Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

An astute observer of Greek politics recently commented that no government has been as self-loving as the incumbent conservatives, and they could not be more accurate. In all the years that I have been following Greek politics, I cannot remember any other government displaying such a strong penchant for complacency and self-promotion.

I do not recall any other government wasting so many resources to propagate its policies and personalities or taking such great care of its image. It is even proud of its communication experts and speechwriters, who are brought in from across the Atlantic and presumably paid for with taxpayers’ money. Who else’s money could it be? I do not remember so many journalists, or perhaps it would be more accurate to call them advertisers, being so willing and “professional” in promoting the image of the government and the prime minister. Well done for the promo.

To be fair, governments all over the world have a tendency toward narcissism. It is not that politicians are different nowadays; it is that because of the technological capabilities and the direct and personalized character of political communication, today’s propaganda techniques breed the narcissism of authority. However, analyzing the situation in psychological terms is superficial. Individual character and insecurities undoubtedly play a role in the developments. If the rulers were less visibly insecure and narcissistic, if they were more humble and had managed to rein in their narcissistic tendencies, things would undoubtedly be better.

But let’s not deceive ourselves. The narcissism we see reflects a deeper problem: Our democracy is deficient and seriously flawed. If we want to understand why governance seems unbearably complacent, the causes lie elsewhere: The government subjugates and humiliates the institutions that are designed to keep it in check.

What has been happening in recent years is unprecedented in the post-dictatorship era. Institutions that should ensure control and restriction of the government have been transformed into its supports and complements; into its servants. And when they resist, they come under fire from the government’s spin doctors and all sorts of pressure. The “willing companions,” whether out of faith or self-interest, usually act in combination.

The isolating and silencing of “annoying voices” is a centrally coordinated campaign aimed at the moral depreciation and psychological exhaustion of people who can put barriers up against unbridled power. The operation draws from the rulebook of the best agents of authoritarian governance historically.

If the rulers were less visibly insecure and narcissistic things would undoubtedly be better

For example, remember how the head of the Hellenic Authority for Communications Security and Privacy (ADAE) was treated by the government and its acolytes when he simply tried to do his job in the wake of the massive wiretapping scandal; or how the European Parliament’s LIBE mission was treated when it came to Greece to review the state of the rule of law, individual freedoms, and corruption.

Also, remember how journalists, Greek and foreign, and constitutional lawyers were treated when they raised serious objections to the way the government and the prosecutor of the Supreme Court handled the wiretapping issue; and finally, how independent agencies were treated when they tried to raise the alarm about the failings of the Greek railway system.

The governors are undoubtedly skilled in these kinds of tricks. Things get more complicated for them when two trains move in opposite directions. As the government occupies more and more space, it needs more and more propaganda. The mechanisms for promoting government work may expand uncontrollably, and sometimes in a panicked manner, which may border on the limits of cheap and ridiculous propaganda, but they do foster this annoying narcissism of power.

In post-Stalinist Russia, the “cult of personality” was vigorously denounced by Stalin’s critics. However, anyone who truly believed that the cause of Stalinist totalitarianism was due to Stalin’s love of seeing his portrait wherever he turned his gaze simply did not understand much about the nature of that regime.

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

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