The end of political totems


Like it or not, we are firmly at a point when the all-powerful political leaders and parties of the type that emerged in the wake of World War II and up to 2010-11 are a thing of the past.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, for example, may prove to be a long-distance runner but he will never be an “Andreas” – as the late leader of the PASOK socialists, Andreas Papandreou, a highly influential figure after the end of the 1967-1974 dictatorship, is popularly referred to.

The absence of such figures is not just a matter of personality or qualifications. These are simply different times. Our society would never accept such political totems. No political party would tolerate the management model Papandreou imposed in PASOK. The cartel of big-time publishers and entrepreneurs who could cultivate or protect such legends is in decline and made irrelevant by the relentless spread of social media.

This is obviously not an exclusively Greek phenomenon. All western societies have become incredibly fragmented. The vast majority questions everything, fosters no illusions regarding politicians and public figures, and tends not to follow party or other traditional choices. US President Donald Trump, for example, has demonstrated that political parties as we knew them are a thing of the past. The same – albeit in a different way – applies to French President Emmanuel Macron. Social media, meanwhile, is radicalizing voters and pushing them to the extremes.

Greece is a country with serious institutional problems that every so often grow to existential proportions. It also faces serious threats – from Turkey to Greek demographics and migratory pressures. Our political system is outrageously immature and can never understand the need for consensus on the country’s fundamental problems. Politicians believed that if their opponent won an election that would signal a loss for the country, even though they themselves would eventually rise to power. Our institutions, moreover, are weak and have been abused for decades, even more so in recent years. We are not a country like Italy, which could function on autopilot because it has strong institutions and a state that can continue to operate as normal without a government.

In a few words, we are a deeply divided and fragmented society, facing serious threats and challenges that we will have to manage in an unstable environment, without any all-powerful leaders. We may decide to attach more importance to common sense and avoid hyperbole. We will need to show a lot of maturity in our next steps. At the end of the day, we can always draw confidence from the fact that we survived, endured and matured after every major crisis.