TRAGEDY AVERTED: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses the nation from the island of Ithaca, Greece, on August 21 2018. Picture: ANDREA BONETTI/GREEK PRIME MINISTER’S PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS
TRAGEDY AVERTED: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses the nation from the island of Ithaca, Greece, on August 21 2018. Picture: ANDREA BONETTI/GREEK PRIME MINISTER’S PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

Athens — Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called Tuesday a "day of redemption" as he hailed the end of his country’s eight-year "odyssey" of painful bailouts.

"Today is a day of redemption, but it is also the start of a new era," Tsipras said in a pre-recorded, televised speech from the Ionian island of Ithaca, believed to be the home of Homer’s hero Ulysses, and his speech was packed with references to the monsters and perils of the Homeric epic.

Speaking a day after Greece’s third and final bailout ended, Tsipras said the country had "won back the right to determine its own fortunes and future" after living through a "modern-day odyssey" during the crisis.

He said Greece had adopted €65bn worth of austerity measures and had lived in a "constant state of emergency". The embattled prime minister is looking to rebound from poor ratings exacerbated by last month’s wildfires near Athens that left nearly 100 people dead.

Trailing the conservative opposition by more than 10 points, Tsipras is now rumoured to be planning a cabinet reshuffle. Elections are still more than a year away, but there is speculation that Tsipras may call them early in 2019.

Although Greece’s final bailout officially ended Monday, experts warn that the country’s challenges are far from over. The EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned debt-wracked Greece a total of €289bn in three successive programmes in 2010, 2012 and 2015.

The country may have achieved budget surpluses, excluding debt repayments, of about 4% in 2016 and 2017, but that came at the cost of crippling taxation, and its hands remain tied on social welfare spending. Greece has already legislated new pension and tax breaks for 2019 and 2020, and will remain under international supervision for several years.

The country has regained some credibility, but Greek households continue to feel the effects of unpopular and damaging austerity. Unemployment has fallen, but still hovers around 20%.

On Tuesday, Tsipras noted that the sacrifices of the bailout years had put Greece’s democracy to the test and bolstered the far-right. He vowed that Greece would "never return to deficits and bankruptcy".

AFP