Vestiges of a bygone era

By Nikos Xydakis

Today’s commemoration of the 39th anniversary marking the student uprising against the military dictatorship in 1973, in the current unfavorable climate, offers an opportunity for an assessment of the post-junta period so far. While the dictatorship collapsed spectacularly, the transition to democracy came hand-in-hand with a national disaster: the partition and occupation of Cyprus. Nevertheless, the colonels’ dictatorship left traces on the newborn third Greek democracy, both in their original form and as mirror images.

While the junta’s kitschy take on religion and piety, for instance, was ridiculed after its fall, the populist aspect of the seven-year military regime –- as expressed through the waves of new tribes of insolvent profligates and those seeking the dolce vita of the Greek night-clubbing scene along the southern Athenian coast –- remained unaltered.

While it may have gone into hiding in the first period of the post-junta era, this populism reared its ugly head again in all its power and glory. The intoxication of freedom and the regurgitation of the May 1968 movement, covered the underlying vulgarity, on an ethical and social level, the ethos of the emerging middle class and the complicity of those who had benefited from the military regime. The brand of populism that evolved in the 1980s, also drew from this well.

Nevertheless, the post-junta era is not just defined by the various manifestations of populism. The third period of democracy provided unprecedented political freedom and unique opportunities for social evolution to large groups of the population.

In practical terms, it broadened the middle class in numbers and strength, and in many ways precipitated the redrawing of the social map, which had already started in the 1960s.

Redifining the classes ended up having both positive and negative results.

The middle class acquired a high-level education and came to enrich the ranks of the sciences and business, big and small. This may very well be the most valuable legacy from that era in terms of the country’s current need for recovery.

The middle class did not succeed, however, in refreshing the ranks of the governing elite, while the ever-growing party system gradually consumed the systems of state hierarchy, meritocracy and equality before the law.

What was being offered on a plate – education and social mobility for instance – by one hand, was being taken away by the other.

As far as lower-income groups are concerned, their demise began a long time ago and the crisis has dealt the final blow.