The price of arrogance

Costas Simitis’s lengthy career as a party dissenter has taught him much. Most importantly, after 1996, it allowed him to be successful in the opposite role, that of the authoritarian party leader. This was demonstrated by the elimination of party opposition – most recently with the defenestration of PASOK’s former secretary-general, Costas Laliotis. There is, however, one exception, that of Theodoros Pangalos. Simitis’s one-time ally in the «gang of four» that objected to the policies of late PASOK leader Andreas Papandreou has been a tough nut to crack. Some may dislike the style or question the morality of this voluble politician, but few would deny his contribution to government. Equally, no one questions his ability to wreak havoc. The government pretends not to be alarmed by the barbs aimed at it by Pangalos. However, the ruth is that his repeated attacks have unsettled the prime minister. Simitis realizes that there is nothing he can do against politically sound and influential criticism. Disciplinary action against Pangalos would entail more political costs than gains. Simitis has enjoined a «we-do-not-respond» tactic, though it has long ceased to have effect. The former foreign minister enjoys strong support, even from the pro-government media – not just because of his personal relations but also because his sharp comments are too provocative to ignore. Pangalos is an open wound. He is charming, he strikes the right chord with the public and has no inhibitions. He is the opponent that few would like to take on. Simitis had the chance, but not the farsightedness and flexibility, to channel Pangalos’s dynamism into government. Simitis is now paying the price of his arrogance. He does not recognize Pangalos as an interlocutor, but this matters little since the public, and covertly PASOK as well, see in him the main vehicle of party dissent.