Greece finally questioning itself

Amid the ashes of the burnt trees of Mount Parnitha and the initiatives being announced to reforest the capital’s only nature reserve, the cliche known as «civil society» appears to have become something very real and essential. The rally in Syntagma Square on Sunday may have attracted 5,000 people, rather than 150,000, but it is a good start because of the manifest qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, difference. And this is because the people who went to Syntagma did not go as supporters of a particular political party, perhaps the only organizations still able to attract a mass audience. Meanwhile political parties continue to mobilize thousands of people for their own objectives. The recent party conference by ruling New Democracy is an example. There we saw a huge crowd, and a passionate one, but what was the central issue, the party’s agenda? The conference was broadcast on television, the party cadres got the coverage they wanted. But what has all this to do with Greek society and its needs? What did the average citizen gain from this conference which lasted so many days, cost so much and dominated airtime and newspaper columns for so long? Of course, one should ask exactly the same questions about the other parties’ conferences. In the meantime, Greek citizens appear to have gained something tangible and highly promising from the spontaneous gathering of 5,000 people in Syntagma to protest the damage wreaked on Parnitha by the recent five-day fire. The good thing is that those eyeing Parnitha as a site for potential construction know that they will find themselves faced with an angry segment of society. Also, in view of the fact that party conferences cannot (and perhaps do not want to) remedy the major problems of society, the answers to these problems may come from elsewhere. Or at least some real pressure for solutions may be forthcoming from «elsewhere.» After the destruction of Parnitha, President Karolos Papoulias remarked that «these are days of national mourning.» Evidently a large segment of the Greek public felt the same way. It is doubtful, however, that this sentiment was shared by representatives of political parties. After all, during these days of national mourning, none of the parties postponed or even deviated from their schedules. It would have been extremely thought-provoking and promising if this had occurred. For instance, it would have been better for us all if Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had taken his thousands of supporters from the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Neo Faliron to the foot of Mount Parnitha. This would have given credence to his party’s claims that the regeneration of the burnt nature reserve is a priority. Not only did ND not do this, it didn’t even think about it. At least there has been one positive development. Greece is finally at war with itself.

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