OPINION

The center and the void

PASOK is wandering in the desert of its defeat, in search of a leader, a policy, an identity. This is both expected and necessary after an electoral defeat that highlighted all the open wounds of a party that had dominated the country’s political life over the past few decades but was not expected to outlive its founder, Andreas Papandreou, when he died in 1996. PASOK ran out of steam over the last few years and did not manage (or did not try hard enough) to regain its vitality. But the country has a bigger problem than whether the official opposition party is in danger of breaking apart, or whether the government will act in a slack and haughty way in the belief that it has no opposition threatening its dominant position. The problem is that while everyone is watching the drama unfolding in PASOK, we are in danger of missing the very important fact that the elections of September 16 have left us with a political scene that demands a strong center in order for the country to function smoothly. Standing on the right of the center right New Democracy government is the LAOS party run by Giorgos Karadzaferis. This may be the smallest party in Parliament today, but it now has a national pulpit from which to preach its eclectic, populist message and will continue to go from strength to strength as it finds fertile ground among bigots of all stripes. This will force the government, with a majority of only two seats in Parliament, to think very carefully before making any decisions that will not be received enthusiastically by the extreme right. On the other side, the two left-wing parties in Parliament came out of the elections much stronger – at PASOK’s expense. They will continue to draw voters away from the center left party unless the Socialist party manages to recover quickly and convince people that it is capable of becoming a bulwark against a government that may become increasingly right-wing. If this stronger Left does not fall victim to its favorite sport of subdividing itself (trapped as it is between political dogma and personal egotism), it will constitute a pole that will continue to drain energy from the center without itself presenting a proposal by which it will govern. In effect, the Left will leave power to the Right. The extremes are strengthened and the center cannot hold. And this has great significance. Because the center – either as a party or as a mass of individual voters – determines the direction of the political system. It is the center of gravity, it swings to the left or to the right to determine who will govern. But the center is also the space where synthesis is achieved between the practicalities of government and the theories governed by ideology. The center is the gray area of complicated reality that exists between the absolutes of black and white, it is the space where solutions must be found in order to satisfy the largest number of people. Without this center, the extremes fly off in their own directions, the system falls apart. If international conditions were more stable, the Greeks might have the luxury of taking seats and simply watching the post-dated crisis in PASOK. But times are difficult now and the country cannot keep flying on automatic pilot. Greece has to find its way in an international system which is itself shaken, where the advantages of our membership in the European Union and NATO have been devalued greatly by the two organizations’ excessive enlargement. This country has no special significance unless it pursues it itself. To do this, it has to know what it wants, and it has to achieve the necessary national consensus. This will not happen if there is no strong center to take and support the decisions that will demand compromise. PASOK’s struggle to survive, therefore, is of national importance. We should all remember this, including the suitors for the party’s leadership.