Misreading the situation

The European Parliament elections of June 7 showed in the clearest way that two – maybe three – parties paid the price for misreading the events of last December. You may remember the barrels of ink spilled analyzing the so-called «left turn» taken by society. Some even hastened to predict that SYRIZA would benefit the most. The exact opposite happened, as the student elections had already indicated. SYRIZA lost a great deal of its support and society appeared to take a conservative turn – which may take an equally dangerous turn if its direction is left in the hands of populist extremists. After December, the leadership of the «renewalist» Left became embroiled in an unbelievable display of narcissism over the popular «uprising.» They became overexcited about what happened on the streets of Athens and did not realize that although Greeks may find popular unrest alluring, they also have a remarkable survival instinct. They quickly realized that the cost of the December troubles would be huge for the economy, for tourism, for the country’s image abroad. The average Greek got a fright when he realized how little separates us from chaos, how it really is to slip into an uncontrollable situation in which teenagers get their kicks from throwing stones at police stations. Unfortunately, PASOK too believed the nonsense regarding a Left turn. This was evident several times, such as when there was a heated intra-party debate about whether the party leader should visit a police officer who was seriously injured in a terrorist attack outside the Archaeological Museum, lest this might anger some of the «kids.» PASOK has repeatedly followed in SYRIZA’s footsteps in adopting left-wing positions, without ever realizing that people want it to be a party that can govern, rather than a party that indulges in merely protesting and expressing its sensitivity. The government, too, was very mistaken in its reading of December’s events. It froze in fear in the face of the crisis and the tsunami of populism that overwhelmed us for some days, and it made one mistake after the other. First, for the first time, we saw a government relinquishing the fundamental role played by any state: that of enforcing law and order. Second, it continued to act guilty, as if it were a government that had inherited the sins of other eras. The seriousness of the situation became apparent when control was lost, when the police disappeared for many days and weeks and when Athens and other cities appeared to have surrendered to chaos. This image caused great pain to a segment of the middle class that belongs to the hard core, the backbone of the center right. And when, for the first time, on the extreme right there emerged a party for which they were not ashamed to vote – since it had not been tainted by contacts with the military junta, as had been the case with EPEN in the 70s – we found ourselves in a situation that led to last Sunday’s result. When New Democracy acts as though it is ashamed that it is a right-wing party and when it makes a mess of an area of policy in which the right was always more focused, namely law and order, it is only natural that voters should look elsewhere. With the rise of LAOS, the government finally realized the problem. The question is whether decisions that had been made a long time ago will start to be enforced – from building a mosque to stricter action against illegal immigration. The desire is there, but in this government the mighty forces of inertia have an astonishing ability to play for time in the days following a great crisis and then blocking every bold proposal that may be made.