Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Greece: let's prove the Cassandras wrong ... oops

Tsipras: The Cassandras will be proved wrong
I wish Alexis Tsipras well and foresee that soon socialists across Europe will be called upon to demonstrate in support of Greece’s new anti-austerity government. Already two days after being elected it is set on collision course with Brussels, as corporate-friendly politicians and central bankers try to beat the Greek people back into submission.

Cassandra: gift of prophesy
Nonetheless, the Classical Association of Ireland has drawn a faux pas to my attention and I feel duty bound to draw it to yours.  Before an audience of thousands of supporters, Tsipras announced: “Friends, the new Greek government will prove all the Cassandras of the world wrong. [There will be] no mutually destructive clash … We have a great opportunity for a new beginning.”

As the Guardian put it: Cue gasps of horror from Hellenists around the world.

We know of course what Tsipras intended.  By employing the Cassandra trope, he was making a reference to all the aforementioned politicians and central bankers who have variously predicted the end of Greece / the Euro / world economic policy / life as we know it, should his party Syriza get elected.  Cassandra’s prophesies of doom were all wrong, and all today’s prophets of doom will be proved wrong too.

The trouble is that when Cassandra foretold doom she was always RIGHT.  So drawing a parallel with today’s politicians and bankers was the very opposite of what Tsipras wanted, and has exposed him to Twitter ridicule. 

Cassandra was right (but not believed) when she foretold that her brother Paris, by abducting Helen from Sparta to Troy, would cause ten years of war and Troy’s downfall. She was right (but not believed) when she advised the Trojans to leave the Trojan Horse on the beach, and by no means to bring it into the city.  See Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

Trojan Horse: Cassandra got it right
So who was Cassandra? A princess of Troy, both beautiful, and considered insane and a liar. This was the consequence of being cursed by the god Apollo. She had consented to have sex with him in exchange for the gift of prophecy, and then broke her promise. The curse was that she was simultaneously given the gift of prophesy, and destined never to be believed. This is how the myth is told in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. There are other versions  if you’re interested, but you shouldn’t be, and neither should I, as we should be interested in what's going to happen in Greece.

The Irish left wing deputy Richard Boyd Barret commented this week:

“While [Irish prime minister] Enda Kenny hob-knobbed in Davos this week with the very people who inflicted such misery on the people of this country and Europe, the Greek people have shown us that our real allies are the ordinary citizens of Europe and that we need a European-wide movement of people power to demand debt relief and an end to austerity."

In closing, let's note alarm that Syriza has felt obliged to go into coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks who (if my information is correct) are racist and anti-immigrant ... and there are signs already of Tsipras compromising on
Syriza's programme and dropping some of their more radical proposals. But all the more reason to manifest support for Syriza outside Greece. 

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