Free-riding Socialists

New Democracy’s decision to officially abstain from the anti-war rallies and rather to leave it with each conservative deputy’s conscience to decide whether to join the demonstrations or not, invited critical and sarcastic remarks from the ruling Socialists. It should be noted here that both PASOK and ND are parties with a large catchment. In other words, they both seek to combine different and often divergent ideological positions. Moreover, they compete for and, in fact, control a vast share of the electoral base that allows them to elect strong majorities. However, these two characteristics entail some basic obligations. One of these is that such a party cannot shape its policy according to the dominant trend inside it, or in line with short-term partisan objectives. Instead, it must advance the long-term national interest, putting aside ideological and political prejudice and fixations. It must also safeguard national solidarity, avoiding any potentially divisive initiatives. It was in this spirit that when the late conservative statesman Constantine Karamanlis organized the 1974 referendum on the abolition of the monarchy, he asked his cadres and conservative supporters to vote as their conscience dictated. Of course, Socialist party secretary Costas Laliotis’s decision to put PASOK in the front line of anti-war demonstrations does not threaten to undermine national cohesion. But it does undermine and weaken the mediating and unifying role that Greece must play as EU president. Similarly, ND’s decision not to take sides on the issue is not at odds with the strong pacifist trend among the public. In politics, going along with the mainstream is always easier that trying to tame the tide. Riding on the back of the anti-war movement is just as bad as doing the opposite.