Anti-populist reflexes


There used to be two states, two democracies that one could always trust: the United States and Britain. In the eyes of Greece, a country locked somewhere between Western Europe, the Balkans and the Middle East, these two democracies carried particular significance. Traditions were respected, institutions were robust, and the political game was more or less predictable – alien concepts to Greece at the time.

Suddenly, both countries began to look more like Greece. In Britain, two politicians who were perfect products of the establishment made a mess of things. They both gambled the country’s future – one by organizing a referendum on Britain’s EU membership and the other by calling an early election. Ever since Brexit, a wave of populism has gripped the country, sweeping reason aside. Now the UK has ended up with a very weak government in the midst of an unpredictable negotiation with the EU and a unique, very left-wing opposition.

Across the Atlantic, Donald Trump is trampling on established institutions, traditions and political norms. He is undermining Washington’s international status, questioning strategic dogmas and alliances. He is sending shock waves through Washington’s traditional allies, who are left questioning whether there is some secret plan behind his absurd demeanor. America risks narrowing its zone of influence, as rival powers eye the expansion of their own.

These countries have survived crises before. The America of the 1960s was constantly flirting with violence and collapse, but it came out of it stronger. Britain too went through a very dark period after the Second World War. But it managed to recover after setting out a role and a goal for itself.

If history is any guide, we must not lose confidence in these two democracies. We must be patient; the self-destructive phase will come to a close. Already in the US there are signs that the institutional counterweights are working.

Meanwhile, something very positive has happened which directly affects us. The crazy stuff happening in Britain and the US has propelled Europe’s anti-populist reflexes into action. Far-right parties appear to have taken a blow – see the victory of Emmanuel Macron in France and the retreat of Italy’s populists. Europe also appears to be taking a more mature stance on security issues. When the pillars of stability begin to crack, everyone runs to support their own homes.