But not for the greater good.
Steve Hunter (Seattle)
How could things possibly be worse than they are.
jiminy cricket (Right here.)
Don't you dare even ask that.
Jason Galbraith (Little Elm, Texas)
The rest of the First World could sponsor a military takeover of Greece. The IMF could announce that in future it will only loan to military governments. We could all be faced with a stark choice between our prosperity and our democracy. That's how it could get worse.
barry (Neighborhood of Seattle)
Slavery comes in many forms. Declaring that the current citizens of Greece must climb out of the bottom of the well shaft using the spiderwebs of Republican fantastical beliefs, which if they break must be retied and retried is just as oppressive as the American South before the war.
Steve (DC)
Barry, are you serious? The austerity isn't coming out of nowhere. The Greeks want loans. The only institutions willing to loan the Greek government money, will only do so under certain conditions. The Greeks don't like those conditions, the conditions are onerous, and perhaps self-defeating, but Greece doesn't have to take the loan. Slavery it is not.
Uzi Nogueira (Florianopolis, SC)
The referendum is a useful political tool to be used in situations such as the one facing Greece now. The bad news is that even a YES vote, Greece's public debt will continue unpayable. Without additional debt write down, economic austerity will remain the new normal in the country's life.

Greece's modern debt quandary has an uncanny resemblance to the ancient Sisyphus' mythology. A king punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action forever.
Woof (NY)
Re: Don't bet on Syriza

" So now that Mr. Tsipras has won, and won big, European officials would be well advised to skip the lectures calling on him to act responsibly ...If anything, the problem with Syriza’s plans may be that they’re not radical enough." (Paul Krugman, NY Times 1/26/2015)
Yes_To_Europe (Athens, Greece)
Paul Krugman it is obvious knows very little about Greece. Stick to the USA Paul....
Kevin (Binghamton NY)
Ha ha, words have a way to come back and bite ya sometimes.
Jeff P (DC)
Because voters are always right about everything? Greek voters are trying to vote themselves free money without paying the bill. Sooner or later, the laws of math do catch up to you.
R. R. (NY, USA)
The Greeks do not wish to pay their debts.

So you can:
Yoda (DC)
or they cannot. Considering that the GDP has fallen 25% how can they? Debt restructuring, in one form or another, is the acceptance of reality.
R. R. (NY, USA)
Yoda, you can help reduce Greek debt with your check.
Margarets Dad (Bay Ridge)
You've posted this about a dozen times now. It's not getting any funnier.
John (Hartford)
All entirely true. The incompetence of the Tsipras government is literally unbelievable. Unfortunately, the Greeks have sacrificed whatever good will they had and it's now reached the stage where many other zone members want to dump Greece from the zone.
Tom Cuddy (Texas)
Incompetence for not telling the Greek people they deserve to die in pain? Gewt real. Revolutionary violence may have passed from the Left's repertoire but it can always come back. With luck it could make 1968 look like a kindergarten class. Americans and pro austerians should just announce their preference for dictatorship
rpoyourow (Albuquerque, NM)
It doesn't seem like "incompetence" if none of the available alternatives are workable and if there is nothing effective one can do to meet the objectives one was elected to achieve. And the incompetence of the EU to rescue the banks from their own folly?
John (Hartford)
@ Tom Cuddy

Left wing nihilists bear more than a passing resemblance to right wing ones at times as numerous philosophers have pointed out.
See also