Anti-SYRIZA fundamentalism

Anti-SYRIZA fundamentalism

If you walk into a tiger’s cage, a friend quipped, make sure you don’t touch the wild cat’s whiskers. Put differently, when you challenge a more intelligent person than yourself to a public debate, do not attempt to underestimate their intelligence; you only risk exposing yourself to ridicule.

Some people appeared to shun this simple survival rule when they recently reprimanded Evangelos Venizelos, former deputy prime minister and constitutional expert, for taking part in a recent event titled, “Are We Staying in Europe? Wiretaps, Rights and the Rule of Law,” at the Goethe Institute in Athens. Organized by Panteion University, the Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR) and the Zero Hour initiative for the protection of democracy and the rule of law, the discussion also involved three more professors of international law: Nikos Alivizatos, Ifigeneia Kamtsidou and Xenophon Contiades.

Venizelos is not just another intelligent person. He is a public figure of sterling intellectual caliber, in fact far greater than his critics have shown to actually possess. Particularly when it concerns issues that fall within his scientific purview, few people would disagree that Venizelos is no match for those who sought to admonish or “explain” to him, as it were, the semiotics behind the question mark in the title of the event.

It is nevertheless striking that although it has been confirmed that at least 15,000 people are under legal or illegal surveillance by the Greek intelligence service – including party leaders, ministers, deputies, members of the European Parliament, journalists, academics, businesspeople, senior military officers (treating half of the nation’s elite as suspect is nothing short of paranoid) – some people out there seem to be terrified more of a question mark.

You do not need some super-brain to understand that what is at stake in the present day is not whether Greece will remain in the euro area, or the European Union for that matter. These questions were thankfully settled, if in turbulent fashion, in the summer of 2015. If there is concern today, it has to do with the risk that the government’s attitudes and the unchecked workings of the deep state pose to the liberal system of values and principles which permeate Greece’s constitutional order. The key question, in other words, is whether we are drifting away from Europe’s democratic paradigm toward a more authoritarian model.

One has to be naive to believe that Greece’s membership of the EU automatically safeguards it against all risk. That is, unless one holds that Hungary, Poland or Greece, all countries which systematically violate human rights (as demonstrated by hundreds of European Court of Human Rights rulings), are “staying in Europe,” whereas non-EU members Britain and Norway are not. After all, what is this Europe we are supposedly “staying in,” given that, according to World Economics, Greece ranks third from bottom among European countries in terms of press freedom, only ahead of Russia and Belarus, while lagging behind countries like Ukraine, Albania and Hungary.

It is striking that although it has been confirmed that at least 15,000 people are under legal or illegal surveillance some people seem to be more terrified of a question mark

Public debate has been infiltrated by a peculiar type of fundamentalism: anti-SYRIZA fundamentalism. A group of people who show uncritical support for the prime minister and his government consider this very devotion as criterion for judging people’s Europeanist credentials. Raising a wall of animosity against SYRIZA, these fundamentalist folk attack anyone who dares criticize the government, claiming that doing so will help SYRIZA get back into power.

The deeper the government sinks in the mire of authoritarianism, the more this anti-SYRIZA fundamentalism is spinning out of control, its agents resembling indignant preachers calling heretics to repentance or bring the end of the world upon themselves. The more the true meaning of liberal democratic governance is lost, the more each passing day reveals a cynical power anxious to tighten its grip on power, the more the symbols and the banners of a past – of which probably very little remains – are sanctified.

It’s the art of fundamental and totalitarian regimes to baptize meat as fish, to give meaning where there is none, to generate emotion from the imaginary, to draw strength from some sacred past, to threaten the unholy and the heretical with excommunication.

However, it is the art of democracy to defy the threats and the fear; to promote dialogue without McCarthy-style exclusions and to pursue the truth even if – as ADAE privacy watchdog chief Christos Rammos would say – that can sometimes be excruciating.

Nikos Marantzidis is professor of political science at the University of Macedonia.

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