Missing the leading man

The arrest of two men suspected to be connected to an arson attack on the property of a gold-mining firm at Skouries in Halkidiki, northern Greece, and the reactions that the arrests provoked among the residents of nearby Ierissos are evidence that the political establishment is in decline and that any action it takes, however legal, weighs against it.

The police station at Ierissos was abandoned and then pillaged by protesting locals as road blocks thwarted the arrival of backup forces. Efforts to impose the law led to complete anarchy.

The problem that arises from this incident is deciding on the best possible action against such reactions on a day-to-day basis given that the solution obviously does not lie in police intervention.

The duty of the political leadership, and the government in particular, is to ensure that it has the support of the community whenever it is planning a radical change. The failure of all governments in this area over the past three years has indeed been monumental. Instead, the defense of the government’s decisions is left to television reporters. Parliamentary deputies no longer dare to appear at public gatherings and political leaders prefer to read out their statements on camera. Contact with the public has all but vanished and the government has become completely isolated. The absence of dialogue with the citizens of this country leads to explosions, not by anarchists and unions as was the case in the past, but by citizens’ groups that have come together under a common cause and that are beyond the control of the political parties.

The worst and most dangerous thing that could happen would be for this phenomenon to take on a more general form. Even military dictatorships need to some kind of tolerance – even if meager – from society, or they collapse.

Paradoxically, as this drama unfolds on the Greek stage, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is nowhere to be seen. And it’s not just in Skouries. On affairs relating to the economy, all we hear is the finance minister. On affairs relating to security, all we hear is the public order minister. The other two coalition partners are constantly in the foreground, drawing all sorts of “red lines” that they almost instantly cross and shadowboxing with the troika only to yield to compromise in the next instant.

But the prime minister is absent. It is strange because public opinion polls consistently show him as more suitable to lead the country than his biggest rival, Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA. One wonders when he plans to take advantage of this lead, because if he waits until the next general election the country will slip into anarchy. Only the prime minister can help people bridge their differences and inspire a way forward. Samaras has a duty to step out onto center stage and, as unpleasant as it may be, to either inspire the people or fail.