Reaching out to the masses

Athens?s elite pundits have for decades tried to explain the reasons why young parties staffed with distinguished scientists and technocrats have failed to attract a considerable following. Parties like Nees Dynameis (New Forces), Kodiso and Symachia (Alliance) struck a chord with the domestic elite, but left the rest of society largely unmoved.

In the last elections, many people mistakenly thought that Drasi?s popularity in Kolonaki and the posh suburbs in northern Athens reflected the party?s popularity across the country. A friend of mine found it hard to explain the poor showing by Stefanos Manos?s party in the May 6 polls, saying, ?The night before the elections I was at a restaurant and everyone there said they were voting for Manos.?

Of course in politics you can?t blame the people for making decisions that you don?t like. After all, if some people had shown a bit more responsibility and a little less egoism, Greece?s centrist liberals would have gathered enough support to enter Parliament as a single party and offered a marginally sustainable solution in collaboration with PASOK and ND.

We are a Mediterranean people with a strong penchant for populism, division and hyperbole. This has often been made clear over the course of history: civil conflicts during the War of Independence, the National Schism and other incidents. Moderation, keeping a low profile and consensus-seeking are not our thing. The seeds of populism and extremism have been rigorously sown in local politics.

If the past is anything to go by, reformist movements do better when they join forces with one of the two mainstream parties. It is important that the big parties don?t rely on second-class politicians, that they don?t lose touch with contemporary movements and ideas, that they stay in contact with the market and society?s creative forces. The problem of the Greek elite, so to speak, is that it surrendered the intelligentsia, politics and the media to a populist left and other nouveau riche opportunists. As long as the country was in calm waters, they thought they could stare at the decline and corruption as if they were none of their business. Now that they feel that everything is collapsing around them, they are trying to support a foundation that is clearly rotten.

The Greek elite realized they speak a different language to the majority. For the country to change, public opinion has to be convinced about things that are self-evident in some parts and incomprehensible in others. One must not snub politics, campaigning and public debate but instead enter the fray, fight door-to-door until a new national vision is born.