OPINION

The beast of populism

Greece experienced a long period during which freedom of speech could not be taken for granted. Ostensibly, after the restoration of democracy, freedom of speech became a firmly established right. There are some exceptions, however, such at Greek universities, where saying anything that is not deemed politically correct is met with insults and bullying.

The past few years have seen the rise of a new brand of ideological nihilism, according to which anyone who disagrees with sacrosanct stereotypes is branded an extremist or even a fascist. In public discourse, and on social media especially, it has become akin to bullying. The extremes have never allowed a dialogue to be carried out on sensitive issues in a civilized manner.

In matters of foreign policy, anyone who dared express a different opinion on the Cyprus issue or the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was lambasted. When former Labor Minister Tassos Yianitsis warned about the future of Greece’s social security system, he was dubbed an “unfettered neoliberal.” How then can a serious discussion take place on these issues in such a polarized context?

The debate about the memorandum has suffered the same fate. Public discourse soon became polarizing, deeply emotional and superficial. Those who discovered that they could cash in on people’s anger and frustration took the easy route of backing the naysayers. Yet no one took the time to explore what interests were being served by the incendiary rhetoric. The phenomenon has now become all-encompassing, from the Nikos Romanos hunger strike to the Greek Civil War.

It is awful to see people who keep a moderate and ethical stance coming under such vehement fire. Such hate never bodes well, as any history lesson can tell us, especially when it is targeted against the standard-bearers of a reasonable society. It is a hard and lonely battle to maintain the composure and cohesion needed under such circumstances without stooping to the level of the hooligans and responding to fire with fire.

Young Greeks fighting for open universities that are not ruled by a handful of troublemakers are not fascists nor anyone’s puppets.

Those who support that the law needs to be implemented and that civil rights need to be upheld are not being irrational.

And a word of warning to those who continue to feed the beast of populism: One day it will turn around and bite you. It always does.