Bullying in plain view

Bullying in plain view

Perhaps the “how” now matters more than the “what.” After all, we have all repeatedly watched the video. A fuming Lefteris Avgenakis moves against the airport employee and, with violent, aggressive gestures, snatches the phone from his hands to prove something amid their dispute over the politician’s boarding. However, how does a member of the Greek Parliament and former minister, a person of recognized power and purported status, end up behaving like a common thug in plain view? One answer is that he doesn’t “end up” there. He is already there. Political culture and the perception of power in Greece are inherently linked with the spirit of abuse, imposition and exhibitionism.

Avgenakis was not driven to some unexpected extreme but was already in a position to resort to extremity as if it were not. Because he believes he is entitled to it, because he knows he can, and because he doesn’t consider the matter significant. The logic of the ruler who is not bound by formal and informal rules but subjugates the less privileged to his will extends beyond isolated incidents and circumstances; it is a pattern of action that, despite its intensity, is exercised with relative ease and without much thought.

The rule of extremity

The incident had already occurred several days before it leaked. Who really believes that the involved MP was worrying about it? Avgenakis attacked the employee publicly, for a trivial reason, in an environment full of cameras. It is obvious that he knew how likely it was for his action to be recorded, yet this did not deter him.

His apology, in fact, was made after the video had circulated widely on social media, which in turn means that there was no awareness of the act once it was committed – nor genuine remorse before it became public. As if that weren’t enough, Avgenakis felt the need to defend himself and downplay the attack, falsely characterizing it as a “verbal altercation.” Even after the video was broadcast, in other words, the MP maintained the arrogant belief that his power extended beyond the self-evident truth. The context of the attack is ultimately worse than the attack itself: An MP who misbehaves is a problem, but an MP who does not recognize that he misbehaves when he misbehaves, and who considers misbehavior an extension of his advantage as a powerful man, is a problem of a much higher order.

Political culture and the perception of power in Greece are inherently linked with the spirit of abuse, imposition and exhibitionism

Arrogance, again

The arrogance that has often been attributed to New Democracy over the past year is interwoven with the Avgenakis case. The action of a politician does not, of course, characterize the ethos of a party (assuming that a party can have a unified, solid ethos), but the fact that Avgenakis’ parliamentary and party status did not serve as a deterrent is indicative of the climate of unlimited liberty within which the politician had the luxury to act.

If bullying were strongly disapproved of by his party, if political power and immunity were instilled as responsibilities and burdens rather than “corporate” privileges, if there were a tradition of instant and substantial accountability, the MP would not have behaved as he did.

He might have remained arrogantly violent, but he would likely have kept his character to himself. From Avgenakis’ “bad moment” there arises the need for more good moments; for a new political model that, even if it also fails to uphold high standards, will at least maintain some pretenses. “What do citizens want from politics?” the parties philosophically and hypocritically wonder, seeking ways to reconnect with citizen-voters.

Let’s start with the basics: MPs who do not attack them while they are doing their job.

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