The ‘social center’

During New Democracy’s congress Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis showed a strong penchant for distancing the New Democracy party from its traditional pool of support, placing his faction in what he described as the «social center» and the «middle ground.» This transformation, Karamanlis thinks, will give his party enough flexibility to dominate the political scene in years to come. This is a reasonable strategy. Whenever a new leader takes the helm of an established party, he tries to expand its traditional catchment. In fact, parties have often changed their names in the process. Field Marshal Alexandros Papagos renamed the Popular Party – the most typical name of a conservative faction and the one by which it is known in the European Parliament – into the Greek Rally party. Under the late Constantine Karamanlis the party came to be known as the National Radical Union and later as New Democracy, despite the fact that its election base – around 35 percent of the Greek electorate – stayed the same. Unlike the fragmented, self-styled «democratic» faction, which under PASOK’s hegemony claimed to encompass figures as diverse as Eleftherios Venizelos and Markos Vafiades, the conservative party never tried to establish a continuity and historical depth for its existence largely because it accepted the accusations of its political enemies. The folly of the Asia Minor expedition has gone down in history as an intelligent decision by Venizelos but its disastrous aftermath as a result of the failures of Dimitrios Gounaris and his partners. Dictatorships are always identified with the Right, despite the fact that mutineers such as Venizelos or Theodoros Pangalos belonged to the «democratic» camp. The main difference between Greece’s two leading parties is that the so-called «democratic faction» has been able to absolve itself of past errors while the conservatives never stopped doing penance for theirs. No one wants to unearth past divisions, but we can simply turn a blind eye to the fact that societies are permeated by two distinct currents, the «conservative» and the «progressive» or «liberal» one. It is the interaction between these two trends that propels society forward. Karamanlis’s move to the center shows that he sees no serious threat from the right and he may well be right. At the same time, he hopes to establish New Democracy’s ideological hegemony. It has to be said, however, that the party’s convention failed to provide a recognizable ideological mark.