The years of crisis have changed our lives and also revealed how dangerous things can get when people who are not up to the task are in responsible positions. Perhaps in the past we had more capable politicians; perhaps Europe had leaders with vision and the wisdom gained from having lived through war; maybe we had intellectuals and authorities who could inspire. Maybe, very simply, we have changed and, with today’s media, see our leaders differently.
In every case, our daily politics, as well as the handling of difficult issues – such as austerity policies, the investigation into the Lagarde list and the troika’s cynical handling of Cyprus – are enough to destroy the last illusions that the course ahead may be easy.
For some years now, the governments of European countries have had to face the vitally important challenge of reorganizing their economic model in order to preserve something of the welfare state while, at the same time, not losing their political legitimacy. Before the crisis, politicians either did not see the storm coming or they underestimated it. When it hit, the austerity measures that preceded any attempts at reform of economic and political systems had the same effect as a ship losing its engines in a hurricane – the stricken countries were left at the mercy of the waves and fortune. Beyond this, though, the crews’ lack of faith in their leaders and in the course hewn by creditors led to an outbreak of violent reactions, further uncertainty and crippling hyperbole.
National politics have become a clash between supporters of the “system” and its opponents. The only ones who benefit are the extremists who invest in rage, in the argument that “others” are to blame for everything. Citizens are obliged to choose between governments that don’t believe in the policies they are carrying out and opposition forces which reject anything to do with the “establishment.” The more extreme and absolute the message, the more attractive it becomes. As time passes, we see how great is the absence of serious leaders who could explain the difficulties, who could bear the political cost of change, who could make citizens believe that their wounds will heal, who could maintain the political legitimacy of the public’s trust.
The fact that we see no such leaders at the national or regional level (not to mention globally), frightens citizens. It increases the danger that they will turn to whoever voices the most radical opposition to the “system” – the system of disappointment, corruption and defeat, the system that deprived them of prosperity. But the easy solutions promised by the apostles of rage are not a way out – they are just illusions recycled. At this moment, perhaps the most important factors in politics are patience, cool-headedness and luck.