COMMENT

Gravitas betrayed

By Nikos Konstandaras

What's ahead is worse than what we're going through. And this is already worse than we feared. For three years now we have gone breathlessly from defeat to defeat. Every day unemployment is worse, the market is frozen, uncertainty is endless and violence frequent. The comments by foreign officials get more and more aggressive. We are adrift in uncharted waters, with very few friends, our steady companions anxiety for today and fear for tomorrow.

How we will endure, only time will tell. This is our tragedy: We surrendered to our old obsessions until they destroyed us; now we wait for others to take our salvation more seriously than we ourselves do. Because if we judge from our choices in the next elections, it is difficult to hope that things will improve. More likely they will get worse.

After destroying a government that functioned and failing to shape another, we are now traversing one of the most dangerous periods in our history with a caretaker government that cannot take any serious decisions, with a political landscape that does not allow hope for anything better after June 17. The leadership deficit which brought the country to this point keeps widening; and this is how we are going to the elections that will decide our fate.

Antonis Samaras of the center-right New Democracy party is trying to rally together all who believe in the need for Greece to continue on its difficult path within Europe. But he has chosen the dangerous tactic of polarization, which is hardly likely to succeed. Alexis Tsipras's SYRIZA has a strong wind in its sails. Dealing with this demands equally strong arguments that will show up the frivolity of the extreme-left party's proposals on issues such as the economy and relations with our creditors. Arguments, though, need time to work and time is against our country. At this time, any criticism against SYRIZA does not appear to harm it; on the contrary, it may persuade even more voters that the attacks on SYRIZA confirm that it is right in its positions.

As in the days of the Papademos government's dissolution (at Samaras's insistence, we should not forget), we are going through the most difficult time in our economy, without a single euro having come in to help keep it alive. The cost to society and the economy is frightening; it is most likely that voters will again want to show their rage and impatience at the ballot box. In this case, it will be difficult for New Democracy to come first.

Polarization breeds other dangers, too. If New Democracy is the top vote-getter and manages to form a coalition, the government will have to deal with a polarized society, with strong parties arrayed against it. This will embolden the extremes even further, with all that this entails for society. Also, polarization works in SYRIZA's favor: It strengthens and confirms the sense that this is the political grouping that is leading the left to power -- in a vengeful resolution of the civil war that appears never to have ended. At the same time, SYRIZA can point out that it is the right that is responsible for the polarization, and so Tsipras can avoid committing himself to specific measures that his party will take regarding the economy, society and politics.

The country is in the gray zone between catastrophe, difficult revival or worse catastrophe. The leadership of all the parties of the past decades (with a few lonely exceptions) is responsible for this -- because even when they were not governing, political leaders demanded ever greater waste and populist management of the economy and society, so as to look good in the eyes of their voters. Today, some of us are paying the bill while others, who have not changed their attitude, are winning. There is no proposal for us to stand on our feet; we are waiting only to see how long our restive partners will keep holding us up.

Hellenism is in a deeply traumatic passage to the unknown. All we thought was fixed is crashing down. We don't recognize our country, nor ourselves, nor our relations with other people. In our despair we repeat the behavior that brought about our fall, even as we demand something better than this. But we cannot escape the fact that from the moment we elbowed seriousness and hard work out of public life, we have been trapped in a vortex of mediocrity and debt.

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