Dividing lines that never fade

Dividing lines – less so between political parties and more so between political cultures and ideologies – do not go away as easily as some would like to think. In the case of Greece, political parties that used to be bitter enemies for decades may have agreed to establish a power-sharing coalition in a bid to save the nation from economic disaster but this does not mean that their ideological differences have been bridged. In fact, their political divisions tend to persist even if politicians often invoke the threat of a common danger – some of them will go as far as frightening their supporters – in a bid to suppress these differences.

Greece’s three-party coalition government has been asymmetrical from the offing. This lack of symmetry has been reflected in the appointments to key ministerial posts as well as to positions that have traditionally gone to the parties’ failed parliamentary candidates.

Whatever the deal was when the coalition was formed, it has never really been upheld.

New Democracy’s conservatives quickly controlled most of the seats in government, leaving a small chunk to be distributed between the once-dominant PASOK and Democratic Left, the junior socialist partner that found itself crammed – not without some degree of guilt and malaise it should be said – in the driver’s seat.

When it comes to economic management, policymakers may well argue, as they often have done, that there is no other alternative to the policies being pursued.

But they can hardly do the same when it comes to clear ideological issues such as the understanding of and the fight against racism. And it is clear by now that there is little agreement between New Democracy, on the one hand, and PASOK/Democratic Left, on the other, on how to interpret the increasingly brutal force that is Golden Dawn, let alone on how to deal with it. It is worth noting here that PASOK may be motivated by guilt as it was responsible for the Greeks’ en masse disillusionment with politics, while for Democratic Left, the issue is somewhat existential in nature.

If we eventually find ourselves sacrificing the opportunity to introduce legislation that criminalizes racially-motivated violence and hate speech on the altar of some partisan interest, this may be good for New Democracy in the short term as it will allow it to attract votes on the far-right, but it will certainly be very bad for the nation’s democracy.

Sure, laws are not enough on their own. After all we have often passed laws that we then failed to respect. In any case, however, when it comes to crucial issues like this, you cannot straddle the two different sides of the banks.