The last straw
We live in an anti-systemic era. Nothing is certain and nothing can be safely predicted.
This again became evident with Sunday’s demonstration in the northern port city of Thessaloniki over the name row between Athens and Skopje (in protest at the use of the term “Macedonia” in any solution to the dispute) and that sensitive chord that the issue appears to have struck.
The Greek people feel exhausted and humiliated. One of the mistakes made in the early years of the debt crisis was the vindictive posturing toward the country by foreign creditors. Their attitude, combined with the financial misery caused by the austerity, generated a lot of tension. The Greeks are angry because they have repeatedly felt that their pride has been broken.
So, perhaps, the name issue was the last straw. A large portion of citizens think it would be crazy for Greece to make concessions vis-a-vis a small and powerless country.
It does not really matter if this is a reasonable claim. During our time, we have witnessed far less sentimental people, like the British for example, react violently or take hasty decisions on issues which touch upon their national pride.
Greece’s ruling class however is also making a mistake here. For these people have become an establishment themselves and they now underestimate instincts and underground currents.
The same people tapped the feeling of humiliation and cultivated a mixture of populism and nationalism which culminated in the bailout referendum of 2015. In the process, they joined hands with a motley crew of allies and partners, some of whom may now feel even angrier because of the administration’s U-turn following the referendum.
However, the fan that blows populism only comes with an on button. And once you switch it on, there is no way of stopping it.
And one last thing on international observers: Up until 2012, they thought they could get a clear idea of what was happening in Greece merely by talking to people in Kolonaki. Now they are talking with a new establishment which, as is always the case, lives in an ivory tower.
Greece has always been a special case, and it still is. The bipolarity between West and East, a characteristic of the modern Greek state since its birth, has not gone away. In fact it has been accentuated by the economic crisis.