A number of citizens were asked whether they had been keeping abreast of developments during a television program this week discussing Wednesday’s parliamentary debate into whether a special committee should probe allegations that 10 top politicians received bribes from drug company Novartis.
Most of the respondents said that they had heard about the issue and that all in all they had a very poor impression about the state of things but, no, they had not gone out of their way to learn more about it and form an opinion. The overall tone was best summed up by the response of one middle-aged woman, who said, “I don’t trust anyone anymore.”
In a radio interview on Friday, Antonis Manitakis a professor of constitutional law, confessed to feeling disgust at the debate in Parliament, arguing that “a real corruption scandal was transformed into scandalous scandalmongering.”
Is disgust a political position? Even if it isn’t, it shapes opinions and mentalities, it puts people off politics, makes them withdraw from the public debate and leads to increased abstention in elections; it will also almost inevitably lead to the next Parliament containing even more extreme elements and worse representatives. In short, disgust undermines politics, which, in turn, undermines democracy.
The other result of this public disdain is that involvement in political affairs ends up becoming the business only of cynics, arrogant poseurs, bullies and die-hards – of people who would never make it in any other field. Why, for example, should involvement in politics, however brief, inevitably lead to trouble, as was the case for former caretaker prime minister Panayiotis Pikrammenos? And who will take on the task of reversing this climate, of convincing the public that respect for our institutions is just as strong as the efforts to denigrate them?
We often hear people dismiss such dilemmas with the phrase “This is how it’s always been.” Is that anything to go by? Does it help us overcome our disgust and carry on the next day as though everything’s fine? This firm belief that nothing is new and everything’s been done before is a distortion of reality. It is a dismissal of the prospect that we deserve better because “everyone’s the same.”
Wednesday’s parliamentary session is open to numerous observations, among which are: the more political parties rally around their leader, the more they close ranks in order to survive and multiply, and the more distance they put between themselves and the people. Fanatic voters, meanwhile, serve only to enhance the parties’ delusions. As things are going right now, politics is at risk of becoming the exclusive domain of the fanatics – losing even more of society, but shedding none of the disgust that people feel.