It became apparent in February, when specific political rivals of the government were proscribed as part of the investigation into the alleged Novartis bribery scandal, that the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks government would try to emulate a tactic of totalitarian governments – eliminating anyone whom it feared could be part of a credible and effective counterweight to itself. Taking aim at Costas Simitis was just a matter of time – or “timing,” as the government’s strategic heavyweights would say. The attempt to sully the former prime minister’s name appears to be part of the government’s pre-election strategy and also part of the effort to cultivate a post-election climate in which political personalities and institutions will be seriously undermined.
SYRIZA’s cadres may feel secure in power, but they must be considering the possibility of losing the next elections, whenever these are held. They have to do all that they can to limit the damage and keep the party a strong player the day after elections. The way that they have handled power makes it very difficult for them to influence supporters of other parties, so the best way for them to keep their voters is to stoke further polarization. It is also possible that SYRIZA and Independent Greeks government members may fear having to answer for their time in power. This encourages no-holds barred attacks on rivals, and possible rivals, by the government, its propagandists and its collaborators in key positions in the state institutions. The result is that the leaders and other officials of the opposition, former prime ministers, the governor of the central bank and some judicial officials are constantly targeted by whatever means possible. Employing “establishment” methods, SYRIZA is investing in the narrative that it is fighting the “establishment”: It wants to show, before the elections, that in addition to making promises of handouts, it is also trying to clean up corruption; in this way, it is cultivating a climate that “everyone is on the take,” so that after the elections, if its own members are accused of anything, they can claim that the “system” is taking revenge on them to cover its sins. A win-win situation, as strategic brains would claim.
The notorious declaration by Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis that SYRIZA will win elections “if we lock up some people” is the extension of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s slogan “We finish them off or they finish us off.” Accusing the judiciary of allegedly delaying such cases, Polakis elaborated: “If this does not end, we will not hold real power in this country. And you know what I mean.” Our democracy ought to thank him for this clarity. No one has the right to ignore the threat.