OPINION

Populism need not be a bad word

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s remark that “the two extremes feed off each other and poison society,” is purely academic in its significance. It is nothing more than an observation and has little political merit. This observation, of course, has also been made by the other pro-European parties.

Political life in Greece has become extremely polarized, as it has in some other European countries as well. Efforts to dismantle the old – and in many ways problematic – regime and the violence with which the countries of the south are being forced to fall into line with the standards of those in the north have sapped the influence of the so-called “rational” political forces of this country.

The government is trying to curb violent reaction by using police force. It is a knee-jerk reaction that may make sense but is limited in terms of effectiveness. Using force does not provide an outlet to the Greek bent to rally around parties that are against the establishment, and especially ultranationalist Golden Dawn, which appears to be enjoying growing influence over the electorate.

The government is also trying to give the impression – as did the other governments that have emerged since the spring of 2010 – that it is fighting the troika’s unpopular policies. But a fight that is constantly repeated and always ends with more reductions in salaries and pensions is a farce that simply reveals at how much of a loss the so-called fighters are. The overall impression that emerges is that the fight is a pure simulation. Sure, Samaras has proved to be capable of tempering expectations, but time is running out.

The result is that the three-party coalition is beginning to look a lot like a caretaker government of technocrats in every way except political rhetoric, which is often quite primitive. The biggest disappointment lies in the government’s failure not only to adopt the stance of a technocratic government but also to operate as such.

On the other hand, the parties at the extremes of the political spectrum are being accused of populism. The problem, of course, does not go away simply by saying that populism is a bad thing. After all, the whole point of representational democracy is that the majority arises from the popular vote. The issue, therefore, is populism aimed in a different direction. Pro-European Greeks have no reason to fear such a thing. After all, some of the greatest politicians of the last century, such as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, were true populists who replaced the conventional wisdom with a new set of values.