The wrong kind of patriotism

By Alexis Papachelas

Some political ideas have remained stubbornly absent from Greek public debate. The reason is simple: They?re ideas that have been ridiculed, defamed and almost exiled for some 30 years.

Anyone who came out in favor of a more flexible, Scandinavian-type labor market was automatically branded as an ?insensitive neoliberal.?

Those who argued for bold changes in the social security system so that we would not have to take even more painful measures in the future paid a very heavy price for their courage.

Those who said that there could be no workable society in the absence of law and order were scorned as fascists or apologists of the junta.

This neo-Macarthyism against rival ideas was left unchallenged.

No one protested at the fact that views which were considered perfectly normal or even mainstream in the rest of Europe were squeezed out of the public debate here. It was only when Greece signed the bailout agreements that these ideas were first heard, prompting, of course, sarcastic comments, abuse and populist sound bites.

Populism has deep roots in Greek society, but the situation got out of hand in recent decades. The Greek right was ashamed to say things that were self-evident for every European center-right party. Centrist social democrats who turned their backs on populism were scoffed at by the old PASOK and the left. The champions of nationalist populism reached the point of attacking anyone who was not on their side as unpatriotic. It?s a serious allegation, especially if one takes into consideration how much money patriotism has cost Greeks in kickbacks.

We all need to have the courage to say what we think. It?s not always easy. Faced with the monster of populism, the more levelheaded and middle-of-the-road among us tend to follow the instinct of survival and hide in a corner. If that had been different 10 or 20 years ago things would be different today. Greece would never have had to witness the pay and pension cuts of today. If only we had listened to those who urged the political class to change course, to do something with the bankrupt social security system, to stop hiring more civil servants, not to abandon the center of Athens, we would now be a different country.

Because at the end of the day patriotism is defending what you think is right for your nation and not just saying and doing as you please.