The biggest challenge facing Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is neither SYRIZA nor the smaller opposition parties nor popular protests. It is the migration crisis, because the issue tends to alienate the New Democracy leadership from the party’s traditional base of supporters, local administration officials and deputies.
The estrangement of center-right supporters from the party leadership, a trend that is now emerging in Greece, has been evident for years in the countries of “Old Europe,” which have developed well-established parliamentary democracies since as late as the end of the Second World War, such as Italy and Germany, but also France, a country with a long-standing bourgeois tradition.
That said, it would be misguided to blame Mitsotakis, who is a centrist, liberal politician. Any politician at the helm of New Democracy would face the same problem and with the same intensity. However, Mitsotakis’ decision to staff his administration with officials and politicians from the one-time reformist PASOK as well as moderate leftists has made him the subject of such criticism, while also prompting reactions such as the recent grilled-pork-and-beer protest event outside the Diavata camp, which holds Muslim asylum seekers.
However, the reason behind the growing chasm between the top echelons of the party and the grassroots should be traced to the fact that party leaders mostly also belong to the European Union political elite and meet regularly in the context of their European political groupings. Thus, regardless of their rhetoric at home, these politicians know what issues are considered key on the path to European integration.
In contrast, the party base, local administration officials and local deputies who are in constant contact with citizens and not stuck inside some ivory tower feel the pressure from their voters and, for better or worse, have to adapt to local dictates.
Theoretically, it’s the parties that ought to inform and guide their supporters through the necessary adaptations, as nothing in life is forever. However, party apparatuses resemble closed circuits that promote all sorts of personal interests. As a result, citizens’ behavior is dictated by their fears and habits and the weight of their – often tragic – family experience.
In Greece, the Right has always been deeply nationalist due to recurring civil conflict. At the same time, the country has constantly been under foreign threat. The Left, on the other hand, remains more or less Marxist at its core, always making the necessary parliamentary adaptations.
In short, we tread along the lines of ideological classifications of the 19th and 20th century while virtually all active politicians advertise their faith to united Europe. It sounds absurd, and in fact it is. But it is a Europe-wide phenomenon.