Crisis an opportunity for change

The demolition of Archbishop Christodoulos’s public image has been a gift in disguise for Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s own image, coming at a time when the archbishop was preparing to express openly his displeasure with the government’s intention to tax Church property. This is not only because it strengthens the impression that Karamanlis is daring to draw battle lines, that he is not afraid of the revelations and is generally in favor of reform. The most important aspect of the entire affair is that the fuss it generated has drowned out everything else and diverted the public’s attention from economic difficulties and other daily problems that have been troubling the government. Obviously, the fact that all this time the ruling party’s officials have been keeping their distance from events is not unrelated to the above. Nor is it a coincidence that the Church, although injured, remains a considerable network of electoral influence. It is for those reasons that once the decision was made to take a stand, it was to undertake a self-catharsis. Nevertheless, everything points to the conclusion that this is unlikely in practice. The trouble is not only at the top. The entire Church hierarchy is trapped in a web of collective guilt and blackmail. Finding himself under pressure, the archbishop is having to make some sacrifices in the hope of averting a public outcry. However, it seems even this is too late, since revelations are coming thick and fast. The crisis has caused damage, but at the same time it provides an opportunity. The question is not simply whether the archbishop will step down, but above all the need to impose institutional changes so the hierarchy will no longer be able to act as a closed power system. It is precisely that latter characteristic that has led to such extremely degeneracy. It would be better if, even at this late date, the Church itself could provide a credible alternative. If this does not happen, it is the state’s duty to break the vicious circle and provide a solution. At this point, continuing the tactic of whistling in the wind will soon lead to higher political costs than benefits. The blame for any inability to carry out a systematic catharsis will fall on the government’s shoulders. This will become more and more evident as time passes and will inevitably put pressure on the government to intervene. The question here is whether Karamanlis will rise to the occasion. Eleven months after taking power, his government has not yet got into its stride, something that becomes especially noticeable in times of crisis. It is not only the inevitable inexperience or lack of expert officials in the state mechanism. To all this must be added the tendency of every new government not to persevere with the corrective measures undertaken by its predecessors, but to start over again and create its own structures. The result is usually disappointing. When mistakes and omissions are related to European Union programs, as so often happens, they lead unfailingly to the loss of valuable resources. With the passage of time, however, it seems that problem goes even deeper. The government’s inadequacies appear to be ingrained, as was shown first of all in the incident of the Chinook helicopter crash and the way it was handled, when it became clear there was no guiding center capable of properly evaluating the situation, to take the right decisions immediately and coordinate effectively at the level of government and state officials. The prime minister has shown a clear ability to handle political tactics, as in the recent presidential election, but there have been problems in the realm of day-to-day management of state affairs. More and more ruling New Democracy party cadres are beginning to be concerned about the competency of the central political directorate. There have also been problems in foreign affairs. The diplomatic intrusiveness of the previous prime minister, Costas Simitis, and his foreign minister, George Papandreou, have given way to an inexplicable lack of action by the ND. An experienced eye might have discerned some symptoms of this passivity at the recent European Union summit in Brussels. Another indication is the relatively few number of trips government officials have taken abroad, at a time when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is traveling the world. Sources close to the prime minister note his difficulty in functioning within a tight leadership group that would give him a comprehensive view of political events. This disadvantage is particularly important because governing is a much more complex affair than in previous decades. That is precisely why it is critically important to work out practical solutions to the country’s problems and above all to monitor the execution of these solutions. In other words, what is needed is a strong leadership center. For the moment, there appears to be a deficiency in that area that his team cannot cover. The sins of the Simitis government will continue for some time to influence public opinion, but they will not be able to act as a shield for the omissions and mistakes of its successor for long. As time passes, simply invoking «PASOK’s sins» will cease to pull in political sympathy. While 2004 was for many reasons a period of grace for ND, in 2005 it will have to take up the gauntlet. In practice, this means that there is no time to lose.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.