Pre-election campaigns run in a fever of confrontation – whether real or contrived – allow us to forgive a lot of our parties and candidates: tactless and incendiary comments, dilemmas meant to entrap or blackmail the public, proclamations that are way over the top and making the race personal among them. We know this drowns out the demand for clean political rhetoric that does not pander to public sentiment, but we have given up hoping for this even in the calmest and most electorally neutral times, so it would be naive to expect it now in the middle of this frenzy.
Moreover, as much as we evoke our ancient ancestors and all the wonderful concepts they developed (such a democracy, dialectics and the art of dialogue) we can’t forget that they also invented demagoguery and discord. When they did they were at war, far from home, and seized by a paralyzing battle of leadership over the beautiful bounty. Homer must have had some reason to laud the intellectual legacy passed on by the ancients by using an incident that displayed so much overinflated and uncomradely (and, in today’s terms, unpatriotic) ego.
But let us leave our ancient ancestors for the time being and get back to what interests us today: that we are in the last week before Greeks head to the polls for the first round of local authority elections. And the biggest clash right now, the one that is lighting fires and upping the ante, is that between New Democracy and opposition SYRIZA over who will get to use the slogan “New Greece.” And of course the confrontation is restricted to figuring out who said these two magical words first, who can claim dibs and so on.
Dibs? Let’s be fair. Neither New Democracy nor SYRIZA can claim exclusive use of the words nor say that they came up with the idea first. In the post-World War II era, the first to use the phrase was Andreas Papandreou, stoking the people’s spirits and gleaning their votes. Standing on a balcony and addressing an adulating public, he called for a new Greece and the crowd roared its encouragement. As a slogan it is without doubt a part of PASOK’s and particularly Papandreou’s legacy, just like the slogan “Greece belongs to the Greeks,” which was first used by LAOS and then adopted by Golden Dawn.
The quest for a “new Greece,” a “new era” or a “new leaf” is not quite as new as some would think. Whatever meaning these terms once had, it’s been lost by a succession of dashed expectations. Words, however good they sound, are simply not enough and those who can endow them with meaning once more should do so.