OPINION

The political blender

I would very much like to solve the following mystery: What is it that happens to people who get involved in politics — and more to the point, Greek politics? It?s as if — how can I put this? — they get into a powerful blender and turn from regular people into what Angelos Vlachos used to describe as pieces of malleable dough bitten by thousands of small fish. I?ve seen this happen over and over again. I remember, for instance, a businessman whose appointment in a recent administration had aroused plenty of expectation. The hope was that there would be no arbitrary arrangements or political favors, but methodical labor on his part that would enable business. Instead, we witnessed the rapid transformation of a serious man into the archetype special-favors politician with desperately old-fashioned perceptions and a glaring absence of common sense. Whatever happened to the man everyone knew and respected? No one ever managed to figure it out, while what caused the biggest surprise was the way he stopped meeting with businessmen out of fear of being misunderstood or appearing in the pages of some second-rate rag.

Students remember exemplary university professors who lectured in amphitheaters, teachers whom they loved and respected. They too disappeared into the political blender in their all-consuming efforts to satisfy every single one of their interlocutors. Education, and moral and intellectual standards all disappeared as if by magic, in the name of getting the vote at the ballot box. Clearly political party mechanisms of clientelism are unimaginably leveling, capable of destroying every last bit of original thinking, sound judgment and professionalism. They can addle the brains of even the most serious of people, who, instead of coming up with solutions to the issues they are supposed to handle, end up touring local festivals and cafes.

The country, however, needs people who can solve problems. It has already paid a high price as a result of useless mayors who were unable to fill in applications for European Union funding and government ministers who erased from their minds all that they had learned in real life and became political party accessories. How can this be? One way to avoid this in future would be to apply an incompatibility clause regarding deputy and ministerial capacity, allowing prime ministers to appoint as ministers people who enjoy prestige and have experience without necessarily putting them through the ballot box test. Another way would be by increasing the number of deputies elected through lists, so that parties can make the best of capable people who might not have passed the test when confronted with extreme populism in a television studio.

A solution ought to be found in any case. We are paying a heavy price for the taboos we ourselves created. In other countries, an experienced person can alternate between the public and private sectors. In Greece, however, everybody starts yelling and protesting, as if politicians and the accompanying political apparatus are spotless and devoid of special relationships with vested interests.

Unfortunately very few serious people are willing to get involved in politics right now. The money is bad, the risk is enormous, while the profession?s reputation leaves a lot to be desired. Without fresh faces and professionals in crucial positions, though, we are not going to get very far. The parties who wish to govern us ought to find these people, persuade and inspire them, be in a position to pay them for dealing with government work and be able to protect them from the swarm of bugs which will try to undermine them right from the start. And before I forget, they should also come up with a vaccine which will protect them from the virus which has turned hundreds of serious folk into unrecognizable petty politicians.