Sickness of power

It’s really not worth taking the prime minister seriously when he says that while his administration does a great job (by his own standards) of ruling the country, it has become the target of a business conspiracy aiming to get rid of the government. Media commentators interpreted Costas Simitis’s remarks as a desperate and unconvincing counterattack aimed at bypassing the dire problems that plague his government and his attempt to rally PASOK cadres around him. This dismissive judgment on the seriousness and gravity of the premier’s allegations is the most lenient possible for Simitis. Because a second, and more critical one, raises the possibility that the prime minister truly believes that the crisis besetting the government is the product of a dark conspiracy. We think that the second explanation is very likely to be valid, which means that Simitis’s assertion mandates some serious attention. It is highly alarming if the prime minister has lost contact with political reality and suffers from delusions. His actions in that case may turn unpredictable, even harmful. Some may question whether Simitis, whom we had until recently considered to be a moderate and prudent politician, can indeed suffer from such delusions. But the onset of political sickness is neither sudden nor unexpected. Many political analysts have noted the first signs of Simitis’s political transformation – some go as far back as two years. This column, in particular, has repeatedly noted a series of events that highlight the slide of the ruling party toward a dangerous condition of political autism, coupled with a complete rejection of democratic principles such as criticism, monitoring, and accountability. The ancient Greek saying that «the exercise of power is the proof of a (political) man’s caliber» is the equivalent of the more modern «when the going gets tough, the tough get going.» Having succeeded the late Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, Simitis received widespread recognition, attributable to his comparative advantages: his seriousness, his reform-minded declarations and the conciliatory style that distinguished him from his predecessor. His strong appeal was not seen – as it could have been – to be the outcome of a conspiracy by the majority of the media, which had long accorded him an invulnerable status. It seems most likely that the artificial political circles in which Simitis had been active did not put his alleged political assets to the test. At the same time, they prevented him from developing the necessary anti-bodies that every political leader must have in order to protect himself against the diseases caused by a prolonged stay in power. Given this, and despite Simitis’s achievements during his seven-year rule, evaluating his political performance is a hazardous task. It is to be wished that the political epilogue that Simitis has been summoned to write will not prove as crucial for the country.

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