OPINION

Commentary

The triumphalism of Greece’s Left on the Church controversy, in dismissing the political significance of the three million signatures of Greek citizens who had asked the government to hold a referendum on the identity card issue, clearly overstepped acceptable limits. Yet never before have so many Greeks reacted to a government decision by writing down their names, identity numbers and addresses, disregarding the consequences of their decision in a country where dealing with the government is often a basic determinant of one’s social and economic well being. But their triumph will be short-lived, not only because no such issue can be so easily closed but mainly because confrontation will give the Church of Greece greater autonomy and a more active role in society and education – a prospect which is detested by the modern-minded political elite. Every society occasionally faces a dilemma concerning which of its constitutive characteristics to do away with. Simitis and his aides have decided that Orthodoxy is not sufficiently crucial to Greek identity to include it in the new state identity cards. And they may still have succeeded had they proceeded with greater caution, had not avoided dialogue with the Church and, above all, had not turned the issue into a fiercely ideological one. But in reality they comprise a defeated Left which has succumbed to the logic of the market economy in order to serve their own purposes. The elite failed to see that the Church could constitute a precious ally rather than an enemy at a crucial turning point of Greek history. But their actions were reminiscent of self-styled past modernizers who tried in vain to rid their countries of the Church’s reactionary influence and shape a new model for the individual. Simitis is, of course, a parliamentary politician and the country’s elected prime minister. However, he is often marked by an ideological inflexibility which often leads him to commit grave political mistakes, forgetting that no one ever emerged victorious from a clash with the Church. But there is another substantial question. How do Simitis’s supporters expect to replace the spiritual dimension provided by the Orthodox faith? The EU could never comprise a metaphysical substitute because it is a mere managerial operator in the economic domain, lacking a unified political expression and a philosophy of life. What is most interesting is that Simitis is promoting the Church as a preserve for the victims of globalization, the insecure, the jobless, and all those who refuse to see the economic element as the fundamental parameter of human life. This is a grave error, as political figures before him have given the Church a broader and more decisive role than the one it fought for in a country founded as a representative democracy.