Parties trapped by their own rhetoric

There is one scenario I have seen played out many times to the detriment of the country and it has to do with the opposition – whichever it may be – becoming trapped in its own extreme reaction to a variety of issues, harming the country and also the party’s own future prospects. Greece’s recent political history has numerous examples of this.

PASOK, for example, was trapped by its reaction in 2009 to Chinese shipping company Cosco’s investment at the port of Piraeus when the Socialists were in the opposition. The party organized protest rallies against the privatization of the port and during its pre-election campaign threw all sorts of barbs suggesting that the deal should be renegotiated. In any other European country, a systemic party would never create such doubts about whether the state would live up to its contractual obligations, especially when the issue involved a deal with an important superpower with a keen interest in the country. And yet, it took a good deal of maneuvering and some pretty heated arguments before PASOK, now part of government, realized that it would be almost criminal to undermine the Chinese investment. Moreover, I am certain that if we heard what was said behind closed doors, PASOK’s stance could be put down to narrow party interests, such as losing the support of port unionists or allowing leftist SYRIZA and the Communists to take all the credit for raising a stink.

Today, opposition SYRIZA is trapping itself in a number of different issues as it adopts absolute positions on privatizations and big investments. I am certain that behind closed doors it has been suggested that the leftist party should tone down its stance. I am also certain that the reactions to such proposals are as violent as they are predictable.

Sure, the leader of a party and its officials have a lot to deal with when they suddenly find themselves catapulted into the main opposition spotlight, especially when coming from a radical background. We have already seen friction arising in SYRIZA following Alexis Tsipras’s visits to Berlin and Washington.

The problem, however, is that all of this has resulted in a general feeling of blanket rejectionism and posturing, coupled with reverence for all things “anti-systemic.” The climate is toxic and it compels everyone to lash out. Of course it is not easy to expect reason, moderation and a sense of responsibility when a growing percentage of the population feels that it has nothing left to lose, even if the country is kicked out of the euro and spirals into an uncontrolled bankruptcy.

On the other hand, I can’t help thinking of another scenario that is on many people’s minds: Tsipras returning from Brussels as the head of an anti-memorandum government and explaining that there is no negotiating with the troika, while trying to salvage whatever investment is under way in Greece. Where will the rage against the system be directed then?

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