The post-populist pause

The post-populist pause

One day we may look back at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 as the relatively peaceful eye of the cyclone, the pause between an age that is ending and another that is beginning in anger and division. The only certainty is uncertainty – from our own country to the ends of the earth. In Greece we have learned how to live in crisis; maybe we don’t know any other way. For many years we have believed that politics is the art of saying much, doing little and letting “life” take care of things. Because we don’t expect to shoulder any responsibilities, we set our targets high, and when, inevitably, we miss, we excel in excuses – blaming foreign forces and their local lackeys.

The tragedy is that instead of Greece improving, major countries are following a similar course. It is not just the wave of populism changing communities and politics – for populism has always been a significant part of politics – what is worse is that this wave has no objective rather than following nebulous promises for the restoration of past grandeur. Many voters are drawn to demagogs’ calls for a leap into the void, thinking that in this way they can cut the Gordian knot of reality.

The Greeks were the first to believe that rejecting the old meant the solution of their problems. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s dramatic turn last July, after six months of wandering around the barricades of an imaginary revolution, marked his surrender to a reality that would not bend to his will. Since then, his government has battled to deal with a crisis that was worsened by SYRIZA’s illusions, while day by day popular anger grows. Developments do not end with an election. When the search for solutions (or implementation of reforms) is not a priority, problems lead to dead ends. Like every other government before it, this one, too, thought that the fact of its election was the solution to all problems, and that if anything went awry, others were to blame. Now Tsipras is thinking of calling elections again. Defeat may relieve him of the cares of office, victory will gain him more time; neither will solve any problems.

The government of Britain followed a similar awakening, and the new US administration will do the same. Brexit will not be painless; wherever the British government turns, it discovers that the ills caused by the divorce from Europe may be worse than those it was supposed to address. Donald Trump seems to be realizing now what his election means. Already he appears to be backtracking on some campaign excesses but we still cannot tell what kind of president he will be. The few weeks before he moves into the White House seem like the quiet moment that will be forgotten quickly in the storm. The coming referendum in Italy, presidential elections in Austria and France, parliamentary elections in the Netherlands and Germany, and many other polls, will show the strength of populism. After the voting, we will see its weakness.

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