Politics, law and order

How things change. Once upon a time, the concept of law and order was, traditionally and almost exclusively, the domain of Greek right-wing parties. Today, and even over the course of the last 10 years, this has become yet another rule of politics that has been turned on its head. It is fascinating to hear Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, a man who once served as president of the national student movement that fought against the 1967-74 dictatorship, argue in favor of the construction of a fence along a section of the Greek-Turkish border and to see how he has made controlling the flow of illegal immigrants into the country his No 1 priority.

After all, every important initiative in the fight against crime that has been introduced over the past few years, such as the campaign to crush the November 17 terrorist organization all the way to the launch of the police?s rapid-reponse unit, Dias, was accomplished when the ministry was under the jurisdiction of Michalis Chrysochoidis, who served between 1999 and 2003 and from 2009 to 2010. Of course we must not forget that his time in the post was preceded by a decade of PASOK rule during which the state and its police force were allowed to fall apart. In the meantime, when the conservative New Democracy party was in power, law and order were only loosely and superficially imposed. There was little if any preparation for major disasters or incidents such as forest fires, leading to the frightening events of December 2008. Nothing struck more fear into the heart of Costas Karamanlis?s government than the possibility of there being deaths during the widespread riots that rocked the country for close to a week. The result of this fear was paralysis in important parts of the country?s security mechanism.

Even today New Democracy seems wary of uttering the term ?law and order.? Maybe it is scared that it will revive the stereotype of the tough and bad right wing, or maybe it has failed to understand just how important law and order have become for people in Greece. Even its reactions to the proposal for a border fence lack conviction and have zero impact. In contrast, the government seems to have understood that law and order are a major political issue and it believes that a tough stance on this front can counterbalance the dissatisfaction felt by society toward its economic policies.

The fact, however, is no matter which party tries to earn the majority vote in the next elections, it will still have to convince the people that it is serious about matters of law and order, illegal immigration and national security. Tough talk will not cut it though; it will take serious groundwork and the staffing of the parties with people who are experienced in these matters. On this front, New Democracy has a long way to go before it can convince the people of its credibility in these vital areas. Because, as former Prime Minister Karamanlis told top officials of his government back in December 2008, ?the problem is no longer about whether the right will roll out the tanks onto the streets, but whether, if it does, they will not end up crashing into each other.?