Now for the substance

An atypical discretion characterizes the Greek government of today. The presence of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and ministers of his conservative administration at events such as the launch of a new book are not inflated into some public relations hoopla but instead evoke a sense of modest intimacy. The above thoughts were prompted by an event at the Stoa tou Vivliou book arcade last week, where the prime minister and four of his ministers – Education and Religion Minister Marietta Giannakou, Alternate Culture Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia, National Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and Merchant Marine Minister Manolis Kefaloyiannis – presented a book by Christos Zachopoulos, general secretary of the Culture Ministry, on soccer and culture. Neither a sports fan, nor in any way involved in sports, I am not in a position to have a personal opinion on the book. But the recent presentation brought to mind similar events attended by the late Socialist Prime Minister and PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou or his successor Costas Simitis, which attracted large audiences, including Athenian high society. Nothing similar happened in this case, which alone reflects a change in political demeanor. Critics claim that the conservative administration lacks communication skills and is incapable of putting on a show. However, in European history only one family – the Hapsburgs – existed in order to personify grandeur. None of PASOK’s leaders or cadres belong to this family and as a result the social events, funded with state money, were a miserable spectacle that degraded public behavior. However, social and political discretion must translate into a solid, comprehensive system that will forge solidarity in Greek society, a society that has come unglued under the influences of the ideas of the reformist Left. In the final stages of the PASOK governments, an attempt was made to enforce a technocratic world view which sidelines education in the name of skills development, despite the fact that these two activities need to be kept separate. The development of skills is connected to production. A fluctuating, ephemeral process, the supply of knowledge of this sort depends on the needs of the market. The aim of education, on the other hand, is to cultivate morality, which is the vehicle through which a conception of culture, not bound by time, is transferred from one generation to the next. The fundamental challenge to Karamanlis’s administration is to transcend its executive role and give content to education and culture. So far, Greeks have witnessed a – very welcome – discretion. But the government must move on to the substance. Without a firm, recognizable ideological system, the government will have trouble executing its managerial tasks. At crucial times, public solidarity can only be accomplished on the grounds of immaterial, firmly entrenched values. Former Socialist Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his reformist aides tended to snub these factors and instead cherished the guidelines of European Council meetings, believing that compromise at the level of the lowest common denominator was enough – if not the ultimate objective. Karamanlis did not stop at making promises about management – though he pays a great deal of attention to this aspect of administration. This fed expectations that he would seek to promote a coherent conservative value system, grounded in content and not in some mechanical drive forward.