A better democracy

“Athens-Piraeus Prefect Fofi Yennimata gave birth to a healthy boy; Costas and Natasa Karamanlis were the first to wish the mother well, sending her pomegranates and a little blue bear as gifts.» What’s so unusual about this news item that was printed in the inside pages of newspapers yesterday? Nothing much, young readers will respond. They would probably also find it hard to understand a statement by the president published in the press yesterday: President Costis Stephanopoulos said he was pleased to see that during his 10 years in office democratic institutions functioned very smoothly and the quality of domestic political life reached an unprecedented level. Stephanopoulos stressed that it is the Greek people who should be thanked for this. In fact, it was the people who «imposed» the mild political climate. It was thanks to them that artificial polarization became a thing of the past. The big change occurred after 1993. After the death of Andreas Papandreou (in 1996) and his succession by Costas Simitis, the Greek electorate realized that the Socialists were gradually adopting a conservative platform in foreign and economy policy. PASOK’s leader broke with the rhetoric about «historical divides» and «unbridgeable chasms» and instead accentuated the need for moderation and conciliation. Simitis’s deeper motives are still debatable. Most crucially, however, voters rewarded his public demeanor, giving him two electoral victories. Accordingly, Simitis’s political downfall was largely a result of his bid to drag partisan fanaticism out of the dustbin of history. Simitis paved the way for Karamanlis’s overture toward the middle ground. His pledges of humility, moderation and equality before the law are part of a campaign to improve the quality of political life – an objective Stephanopoulos has also pursued as head of state.