The desirable vs the possible

The ongoing debate over Greece’s education reform (which has currently shifted to Lagonissi, where a two-day session of OECD education ministers is being hosted) is not just about higher and university education. A lot more is at stake as well, including the quality and effectiveness of our democracy. It’s often said that politics is the art of the possible, meaning that a government’s deeds cannot be expected to match its initial promises. It is accepted, a priori, that a ruling party’s pre-election pledges, despite majority approval, will inevitably meet with reactions; these will lead to compromise solutions or else prove to be ineffective, thus forcing corrective steps. That distinguishes the desirable from the possible in politics. But anti-reform university protests are a different story. The conservative government has already backed down on many issues that are considered self-evident to the rest of the world while some here insist on treating them as Greek particularities. Knowing that they cannot defend their notorious entitlements – such as the lack of teachers’ evaluations, professors’ monopoly on textbooks, and the right of students to take as much time as they like to complete their degree – they have opted for blanket rejectionism in turning against all change whatsoever. And all that at a time when everyone trumpets the need for drastic measures to streamline higher education. In this case, the government does not have the luxury to steer a path between the desirable and the possible. Repeating the dialogue would be hypocritical and opportunistic on both sides. The government can either (figuratively) launch an all-out assault against protesters or abandon its entire reform package. This is a test for our democratic system – not just the ruling party but all the parties that aspire to govern this country.