Behind the clapping

What a revealing moment: When the prime minister accepted some of the political responsibility for the Vatopedi land-swap scandal, conservative deputies burst into frantic applause that prevented him from speaking. His obvious embarrassment was a sign that he also felt the other side of the applause. The exact same thing happened when Costas Karamanlis mumbled some ambiguous self-critical comments. The spontaneous reaction by New Democracy’s parliamentary group was the harshest criticism that the premier could have expected. It was passionate applause that signified relief, not sarcasm. The conservative deputies were relieved because they felt that by admitting his mistakes Karamanlis had bridged the chasm between the government, which until then had denied any wrongdoing, and the average voter, who thinks the exact opposite. ND officials saw in it a first step toward reversing that climate. Karamanlis’s speech was, no doubt, a boost for his troubled party. He convinced any conservatives who were looking for something to hold on to. However, it is questionable whether he actually managed to persuade voters. For how can a premier sound credible when he claims that the scandal occurred because two monks «took advantage of the weaknesses of the state, implicating officials and services»? Even those who believe in miracles find it hard to believe that the Holy Spirit blinded ministers, deputy ministers and other officials into allowing the squandering of state money. By saying that ND officials were misled, Karamanlis effectively spares them any blame. Worse, Karamanlis is like a bad actor who performs the same way in every role. He responds to every situation in the same one-dimensional fashion. He calls himself a responsible leader; he uses straight talk and slams his fist on the podium. It is the posturing that used to be interpreted as a sign of strong leadership and determination but has begun to come across as uncomfortably arrogant.

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