OPINION

Riding the wave of public sentiment

Comparing the world of politics to the sea and our politicians to captains gives rise to some interesting metaphors. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis sensed a wave of conservatism in society, mounted it and is now progressing, slowly but surely. He may not have a good crew or a very broad horizon ahead of him but he does not founder in passing storms. As for opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, he is more like an inexperienced captain with a problematic ship. His compass does not work, one of his engines is out of order and it is unclear where he is trying to go. He has a good crew but he does not know how to control it. He tries to give the first mate advice on navigation and, at critical moments, seeks the advice of his least experienced associates. Karamanlis realized that, after 33 years, the pendulum has started swinging more decisively toward the right. Self-styled anarchist youths, Molotov cocktail bombs and the hassle suffered by Athenians virtually every day now as demonstrations turn their city into a war zone – all these things are merely wind in the premier’s sails. I can imagine him watching news reports on private channels with satisfaction as he hears presenters systematically break the taboos of yore. Who would have dared to criticize the institution of university asylum – banning police from entering university grounds – just a few years ago? And yet now it is a cliche to insist on this right, bestowed upon students and academics following the military junta’s bloody suppression of a student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic in 1973. Karamanlis has realized that, without trying to push for any particular outcome himself, society is maturing and accepting that laws and regulations which are self-evident in every European urban community cannot be absent from Greek society. Papandreou also had the opportunity to ride this wave. But he should have grabbed this chance to move forward, to utter a resounding «yes» to the creation of non-state universities, to put himself on the line and insist that something needs to be done about public demonstrations in Greece. All those who believed that the center-left was always the bearer of reforms in Greece had been counting on him to do this. But the PASOK chief disowned his true nature and fearfully anchored himself in the harbor (to extend the metaphor) along with a horde of trade unionists and partisan-minded politicians with no common outlook. And here Papandreou remains, awaiting all those who are fearful of their futures. But this is no way of convincing the public that you can govern. The critical center ground of society – which swings one way and then the other – will not trust as their leader someone who keeps running rings around himself; they will most likely opt for the devil they know. He might not take them very far but at least he will not get lost at sea.