The Greek political system has a unique ability to lose its bearings and sink to terrible lows. When this happens, it tends to involve the country in a lot of unnecessary drama, as everything becomes deeply personal and mercenary. The rules of civilized discourse are abolished, so there are no off-limits topics and no limits to the low-blows. Institutions are turned into tools and division is made a weapon.
The people also tend to get carried away by the protagonists’ passion; we are a Mediterranean people and easily excited or disappointed. Before 1974, when the political system began to unravel, this usually resulted in the rise of military movements or in national division and strife. The army was a powerful factor that would intervene when the politicians failed. The great powers were also active in the background, intervening to control the game.
Thankfully that all ended with the collapse of the junta in 1974. The military’s institutional role has been significantly curtailed so that it it now suffers from political intervention instead of the other way around.
The fact that Greece became a member of the European Union also gave us institutional stability and set us on a course that is tough to stray from. The great powers occasionally do play an important role, but contrary to the modern myth, rarely are in a position to influence domestic developments.
Some old-timers argue that if the economic and political crisis we are experiencing today had happened in the 1960s, Greece would probably have ended up with another dictatorship.
It is hard to know if this hypothesis stands, but the fact is that our institutions, society and democracy itself have been subjected to a seemingly endless crash test. But, ultimately, we have stayed on the path, there has been no civil strife and the country is standing on its feet.
That said, Greece’s governing forces today have pushed down standards further than anyone else since the end of the junta and are now getting a taste of the consequences of this behavior. They have caused even their most prudent political rivals to adopt an extreme stance. The country is divided, deeply, and the significant dangers lurking in the country’s broader neighborhood grow larger every day that we remain wholly absorbed by our domestic political games. It is as though there were a powerful, invisible magnet pulling us all down. But we have to resist the pull so that we don’t test our luck again.