Greece’s PM visits home of Odysseus to declare end to bailout

Alexis Tsipras declared his country would become ‘normal’ again after its modern ‘odyssey’.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech from the western Greek island of Ithaca, legendary home of the ancient mariner Odysseus (Andrea Bonetti/AP)
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras delivers a speech from the western Greek island of Ithaca, legendary home of the ancient mariner Odysseus (Andrea Bonetti/AP)

Greece’s prime minister has chosen the home of mythical king Odysseus to declare the end of his country’s bailout era.

Alexis Tsipras made references to ancient legends as he said the country was returning to normality after austerity measures following economic collapse.

In choosing the western island of Ithaca, Mr Tsipras harked back to one of the country’s legendary heroes from antiquity.

Since 2010, Greece has undergone a modern Odyssey
Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister

Odysseus was the mythical Mycenaean king whose arduous 10-year travels are immortalised in Homer’s Odyssey.

Mr Tsipras said in a televised address that Greece was ready to become a “normal” country again.

“Since 2010, Greece has undergone a modern Odyssey,” he said, in a speech heavy on Homeric and nautical allusions.

“Ithaca is just the beginning.”

Mr Tsipras declared that Greece has regained its financial freedom, after years of bowing to bailout creditors’ demands for sorely-needed cutbacks and reforms.

A woman walks past as a pigeon flies in front of the Greek Parliament (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

Overlooking a small bay from the pine-forested hills, Mr Tsipras’ address provided a reminder of the beginning of Greece’s crisis.

In 2010, then-prime minister, George Papandreou, addressed the Greek people from the eastern Greek island of Kastellorizo, informing them that the country was effectively bankrupt and had to get financial help.

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In return for the loans, successive governments imposed crippling cutbacks to right the country’s finances and balance budgets deeply in the red.

Over the bailout era, the Greek economy contracted by a quarter and unemployment swelled with one in five still out of work.

Incomes were repeatedly slashed and taxes hiked.

It has clearly been a hugely difficult and painful journey for Greece and one that has lasted almost as long as Odysseus’ legendary adventures.

The sun rises behind Propylaea, the monumental gate of the ancient Acropolis hill, left, and the 2500 BC Parthenon temple (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

Odysseus, who was an unwilling protagonist in the 10-year Trojan War, a semi-mythical expedition by Mycenaean Greek kingdoms to conquer the city of Troy in what is now northwestern Turkey.

After the fall of Troy, pursued by angry gods, Odysseus took another 10 years of trials and tribulations at sea to return to Ithaca.

“Now we have reached our destination,” Mr Tsipras said.

“The bailouts that carried with them austerity and recession and turned our country into a social desert are over.”

“Our country is regaining its right to define its own fortunes and future,” he added.

“Like a normal European country, without having policies forced on it by foreign officials, with no more blackmail, no more sacrifices for our people.”

But Greece still remains shackled to the austerity demands of its former creditors.

Two street vendors talk outside the main fish market in Athens (Panayiotis Tzamaros/AP)

And even though it has little fear of new calls for cutbacks from abroad, its hard-won fiscal freedom still carries a high price.

Though the country will no longer have to pass regular checks from creditors to get money it needs to avoid bankruptcy, it cannot return to the old lax ways that put it in a mess in the first place.

During the past eight years, Greece avoided bankruptcy after getting loans worth some 260 billion euro from the other countries that use the euro currency, and from the International Monetary Fund.

Though Greece has turned a massive deficit on its annual budget into a sizeable surplus, further austerity measures remain on the horizon.

Pre-agreed pension cuts and tax hikes lurk in 2019 and 2020.

Press Association

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