The past few days saw three distinct interventions that sent out a political signal, raised a barrier against arbitrary behavior and indicated a desire for normality.
The first intervention came from New Democracy MP Dora Bakoyannis over the controversy sparked by plans by a nationalist group to protest immigration by grilling pork and drinking beer outside a camp holding Muslim asylum seekers in northern Greece.
“Humanity, dignity, solidarity and respect for the weak cannot be legislated,” she said. “There’s no law that can make you human. I was disturbed by this issue, not because someone might say that we must not eat pork or drink alcohol, but because [such actions] provoke the destitute and prey upon their religious sensibilities. There are no words to describe this.”
The second intervention came from Education Minister Niki Kerameus, who ordered the immediate suspension of plans to open 38 new university and technical college departments that had been announced – without proper consideration or evaluation – by the SYRIZA government in order to serve clientelist interests and drum up votes ahead of the last elections.
The third intervention concerns the state’s institutional operation: Competition Commission inspectors stormed the headquarters of the four systemic banks as well as the Hellenic Bank Association and DIAS Interbank Systems to probe possible cartel practices regarding customer charges.
Regardless of their potential impact, these interventions represented action on three levels: personal, ideological and institutional. They are necessary on a collective as well as individual level. And despite the fact they concerned unrelated matters, they have an accumulative, soothing effect. With Greece in the grip of left-wing and right-wing populism, expressing oneself and acting out in an arbitrary fashion became second nature, while an aggressive and dangerous cynicism, also with no particular ideological identification, spread across the country. Intentions became entangled with convictions and the different camps leveled unprocessed accusations against each other on issues from immigration to education and the banking system.
Arbitrariness and cynicism coexist, feeding each other in a dual hegemony. Uprooting them requires courage. Should the political class find the necessary courage, they will leave their mark on both the private and public spheres.
A country’s institutions are the only safeguard when common sense is tested by political opportunism and respect for the other is mistaken for weakness.