Populism rearing its head

Greece is gradually drifting into the zone of populism – and not only in the sense that political leaders feel an urge to charm the greatest possible number of voters, which is, after all, standard political practice across the globe. Politicians always find a way to contradict even the fundamental principles of the parties they lead. Andreas Papandreou, the late Socialist leader, climbed to power while bashing the European Economic Community and NATO. Greece, of course, eventually remained anchored to the West. The handling by PASOK’s founder was so deft that his supporters went on to cheer as Papandreou put his signature to a deal that would allow the United States to keep their bases in Greece. But this is not the type of populism described here. Rather, this is about a movement of anonymous citizens who are questioning the credibility of the elite and its ability to manage the crisis that it has created as a result of poor judgement, self interest or pure incompetence. This movement, still in the offing here, is turning against the political, business and academic elites. It has not yet taken full shape but if there is one word that can best describe it, that would be the word «anger.» In the US, the movement is defined as populism and it has been channeled via the Tea Party movement. It is not a Republican movement but has rather infiltrated the ranks of Democrats, liberals and independents. Its growing power was made evident as it helped elect Scott Brown as US Senator from Massachusetts, once a democratic stronghold. In Greece, populism is starting to take the form of political disobedience – a movement that also has its roots in the US. It was in 1849 when Henry David Thoreau called upon his readers to resist the civil authorities. He agreed with the liberal axiom: «That government is best which governs least,» but took it a step further saying: «That government is best which governs not at all.» Political and economic liberalism have never been popular in Greece but state power is constantly disregarded. The smoking ban is gradually losing force; value-added tax is not returned even though withholding it is a criminal offense; tax evasion is rife and the state sector has almost abolished itself. Populism, however defined, is king. And the government is seeking a solution in shunning the responsibilities derived from a mandate it won just one year ago.