Greece, a good friend in Athens recently declared, doesn’t have an economic problem, but a cultural one (politismiko provlima). Indeed, the abuses of power, corruption, and materialism that bankrupted the country were primarily social failures, not fiscal blunders. In my first blog entry two years ago, I wrote optimistically about the possibility of crisis leading to renewal, of Greeks embracing not only a new economic model, but a new social order that cultivated civil society. Since then, there have been some encouraging signs: the creation of a barter system; a modest back to the land movement; and the wide participation of people in protests against austerity. The recent elections, too, held some promise of a new start. The electoral gains of the neonazis, of course, are a big exception. Still, the proliferation of smaller parties on the left and the right, and the electoral collapse of the two parties — PASOK and New Democracy — that had exchanged power for nearly four decades suggested a reordering of Greek politics.
But as Greece prepares to return to the polls on June 17 — the previous elections did not yield a clear winner — the political discourse has regressed by some thirty years. The two leading candidates, a conservative and a leftist, are using extreme language and innuendo to attack one another. For Antonis Samaras of the conservative New Democracy party, his rival, Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA is “dangerous” and “naive,” someone intent on “wrecking” the country. I’m reminded of Andreas Papandreou, the legendary socialist leader, who in the 1980s would suggest that a vote for the right was tantamount to supporting dictatorship. Greek media have played along, reverting to their habits of covering elections as if they were a rowdy soccer match. Rather than an opportunity to debate the fundamental issues facing the country, the election is reduced to a battle of two personalities, whose supporters endow them with all of their hopes and aspirations. As if this social crisis will be solved by a single politician, or a single political party. It’s this kind of paternalistic thinking that had created and protected a corrupt political class and that made cronyism a way of life in Greece.
Orwellian bonus for readers of Greek: On his final days on the job, Andreas Loverdos, the Minister of Health and Social Solidarity, a PASOK deputy, called on doctors to refuse medical care to immigrants: http://www.avgi.gr/ArticleActionshow.action?articleID=688585