The untamable beast


Something positive may come out of this highly unusual period for Greece. The left has played a leading role in Greek politics since 1974 and while its election results were never very high in terms of percentages, its ideological and cultural omnipotence was unchallenged. The left set the tone and everyone else followed. Government policy regarding law and order, entrepreneurship, foreign policy and education, among others issues, bore the left’s signature. We even reached a point when it was nearly impossible to tell who lay behind a statement: a bishop with a populist streak, a right-wing unionist or a leftist activist.

As the country experiences its first left-wing government, a certain number of post-junta taboos are collapsing – with a loud thump. Who could have imagined a right-wing or a centrist politician publicly thanking the US for its role in the Greek crisis? Yet Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis did exactly that. Or a New Democracy or PASOK government reaching a deal, yet to be approved by Parliament, allowing Israel to use military facilities in Greece? This government did it.

The country should have woken up to reality some 20 or 30 years ago. Now, its first leftist government is giving it a rude awakening – clumsily and without a plan. Maybe there was no other way and Greece had to go through this phase of correction. The government will have to sacrifice a lot more sacred cows to avert a disorderly default and geopolitical bankruptcy. The administration is already signing legislation that any other government would have found very difficult to pass. If it stays in power long enough it will be forced to sign and help in the realization of major investments, projects either put on hold or blocked by its own commandos in the past. Greece is hitting ideological maturity abruptly. The next government, or the one after that, will find it easier to handle Greek-American relations and major investments. The left of the future will shout and scream but there will be no taboos left.

Where is the danger in all this? The hyperactive beast of populism that we’ve been feeding for the last 40 years will not slink off. Conspiracy theories, hatred and post-dictatorship taboos are deeply rooted in the minds of millions of desperate Greeks. Like his predecessors, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will also look into the beast’s eyes and it is doubtful he will be in a position to tame it. While everyone gets to ride it in order to rise to power, the beast readily knocks them to the ground the moment they try to tighten the rein. Although taboos may be collapsing, it will take a few more leaders from the populist rodeo for the country to really touch ground.