Policy before PR

Though Costas Karamanlis’s party rode to power with a strong majority, and despite the fact that the Socialist opposition is mired in a serious identity crisis (owing much to the radical ideas of its new leader, George Papandreou), government officials have been voicing concerns about an allegedly poor communications strategy since their first weeks in office. No one seems to be bothered much by government inaction per se, for many consider public relations as something that can be made out of nothing. We should call a spade a spade. Communications policy is only another name for propaganda, and it was Nazi propaganda director Joseph Goebbels who elevated the idea to a whole new level. «The task of propaganda is not to discover a theory or to develop a program, but rather to translate that theory and program into the language of the people, to make them comprehensible to the broad masses of the people. The goal of propaganda is to make what the theorists have discovered clear to the broad masses,» he said. To Europeans today, Goebbels may have been reduced to the status of a dreadful memory but the principles of propaganda, as he described them 73 years ago, are the basis of what is now known in politics as a communications strategy. The New Democracy government, which does not have a recognizable ideological platform, has yet to start enacting its pre-election policy declarations, which inevitably prevents it from being effective on a PR level. Those who nourish such hopes are essentially angling for a campaign to deceive the electorate. True, many ND cadres were charmed by the public relations exercises of Socialist officials and would be keen to imitate their tactics. However, it should be understood that PASOK possessed a solid ideological core that for years energized the thousands of Socialist party members and cadres. PASOK’s program proved disastrous for the economy and the social structure but it was forceful enough to become the basis of a pervasive communications policy and propaganda. Furthermore, effective propaganda presupposes control over the media and, most importantly, television. Early PASOK governments used state television but, later, under Simitis’s reformists, they became so closely intertwined with media interests that ND officials – with the exception of Karamanlis – were largely ousted from the screen. Most crucially, from 1974 to 1996, PASOK was chaired by the same leader while many of its cadres had served the party for decades. Over the same period, ND changed leaders five times and each succession meant sweeping changes at the top echelons of the party. The ruling conservatives need to formulate a clear ideological framework, to implement their pre-election policy pledges and to create a strong party that will be present in all manifestations of social life. Achieving these goals will automatically mean the birth of a communications policy. Greece is a country that is hard to govern as any sense of hierarchy has long been abolished, any form of establishment has collapsed and everyone behaves as shamefully as they like as if to confirm the existence of democracy and freedom. Karamanlis promised to reinvent the State. Those who voted for ND expect him to do just that. What they do not want to see is vacuous public relations exercises.

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