Public dialogue in Greece often looks like some kind of theater of the absurd. On the one hand we complain about the vulgar political squabbling that is so prevalent – especially on television – and, on the other, we applaud conflict for conflict’s sake, political bias, absolutism and aggressive rhetoric. The result is a shortage of serious debate and an almost unbridgeable gap between the different sides on a slew of issues that require cross-party consensus to be effectively addressed.
Instead of applauding those politicians who have the guts to make the notion of consensus real with their actions and statements, even to a small degree, we openly doubt them, criticize them and even ridicule them. Possibly as a result of a certain tendency to look for the positive, the effect of having spent many years abroad, I believe that capable and moral officials are found in most political parties. I also believe that in a country as small as Greece we don’t have the luxury to tolerate constant bickering and division and conflict over every matter, big or small.
Back when he was in the opposition, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lambasted his predecessor, the conservative Antonis Samaras, and his ministers as being Germany’s puppets. Then, when Samaras lost the elections, he did not hand over the Maximos Mansion to the new prime minister, as is customary. There are so many examples of poor political etiquette, large and small, that ultimately serve to divide society, to disparage the political system and to harm the country.
That is why we should recognize those few cases when a politician does show in words and – more so – deeds a desire for consensus. One such case was the stance of New Democracy’s president Vangelis Meimarakis during the dramatic discussion in Parliament in August 2015. Stepping off the podium, he shook hands with Alexis Tsipras – the man who just a few months earlier had accused him and ND of working for Berlin – reminding the prime minister that he was about to head off to Brussels where he would be negotiating with the creditors on behalf of all Greeks. He made clear that the PM would have the support of the full House.
Was he being naive, crafty or just patriotic? Interpretations will vary, but for this writer it was one of the finest moments in Parliament’s recent history. It was one of those rare occasions when we see a politician and a party rising to the occasion.
Inspired by my many years abroad, which gave rise to a thirst for a new, modern, innovative Greece, I was not a Meimarakis fan in the elections for ND’s leadership that followed. But on that day, a day that was one of the hardest the country has ever experienced, he was a patriot. Maybe, as a country, we need to take a leaf out of that book. Maybe it will prove a more useful attitude compared with the deep and dangerous divisions wrought in Greek society by base political tactics and accusations about thieves and liars.