Engaging in witch-hunts, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum, is a dangerous phenomenon that recurs at regular intervals. It eats away at democracy and undermines the prudent handling of the key issues. Theodoros Diligiannis accused his rival Charilaos Trikoupis of capitulating to outside pressure and subsequently fell into his own trap, allowing the Ottoman troops to march all the way to Domokos. To come to the present, 115 years later SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras went on the attack against then conservative prime minister Antonis Samaras, vowing to tear up the bailout agreements and write off the country’s debt. People believed him and Tsipras went on to become prime minister. Why? Because in both cases, no one in the ruling class had the courage to behave sensibly and explain the real facts to the people.
Composed dialogue is impossible when mass hysteria takes a grip. We experienced this with the 2015 referendum. Those of us who supported the “Yes” camp because we saw the country standing on the edge of an abyss (and were not certain of the government’s acrobatic skills that eventually led to the ultimate about-face) were branded as collaborators at best. And now, the peddlers of anger and indignation that brought Tsipras and his coalition partner Panos Kammenos to power astride the beast of populism are passionately determined to get rid of them.
The handling of the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the past 25 years should be taught as a lesson in how not to manage a crisis. Greece could long have solved the issue to the benefit of the country while turning the neighboring nation into a satellite, in every regard. Instead, we got tangled in a mess of our own making and lost by arriving at a dysfunctional deal full of blanks and points that need further clarification. Governing officials accuse anyone who questions the deal of being a nationalist or an extremist. They don’t acknowledge the anger of a large part of the people who feel that this compromise is the last straw. The more the government continues on this track, the more it will compel people to protest. At the other extreme are those saying that the deal is tantamount to treason. They too are wrong, because they‘re propagating a mentality that will ultimately only benefit the extremists – the government will eventaully pay the price for this.
All of this may sound somewhat colorful in the year 2018, but we are in an age of extremes, of blind fanaticism generated by social media and of hate. It is obviously the wrong time to wish the country to be more European and less Balkan.
The prime minister is largely responsible for the current situation. By his actions when in the opposition and then in government, he cultivated vulgar, no-holds-barred public confrontation and incendiary, divisive rhetoric. Headlines inciting violence did not drop out of the clear blue sky; someone had already taught the art. The government launched into an extremely sensitive issue like a bull in a china shop with the intention of dividing the center-right and not once looking for a genuine national consensus. And by doing so, it has transformed the country into a vast arena where only the screaming hooligans can be heard.