Remember to take the people with you

Now that the municipal and prefectural elections have passed and teachers are returning to school following a long strike that ended after a meeting with the prime minister and in view of the looming challenges in relations between the European Union and Ankara, it would be useful to try to clear up the political confusion. Younger politicians tend to base their opinions on the output of television panels or on their contacts with Greece’s new bourgeois class. Greece, however, is more than the microcosm of the average government minister or senior party cadre. Greece is also the voters of Panayiotis Psomiadis, a politician who shunned the attacks of the media establishment and renewed his prefectural mandate in the first round of voting. The majority of the Greek media attributed Psomiadis’s comfortable re-election to the particulars of the city’s electorate. However, such superficial interpretations only confirm the view that the country’s social elite is ignorant and out of touch. A second matter that needs thorough examination is the crisis in the education sector. What is really at issue here is not the need for reforms, which would anyway have very little to offer, but the cost of shunning the empirical political approach in favor of head-on confrontation. Greece has in the past suffered a heavy toll from communists who wanted to undo the established social and economic structure for the sake of a revolutionary program that was said to be to the benefit of all the people. Now a faction of reform-minded liberals claims to have come to Greece’s rescue, urging the political leadership to attack any social group that expresses skepticism over the proposed changes. Greek society, the theory goes, is split between an enlightened elite and the conservative masses who must be awakened to their true interests. In meeting with the striking teachers, conservative leader Costas Karamanlis demonstrated that old-school politics can still be very effective. What the people think is important, and that should be taken into account when the European Council meets to assess Turkey’s progress in its EU negotiations. Foreign policy cannot be exercised in a vacuum. It must respect public opinion, whether genuine or constructed.