The crisis has triggered all sorts of divisions and reactions in the Greek people. We had fair warning that the resumption of name talks with Skopje would not be easy and could serve as a vent for a society that feels humiliated and hurt – and this precisely what is happening right now.
Such outbursts of emotion and reaction have happened in the past and the issue always is how they are dealt with by politicians and other leaders in the country. One part of the political elite seems to break out in hives whenever it hears the people speak on the subject of the name dispute. It makes the mistake of responding with cold, snobbish criticism that only serves to suggests an abhorrence of the way many Greeks think. This is the same mistake made by Hillary Clinton when she denigrated people who believe in conspiracy theories and Donald Trump’s claims. It is an attitude that is guaranteed to make you lose touch with society and place it in the hands of the savvy peddlers of populism and nationalism.
In this age of social media and rampant extremism, a spark can easily turn into a fire, especially in a Mediterranean country like Greece, and anyone who doesn’t get this, should join a book club and stay out of politics. They should also desist from whinging about lost battles, as victory can never come to those who refuse to get embroiled in the battle.
The other risk is that society’s leaders will just go with the flow and see where it takes them. This has happened before and came at a heavy price.
Greece has made progress and averted disaster when it had leaders who were able to sway the public convincingly and strongly in favor of choices that weren’t always popular. Eleftherios Venizelos and Constantine Karamanlis are perfect examples of statesmen with this talent. Those were different days, though.
The issue at hand now is for a common national line to be adopted that will strengthen Greece’s interests without losing sight of the real priorities. We can’t afford to keep too many fronts open at any one time. It is also important to stop the country from being nudged by the prevalent reactions towards the name issue into the vortex of uncontrolled nationalist populism.
Today’s leaders certainly have a difficult task ahead. They can’t sit on the sidelines as if nothing’s going on, nor can they allow themselves to be swept up by public sentiment. Greek politics has always had a way of getting very fraught, and now it is even testing the tougher nuts.