Out of touch

The initial applause at the prime minister’s press conference on Sunday came after he said he will not step down. And it came from government cadres, perhaps some journalists also. All that is understandable. A large segment of the party-state elite were relieved to hear Costas Karamanlis’s reply. It was a question that none of the cheerleaders at the event would dare put to him. This and other answers at the briefing dismissed worries haunting political bureaus in Athens. Karamanlis responded to questions raised at the posh Kolonaki cafes. Politicians, however, are not the only ones with problems. People, too, have problems and these never reached the premier’s ears. No one, for example, asked Karamanlis what measures he took in the wake of the 2007 inferno to avoid a similar disaster this summer. No one asked him why the quality of medical treatment is deteriorating, while hospitals’ debts are soaring. No one asked him if he has a plan to stop a repeat of the December riots. Or how he intends to keep the lid on social tension while keeping incomes and wages down. And yet, some of the talking heads were enthusiastic about his appearance. «His performance was that of a true leader,» said one. «He gave all the right answers,» said another. «He was good on the ball,» said a third, using a soccer expression. Karamanlis, of course, has always been good on the ball. The problem is that Greece’s politicians are playing at the wrong ground. The conversation between the premier and journalists was useful to those who attended the press briefing – and that may also explain why they clapped so many times. But it said nothing to those who were outside. Once again, politics failed to drill to the bone of the real problems, focusing instead on matters of procedure, such as Karamanlis’s day after or the fight over New Democracy’s party tickets. We often hear that politicians are out of touch. But then again, how would journalists ever find out if politicians are aware of people’s problems? After all, they never asked them.