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Greece and the Beanstalk

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Despite the threatening, the wailing, the entreating and the haranguing coming from Brussels and Berlin, targeted at "forcing" the creation of a national salvation broad coalition unity government, it is now official: Greece is on the way to a new round of elections on June 17.
This has necessitated some juggling as many EU deadlines for Greece were coming up in the next few weeks. Yet the Europeans have obviously decided to grit their teeth and wait out this new twist in the Greek drama.

This de facto softening, both of the EU position (which is, invariably nowadays, the view from Berlin), as well as of the rhetoric used by EU and German officials stems from the staggering 16.78 percent of the vote that Syriza gathered in the elections of May 6. It is also born of the adamant refusal of one man -- the head of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras -- to participate in, or even "tolerate," a broad coalition government.

Tsipras' steadfast refusal to compromise has currently divided Greeks. Is he just one more, really smart and opportunistic politician hoping, through populist tactics, to fuel all the indignation and pain the middle class is going through in Greece, into a June triumph for his party so he can then reign supreme? If so, he is gambling with the fortunes of the country regardless of what the consequences may be.

Yet there seems to be a growing majority in Greece -- recent polls show Tsipras now commanding more than 25 percent of the June vote -- who seem to believe Tsipras and his message promising "a peaceful revolution" is for real. These people believe that the young politician with the shining good looks is our only way out of the hellish situation we are currently in -- yet remaining in the euro.

If this percentage translates into reality in the June polls, that will mean we are placing our final bets on the 37-year-old civil engineer -- who never actually worked, as he had been involved in politics since he was 12. This will be the last card in a desperate gamble of the Greek people to alert Europe and the entire world to the fact that the unyielding terms of the aid deals are only deepening our recession and plight and killing us off, without allowing for any economic recovery, ever.

It will also be a leap of faith for middle-class and petit bourgeois Greeks who would in other circumstances never have dreamed of voting for a party on the radical Left. Yet, so great is the collective desperation and disgust for the mainstream political parties that got us in this mess, that many Greeks are apparently choosing to disregard the blunders Syriza lieutenants have made since the elections (one of them, Stratoulis, said "when" Syriza becomes government, it will open up all savings accounts remaining in Greek banks, to "help the needy").

The June elections will also be the ultimate litmus test for Tsipras, the youngest, most cherished child of a comfortably well-off family of civil engineers. His idyllic childhood and family life go a long way in explaining his upbeat steady confidence, as well as the fact that the girl he fell in love with when he was 16 became his life's partner. He and Peristera ("Betty," as he calls her), now parents of a young son and shortly expecting another, met in the Youth organization of the Communist Party and have been together ever since, living modestly and shunning publicity.

Like many politicians throughout history, Tsipras committed "patricide" in order to rise to the top. In 2007, his political mentor, Alekos Alavanos, made a sudden decision to abandon the leadership of Syriza, appointing Tsipras as his successor. Under Tsipras' leadership, Syriza became a younger, more energized and compact party that was later repeatedly accused of sponsoring anarchists who caused riots, and of condoning terrorism. This swerve toward the radical, "revolutionary" hard-core left that Tsipras managed eventually led to forcing Alavanos, who disagreed, out of the party. It is proving to be a choice that is now paying off, big time.
The June elections will also be a watershed for the EU, proving whether and how far Berlin was bluffing when succinctly making the case that any substantial renegotiation of the aid deals is not allowed, and that any unilateral decision made by Greece alone would be tantamount to leaving the eurozone.

In Greece, we tell a watered-down version of "Jack and the Beanstalk." It is a story about how Jack and the terrible ogre finally compromise, learning to live together because they fear one another too much to risk doing otherwise.

A similar hope of compromise is what lies at the heart of the gamble the Greek voters will be taking if they indeed do vote for Tsipras in the new round of elections. It is not altogether an irrational hope: Greece fears bankruptcy and profligacy; the EU fears "contamination" from a Greek default; the U.S. fears both for the stability of the global financial system, as well as for what Greece's turning into a failed state would entail for stability in southeastern Europe. The very notion of compromise is also the guiding principle the creation and continued existence of the EU is based on. The foundation of this compromise is one of mutual fear -- of one member-state toward another, and of all toward Germany.

Yet this particular hope and gamble the Greek voters are pinning their hearts and futures on may be wrong. To take a skeptic's point view: there is probably some hidden, politically incorrect German version of the tale, where the Beanstalk Giant devours Jack. I would wager there is -- after all, I'm nothing if not Greek!