Yiannos Papantoniou, symbol and excuse

Yiannos Papantoniou, symbol and excuse

The Papantoniou affair is becoming a matter of deep disappointment over what happened in the country in the era when many of us believed that Greece was finding its footing in the modern world.

It is also a danger to the present and the future: It will be used by the opponents of the country’s “modernizing” wing to blacken this side’s successes and to provide an excuse for their own failures and divisive behavior.

Without having been judged yet, Yiannos Papantoniou is presented as a symbol of arrogance and corruption – at a personal but also collective level. This is unavoidable; there is a great popular need to see punishment meted out to those who abused the trust of voters and of their colleagues, and who helped bring the country to an impasse.

With emotions running high in recent years, the divisive lines in society have become more pronounced and each side is even more adamant about blaming the country’s ills on the other. The fact that very often the public convicts people who have still not been tried is a national custom and anyone who plays a public role – at any level – knows the rules of this game.

Despite the fact that Papantoniou has been out of politics (and PASOK) for more than a decade, the leading role that he played in Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s governments is enough to convict him in the court of public opinion and to taint other members of those governments.

There was already a conscious and persistent attempt by the government to “neutralize” those who could play a future political role, through accusations of their involvement in scandals.

Papantoniou’s pretrial detention is the blood in the arena which will give life to every shadow of suspicion cast upon anyone else and will be seen as “justifying” not only the excesses of pro-government propagandists but also those whose crimes, failures and mismanagement from their time in power have not yet seen the light of day.

There are serious responsibilities stemming from the investigation into the past. And it is positive that the judicial investigations are continuing. In our political culture, however, punishment of one person or one side is seen mainly as justification of their rivals, not as a warning to all.

From the start, the government’s strategy has focused on showing up corruption (real or imagined) in past administrations, on cultivating an “us and them” mentality.

This has helped keep the daily political temperature at the level where the government believes it is playing on its home ground. This does not solve problems, nor does it, of its own, imply good governance.

The crimes (proven or alleged) of some cannot be taken as the crimes of all. And neither should they serve as an excuse for those committed by others – not in the past, not today.

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