New demeanor

The reason that Costas Karamanlis seeks to impose an austere style of governance is not that he wants to mimic his namesake and uncle Constantine Karamanlis, but that he truly believes the late statesman’s style reflected a healthy interpretation of political power, and that in order to restore that interpretation, we must first retrieve its lost symbols. Karamanlis’s return to a bygone mentality does not mean to idealize the democratic deficits that inevitably arose after a seven-year dictatorship. That period saw a widespread feeling among government cadres – reinforced by the problems and shortcomings of the time – that their task was to manage the affairs of state and the people, and that their office ought to be viewed as a serious duty, not as privilege. The ministers who failed to realize this rarely escaped the fury of their watchful leader unscathed. Developments since have rendered such a demeanor nearly extinct. That does not mean to say that there have been no decent and humble individuals. However, the overall style of governance has evolved in such a way that humble people are not treated as role models but as objects of ridicule, surrounded as they are by an overwhelming display of arrogance, a tendency toward superficiality and exhibition of unjustified wealth and expenditure. Even former Prime Minister Costas Simitis, an otherwise serious and modest politician, failed to limit the invasion of this new type of morality. By calling for humility, moderation, teamwork and urging his ministers to avoid keeping company with rich people, Karamanlis is not trying to make an impression but to instill a new mode of behavior. He does not demand humility so that his ministers will be protected from greedy television channels (some cadres are already overexposing themselves), but because humility is a basic component of the new style that he has pledged to uphold and intends to impose – a style based on the belief that a political office must confer benefits on the country, not on the individual who occupies it. Outmoded as this may sound in the present era of individualism and economism, it was still the deeper message of the elections. Voters gave New Democracy a clear mandate with the hope that it would go on to introduce a new type of governance, do away with arrogance and corruption, and overturn the idea that the rulers stand above the people. If New Democracy’s ministers fail to realize this, if they take Karamanlis’s orders merely as general guidelines for their public image and not for their genuine behavior, they will end up betraying the public mandate – and such betrayals do not go unpunished.