A simple matter of respect

A simple matter of respect

Monday’s debate between former SYRIZA prime minister Alexis Tsipras and opposition chief Evangelos Meimarakis of New Democracy is apparently going to be a lot livelier than that involving all the main party leaders last week because the two men will be talking to one another instead of just answering journalists’ questions.

Whether this will result in any improvement in the quality of the spectacle is something we will see in just a few days’ time.

How a debate is set up and directed can affect the aesthetic quality, the pace of the discussion and the overall viewing experience but it cannot change the essence of the discussion or give it any substance when there is none.

The distance separating Greece’s politicians from society, as well as their usual inability to answer questions directly and succinctly results more often than not in the same old boring tone that has prevailed in the majority of such debates on Greek television.

However, while the debates haven’t changed much over the years, the audience has, and a lot at that. The public’s critical evaluation of the last six years of recession and of the handling of the crisis has had consequences, with the most important being the emergence of a prevailing sense of distrust and disdain. It is a deep and corrosive feeling that has seeped throughout society and the political establishment.

No one respects anyone. In simple terms, when political leaders make such a show of denigrating each other, all they are doing is sending a message of abject negation to the public.

We are not talking here of the usual blame games and finger-pointing but the absence of a simple acknowledgment of the political opponent as both an opponent and a politician. Instead, they treat and present each other as incompetent, corrupt upstarts.

The September 20 election race is neither a popularity contest nor a power game. It is a bid to save a bankrupt country, a desperate last-ditch effort to pull it back from the brink of a long and extremely painful collapse – and should be seen as such.

The reason I reflect on this issue is a reaction I heard from a man called Pantelis, a retired builder who claims to be illiterate, but is wise and honest, a man who holds democratic ideals high. He lives on Crete, where four of the political leaders running for the top seat are also standing as parliamentary candidates. He watched Wednesday’s debate with great interest and has decided not to vote in Sunday’s elections. Why? “If they can’t respect each other, will they respect me?” he says.

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