A rare taste of serious debate

It would be unfair to under-rate the three-day parliamentary debate that followed the censure motion submitted by opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou last Friday. Irrespective of the motives behind this challenge – about which there has been much speculation in the print and broadcast media – the weekend debate, which was broadcast live by state television channel NET, showed that Greek MPs (and not only the famous ones) have some connection with reality (even though this reality may be interpreted by some of them on the basis of their personal or party interest). In any case, it is far preferable to watch MPs delivering speeches in their natural environment – in Parliament – than see them ranting on television debates at all hours of the day and night. Although most of us had neither the time nor endurance to follow all the speeches, it was clear that there are many MPs, from all parties, who have well-formed political outlooks and are able to develop convincing arguments. Parliament is home to many phenomena: (metaphorical) cockfights, mudslinging, self-congratulations and cliches. But often one also hears some MPs echoing certain public concerns. In short, the debate in Parliament last weekend was informative and rather interesting, and it would be anti-democratic snobbery to say we were bored. Several deputies who spoke during the debate made it clear that there are two ways to express criticism: One is to analyze the achievements of one’s rival and the other is to demonize their intentions and capabilities (and imply that their own are irreproachable). It is silly to believe that one party can be characterized as responsible while the other can always be blamed for inactivity. Even though many of the speeches over the weekend contained some moralizing, and even though many MPs spoke as if they were the sole representatives of the popular will, the patient viewer was able to distinguish pomposity and theatrics from genuine attempts to fuel a political and ideological (not personal or party-political) exchange of views. Now opinion polls and TV talk shows are debating who made the best impression over the weekend, who won and who lost. But by doing this they are transforming politics into a reality TV show. The real question is whether televising this parliamentary debate contributed, even a little, to making politics more accessible. Usually TV channels only cover developments in Parliament when there has been a major dispute. But for three days, they showed that sometimes serious things can be said politely and gently, without jabs, verbal assaults and irony.