Insolence is one of the government’s key attributes, a trait it has had since it was in the opposition. One flagrant example is its treatment of private television broadcasters. In its heyday in the opposition, it accused broadcasters of not giving enough airtime to various protest groups. It insulted them and at the same time made sure its officials always had a presence on their morning talk shows. It was a clever move, because most TV stations are overtly populist and pander to whoever has the most influence. SYRIZA degraded them but also took maximum advantage of them, using them so that leftist party officials had a stage for their insane ramblings.
The best was yet to come, however, and come it did earlier this month. It’s hard to imagine what would have happened if former prime ministers George Papandreou of PASOK or Antonis Samaras of New Democracy had met with the country’s bankers during a period of popular discontent at austerity and asked them to exert pressure on broadcasters to cut the government some slack. SYRIZA would have accused them of playing games, abusing their power and much more. Yet Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras did just that, without consequence.
SYRIZA is in trouble, however, because it was the leftist party that introduced the extreme protest model and now justifies it as a reaction to poverty and frustration over austerity. This started back when SYRIZA was still a very small party and just grew much, much bigger after the first memorandum. Attacks on politicians, civil disobedience movements like the “I Won’t Pay” campaign and other such forms of protest swelled in popularity. So did social media as a weapon to target specific people and opinions.
SYRIZA is starting to come to its senses; not so those who bought its craziness and the notion that every form of protest is justified. After signing a memorandum of its own, it is now faced with all the extreme behaviors it injected into the country’s political life. Just a few months ago, we remarked at how SYRIZA seemed immune to public reaction, no matter how unpopular a measure it introduced. This is now changing – and the government’s embarrassed reaction to extreme protests and lawlessness is not helping at all. Playing nice with its detractors is no longer working, but cracking down on them is inconceivable to the party’s hard core.
However much banks pressure broadcaster to back off, a large part of society is on the brink of an explosion and the frustration of erstwhile SYRIZA fans is only growing. SYRIZA, meanwhile, is also responsible for stoking this anger and frustration. Before asking the public to refrain from extreme reactions, the party should first take a good long look at itself and rein in officials who publicly trash the system and then turn around and play the systemic game to the fullest. The party can’t have it both ways.