Scorched earth

Scorched earth

It was always SYRIZA’s strategy to ignore reality, to impose its will upon perceptions of it. Before 2015, when the party came to power, it was clear that what Alexis Tsipras was promising was a lie. No right-minded citizen could believe there were easy solutions to the country’s problems that previous governments had simply refused to implement. But after the failures of the center parties, many were prepared to give the radical left a chance. Despite the fact that reality forced Tsipras into several about-turns, he, his coalition partner Panos Kammenos and their government still continue the tactic of creating a counterfeit reality. Today we run the risk of confusing truth and lies to the extent that we will not be able to tell them apart.

The recent parliamentary debate on the mysterious effort by the Defense Ministry to sell ammunition to Saudi Arabia showed this tactic in all its grim splendor. The issue, which has raised serious questions regarding its legality, was presented by the coalition partners as something that was solely the opposition’s responsibility. Tsipras and Kammenos did not go to Parliament to reassure the public that all that was done was above board. They went to accuse the opposition of harming the country’s interests with its suspicions; furthermore, they stressed that, in any case, the other parties that had governed the country were worse. So far, this was par for the course. However, if there is confirmation of opposition suspicions that documents presented to Parliament were falsified, in conjunction with the fact that the prime minister revealed sensitive information from a classified Foreign Ministry document, then it is clear that we are in dangerous territory regarding the undermining of institutions and procedures.

If a government, with all the power that it wields, places its need to cover its tracks above the strict implementation of laws and processes, then only strong institutions can force a return to order. And this is where the government’s other tactic comes in. Continual attacks on the judiciary and on news media, the tireless and often ugly efforts to present rivals as corrupt and traitorous, are aimed at creating a climate of general confusion, where it is increasingly difficult to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, what is legal and what illegal, the useful from the dangerous. With institutions discredited, in the slime everyone is the same. No one is guilty, no one innocent; all are guilty, all innocent. And as the government comes under fire for policies and errors, so it will persist in forcing this outlook onto the public dialogue.

It has been a tradition for new governments to blame their predecessors for leaving them with “scorched earth.” This used to refer to economic problems. Today the danger is of deeper, more permanent damage – to perceptions, values and behavior.