SYRIZA is right to adhere to the humanistic stipulations of the penal code in the case of a paranoid and unrepentant killer. Showing such meticulous concern for one individual might inspire those in power to try to achieve a modicum of legality in other areas where their policies are seriously deficient. More importantly, however, the symbolism of this noteworthy interest in the comfort of an emblematic figure of leftist terrorism in Greece is understandable: In difficult times, people tend to return to their founding myths to draw comfort and renew their sense of purpose. And the myth of self-proclaimed revolutionaries who believe they are in conversation with the past and the future always holds a strong attraction for people who, like many in this government, have not had to work hard in the real world or take real risks to achieve their aims.
If SYRIZA’s communications experts had reckoned that providing comfort to this particular convict would have worked in the government’s favor, drawing attention away from the shock of the deadly fire in eastern Attica, they were right – up to a point. But they also made a great mistake. The government’s bold move did not ease the pressure on it; instead, people got angrier. At a loss as to what to do in the face of crisis, the government wanted to go back to what would comfort SYRIZA’s hard core, to show that no matter how many compromises it has made, no matter how many defeats it has suffered, this remains a radical left-wing group. In politics, the government has employed divisive tactics (“Either we finish them or they finish us,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said of the government’s opponents); in the economy, it has deliberately targeted those whom it does not consider its voters (as one of its cadres made clear in an editorial); now, by being protective of antisocial groups, such as Athens’s anarchists, it is trying to encourage its supporters while showing “the rest” that it does not care.
The government may just find that the number of “the rest” is growing. It appears not to have anticipated the anger that its favors to a mass murderer would provoke even among people who might still not have written off SYRIZA. The economic cost of the government’s mistakes, its incompetent management of crises, the sharing out of jobs and perks to friends and relatives, the continuous search for culprits (outside of the government) for whatever happens in Greece, have all undermined the “narrative” of government by faultless young idealists. When we add to this the image of the self-satisfied terrorist enjoying special treatment, the weight of responsibility on the government grows heavier. Its obsession with this specific convict points out a bitter truth: In our country, it is the innocent who must be afraid; the guilty can hope for political protection.
SYRIZA’s selective, cynical magnanimity has managed to strengthen the chronic sense of injustice that plagues society.