Sisyphus in the catacombs

Even die-hard PASOK supporters and the most utopian champions of plans to “rebuild the center-left” under Socialist chief Evangelos Venizelos (or, perhaps, former PM Costas Simitis?) must have felt let down seeing the front row of seats at the inaugural convention of the Olive Tree alliance as well as the list of parties supporting the initiative.

So, in the front row you could see well-known figures sitting next to completely unknown figures. It was a forced coexistence. What they all shared was a sense of disappointment which their forced smiles – directed at television audiences – failed to disguise: Simitis and Andreas Loverdos, who left PASOK to flirt with the ideal of political independence and then with Democratic Left (DIMAR), only to eventually add his own personal failure to the Olive Tree list. Ilias Mosialos, himself now also a party leader and thus on an equal footing with Venizelos and Simitis, was there too as the head of a self-proclaimed “dynamic” movement. And, finally, the representatives of other “movements” or “groupings” whose influence is next to zero.

George Papandreou, on the other hand, did not turn up. It was not because the ex-PM and Venizelos’s predecessor at PASOK was away lecturing at some foreign institution; it was rather because he deems that the green Olive Tree threatens to block the green sun of PASOK, to which he thinks he has a hereditary claim. Also absent were Papandreou’s political cronies who received an order to dig in their heels. Theodoros Pangalos was not invited, an exclusion that seems to have prompted a thinly disguised curse. Another absentee was Michalis Chrysochoidis, who thereby got some time to read Greece’s memorandum which should explain his anti-systemic comments of late. Finally the officials who chose to rebuild the center-left under the DIMAR umbrella were also nowhere to be seen.

On the panel behind the podium, one could see the Olive Tree logo and the list of participants: PASOK, Pact for a New Greece, Dynamic Greece, New Reformists, State 2012 (Politeia 2012), B Initiative (Protovoulia B). Very few people would notice if any of these were absent. Do they have anything to offer at all? Using what powers, what fresh faces, what new ideas?

Perhaps that’s why a disappointed Venizelos resorted to the rhetoric of hyperbole and self-admiration, drawing material from mythology and religion. He spoke of “the patience of Job,” in reference to himself, he praised PASOK’s Sisyphean effort (although Sisyphean does not mean successful), and commended “PASOK of the catacombs,” as he put it.

Having said all that, he naturally believes he has taken on “the challenge of history.” The point is few people out there seem to think the same way.