One-dimensional politics

The political system of the post-dictatorship period has evidently come full circle, while the government’s fumbling attempts to implement its policies, together with the unpredictable behavior of the opposition, are evidence of a broader malady. The seven-hour detention of former PASOK ministers in the Athens Polytechnic building last week by self-styled anarchists would have been a major crisis under normal circumstances. However, the incident was handled as a minor upset that provoked more amusement than concern. A decision by Parliament to offer grants to MPs who had lost their posts, ostensibly to help them re-enter their professional lives, was a blatant example of protecting the interests of a select group. Furthermore, the decision, which was revoked after a public outcry, came at the very time the political leadership was busy emphasizing how citizens should adapt to a «flexible labor market.» Many similar examples could be cited, but the real problem lies not just in these daily displays of political folly. It actually goes far deeper. The main goal of the post-dictatorship period was the restoration of democracy, but there was no disciplined approach to achieving this in practice. As a result, the country’s political system found itself taken hostage – not by small left-wing groups, but by its own self-censorship. The ideological supremacy of the Left was undisputed after the collapse of the junta, which was only to be expected. The paradox is that the conservative party toppled by the military junta did not manage to recover during the ensuing 30 years, because it regarded any ideological struggle as pointless. The reason was not that the leftist parties, especially the Communist Party (KKE), had no identity problems of their own, but rather that there was a spillover of ideas from the Left to the main political factions. No doubt the most significant innovator in all this was PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou, who adapted ideas from various sides of the political spectrum, ranging from those of statesman Eleftherios Venizelos to those of Communist resistance leaders Aris Velouchiotis and Markos Vafeiadis. But the Left, during Costas Simitis’s eight-year reign, became an economic establishment due to corruption and exploitation of European Union benefits. Those years essentially demythologized the Left, while Costas Karamanlis arrived in government with high expectations that his era would mark the beginning of a new political cycle. Instead of ideological renewal, however, Karamanlis turned away from the traditional conservative establishment to what he vaguely described as the «middle ground.» In so doing, the New Democracy leader ensured that the post-dictatorship period is well and truly over. Even so, there is nothing more destructive than a political system that cannot evolve. Without genuine dialogue and an attempt to unite conflicting approaches, society becomes one-dimensional and undemocratic. Of course, the Left is not the only guilty side in this.