Leaving the comfort zone

The Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), the commercial exhibition event held every year in Greece’s second-biggest city, is an anachronism. In the age of economic globalization, personal computers and online access across the world’s markets, the existence of a small trade fair at the heart of the city has next to nothing to offer.

The TIF has, of course, always been more than a trade fair. And this is thanks to the fact that everywhere politics is – to a large degree – about symbols. So the nation’s political leaders have been consistent in paying their annual respects to the northern port city in order to unveil official economic policy, to take a firsthand look at the region’s problems, and to discuss these with representatives of the local administration.

To be sure, locals have always known that all that was mostly empty posturing. Behind their pretentious enthusiasm, there was a certain degree of genuine contentment in the presence of political leaders who had gone there all the way from the Athens headquarters.

It is therefore hard to make sense of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s plans for a lightning visit to Thessaloniki, during which he will barely have time to address the city’s productive classes and meet with business unions’ representatives. Samaras is also due to avoid giving a press briefing that would expose himself to the public on issues that were not included in a prefab speech.

Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of PASOK, which is the junior partner in the coalition government, is expected to follow the same policy.

The difference however is that the Socialist chief is leader of an all but extinct party and as such some degree of confusion is understandable.

The public is understandably unhappy with the impact of government policy. Of course there would be protest rallies, and even possible rioting. But in refusing to take questions from journalists, the two politicians give the impression of being in a state of extreme discomfort.

At critical times, people need to see their leaders are willing to take on criticism – even if that comes from journalists – and emerge victorious, which is not too hard for an experienced politician. In turn, the deputies of New Democracy and PASOK need arguments in order to face their own voters. It is unacceptable that they have abandoned the battle ground to the opposition parties.

People who support the government expect their leaders to shed the protective net around them.

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