Two disputes over the past few days – one over an article by former PM Costas Simitis ahead of the publication of a book on the 1999 EU Helsinki Summit and the other over divisive statements by SYRIZA MP and ex-minister Pavlos Polakis – brought to the fore an annoying public malady.
It is depressing how easily – on the internet, but also face to face between friends – those who support a particular view or political party are too quick to call those who hold opposing views “traitors.”
Is it so difficult for someone to claim that the Helsinki Summit decision – which called for EU candidate members to solve their border disputes with others, including existing members – was a strategic mistake without resorting to uncalled-for name-calling and disputing the “adversary’s” intentions and/or patriotism?
Those who advocated for a compromise solution in Greece’s dispute with its northern neighbor, now renamed North Macedonia, from Konstantinos Mitsotakis to Alexis Tsipras, and those who strongly opposed a composite name, from Andreas Papandreou to Antonis Samaras, were not good or evil, patriots or traitors. The same can be said for those who supported or opposed the Annan Plan for the reunification of Cyprus in 2004. It was only that their approaches differed.
It is a similar case with those who managed the economy, which ended up facing the austerity packages imposed by the creditors. Who is to blame? Simitis, Costas Karamanlis, George Papandreou, Samaras or Tsipras? There are varied answers, most of which are based on arguments promoted by each side.
This writer has his own opinion on all the above, obviously major issues. But he does not ascribe to those whose policies he disagrees with a lack of patriotism or shady intentions. They may have made mistakes, lacked courage or experience, or even been incompetent. But traitors they were not.
Some have a one-dimensional view of issues – their view, of course – and the others are always blamed.
Divisions are many – even within parties, where they often rise to another level of hatred – but there are limits. Parties have their history, each has contributed something and each has made mistakes.
Everyone must embrace the principle that the “others” are not the enemy: They are just political opponents. They view things differently, often decisively so. But they are not enemies.
Politicians and everyone else joining a debate can present their position based on facts. They can criticize opponents, expose what they see as their mistakes, even claim that their decisions were harmful. But they can’t claim that leaders sold their country down the river or that a significant part of the political spectrum are all “quislings,” as was claimed recently by a vocal member of the opposition.
It’s not true that half the Greeks are democrats and progressives and the other half reactionaries and fascists. In that context, one also cannot accuse a whole political party of being “terrorism supporters.”
All those plunging into such divisions should understand that situations are complex and approaches can vary. As much as you believe you are right, the one across the aisle thinks they are too. And if half Greece is backing you, the other half is cheering for your opponent. Politicians’ actions are judged, above all, by history itself.