The image of Greek government officials standing in a freshly delivered yet motionless metro car during yet another “unveiling” of the still under-construction subway system in the northern port city of Thessaloniki is rich in political context.
The smiling officials, some of them in construction site jackets, are anything but careless and unsuspecting. The image comes straight from Greece’s political past. But it probably presages that political future which is to come. A government minister is seen flanked by several officials, all posing for the cameras of the media (and the Greek voters) and wearing a confident smirk, because, if everything goes smoothly, the metro will start working in late 2020. For the time being, the static car at the Pylaia depot worked as the perfect backdrop for a vacuous announcement.
Sure, publicity stunts are not exclusive to SYRIZA. The incumbent leftists are drawing material from a bottomless well. However, this time the SYRIZA folk were unintentionally exposed. A single picture was enough to sum up the trajectory of a country which, after a 10-year bankruptcy, is once again wasting its energy on perpetuating inertia. The attitude is driven by a destructive complacency that so long as things stay the same, there is no risk of an accident.
Risk means difficult decisions, radical change and breaking with the past. There is no risk in the handout pledges, the ephemeral comfort that can sabotage an otherwise uncertain future. The caption of the photograph might as well have been: “It’s still a long time before the metro will start running, but this is not really our business.”
Despite the smiling faces, the image captures the fatigue of endless repetition. It smacks of outdatedness: Our most tangible exhibit is fake. As the Greek prime minister would put it, “we were hit by the crisis, we suffered, but we are back on our feet.” Sure, but we are standing in the exact same spot we were when we were knocked down. It’s as if the metro train never moved.
Amid the mess of publicity stunts in the runup to the elections, and as SYRIZA makes overtures in every possible direction (from religious voters to fans of Greece’s 1946-49 civil war and prominent resistance leader Aris Velouchiotis) in its anxious effort to galvanize its supporters, the Thessaloniki photograph served as an unintentional confession: This train, cut off from reality, is heading nowhere.