Self-inflicted wounds

I sometimes look back at the names of the politicians who have ruled this country from crucial posts and I can’t help but thank God, because the damage could have been so much greater.

The truth is that for years we voted for, tolerated, and backed truly inappropriate people for extremely crucial positions. This particularly applies to that generation of politicians who emerged in the wake of the country’s military dictatorship. They proved excellent spin doctors, but in terms of political management they were next to zero. Evangelos Averoff, Panagis Papaligouras, and Constantine Trypanis were succeeded by politicians that resembled caricatures from the realm of modern Greek political satire.

I will never forget the minister who always liked to take his coffee at his favorite joint because he “could not be bothered to go all the way to the ministry,” or his motorcycle-riding colleague who habitually ran red lights and never wore a helmet.

Problems like those, of course, were signs of deeper-rooted ailments. The reason why those people were able to play a role was their place in the party apparatus and their preferential ties with the media and the ruling elite. That said, responsibility for the country’s decline also lies with the private sector, the intellectuals and the media, because for years they supported – or at best tolerated – the stench of superficiality and cheap populism.

To make matters worse, those politicians ruled a country that suffers from two fundamental problems. First, it does not have strong institutions and, second, it relies on a public administration that is a mess. It’s one thing to have lightweight politicians “oversee” a solid public administration system and it’s quite another to have a bankrupt system run by a bankrupt elite.

I would like to believe that those days are over. But then I switch on my TV and see the same old useless, media-savvy politicians explaining how we shall come out of the crisis. Worse, even the people decided to give the political system a strong kick by voting in one of the worst parliaments in modern history. Blinded by anger, they did not seem to care much about whom they were voting into the House either because they wanted to “turn everything upside down” or because “the previous ones were not any better anyway.”

We need to strike a balance between the past that we want to leave behind and the present that is swept by anger and frustration. We need a balance animated by fresh ideas, fresh morals and fresh faces, or we risk longing for yesteryear.

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