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Friday, March 12, 2004

Politics

ND Beats PASOK Handily, Wins Rematch


The headlines of the Greek dailies during the recent election campaign, followed by the celebrations of New Democracy’s supporters last Sunday evening, conjured up certain images that seemed to allude more to the world of sport, and in particular soccer, than to that of politics. Indeed, it is perhaps a sign of the times in Greece that the signifiers of soccer and politics have become almost identical.

Let us start with the “transfer” of Stefanos Manos and Andreas Andrianopoulos from the conservative party to the socialists. (The term, “transfer,” by the way, which is how the forced movement of an athlete from one team to another is described in Europe, is more accurate than the American, “trade,” which implies an exchange that is often not the case.) The press treated the move with headlines that elicited vivid memories of the front pages of the two major sports papers, Athlêtikê Êchô and Fôs, 15-20 years ago, when Greek soccer still held an important place in the public’s interest and imagination. In the early summer before the trading deadline, “screaming headlines” would trumpet new acquisitions by the major clubs (Panathênaikos, Olympiakos, AEK, PAOK). Transfers of star players between these teams, although rare, would dominate the front pages and fascinate fans for days and weeks to come.

All this, of course, is long gone, relegated forever to the dustbin of history. Nobody cares about Greek soccer anymore. But those familiar with those frenzied days during trading season years ago could not help but notice similar sentiments conveyed through the major Greek dailies during the political campaign that has just ended. The transfers heralded (and debated over) this time where not those of star players, however, but rather of significant political figures triumphantly (or not) moving from one party to another — in particular, Stefanos Manos and Andreas Andrianopoulos, heretofore two stalwarts of Greek conservatism, who moved to and participated in last Sunday’s elections as candidates of the “socialist” party.

It took awhile, but Greek politics have finally entered modern times, as Greek soccer did years ago; everything is now a business, and winning is the ultimate and only goal. Forget about ideology, principles, and — most ludicrous of all — the team. There was a time when star players played for the same soccer team all their careers, and the “team jersey” (the fanela), as they say in Greece, was revered. The transfer of stars between the two archrivals, Panathênaikos and Olympiakos, was rare and, when it happened, dominated the game and the public’s attention. Such players were treated as traitors by the fans of their previous team and were never forgiven. Who can ever forget Delêkarês, Olympiakos’s golden boy, who decided to abandon the proletarian port of Piraeus, and its working-class grit, and move to the bourgeois environs of Leôforos Alexandras and Panathênaikos in central Athens?

The fanela, of course, ceased to exercise a religious-like possession and devotion a long time ago. For many, the end of that era also signified the beginning of the end for Greek soccer, which seems to have lost forever its hold over and appeal to the public. In soccer, this has translated into empty stadiums; in politics, the ramifications of this new era of transfers from one party to another is much more significant. Stefanos Manos and Andreas Andrianopoulos are not just your average politicians. They are intellectuals who have systematically formulated, expressed, and promoted a particular conservative ideology that is distinctly different from the ideology and policies of PASOK, and in particular of the Sêmitês government of the last eight years. Giôrgos Papandreou, PASOK’s new leader, decided to take his party to the March 7 elections by promoting a new, “inclusive” image, which apparently was meant to encompass political and ideological perspectives that were markedly different from those of PASOK until now.

In the end, of course, the “match-up” took on a decidedly more traditional look. In a race that was closely contested until the end, PASOK’s new leader abandoned his “inclusive” strategy and reverted to what had always worked in the past: a sharply drawn distinction between his own party and the allegedly right-wing menace that emanated from the opposition. Viewed from this perspective, the inclusion of such two high-profile former members of New Democracy in PASOK’s electoral lists was highly opportunistic and hypocritical, to say the least.

A major issue here, naturally, is what Greeks call the political “ethos” of Manos and Andrianopoulos. In the intensity of the election campaign, they both saw and positioned themselves as free agents, ready to sign with the first team that knocked on their door and made the best offer. Aware of the tightness of the race, the two politicians marketed themselves as the “closer,” or “slugger” — to use baseball language — who would be the proverbial “last part of the championship puzzle.” It is true, of course, that free agents from the left also transferred to the socialists. But, politically and ideologically, such transfers were much more “natural,” as the demarcation line separating the socialist party from the parties to its left was not, theoretically at least, so rigid. The border dividing PASOK from New Democracy, however, has been almost impermeable over a long period (with the exception of liberal New Democrats or conservative socialists slipping across in either direction), a fact that makes the recent events even more problematic, and difficult to understand.

One of the critical questions, of course, was what voters’ reactions would be to the PASOK candidacies of Manos and Andrianopoulos? While one would have expected a backlash against Papandreou’s decision to court the conservative duo, the more one followed the Greek media, the more one came away with the impression that, in politics, people react like soccer fans. Whatever “helps” the team win is automatically acceptable, despite political and ideological differences. Still, the results of last Sunday’s elections suggest something different. It is now becoming evident that the transfers not only did not help PASOK to bring the championship home, but might also have contributed significantly to its loss. I can’t avoid thinking of similar instances in soccer. There have been cases of players that were so strongly identified with a team that their transfer to another team was never accepted by the second team’s fans.

This should not have come as a surprise to anyone. For all who witnessed Giôrgos Papandreou’s staged election to PASOK’s presidency, the candidacies of Manos and Andrianopoulos were a natural next step. And since I’m on the subject, let me end with this last correspondence. Last year, under extensive legal scrutiny, the president of Olympiakos, Sôkratês Kokkalês, proclaimed elections for the team’s new leadership and, in the name of a democratic process that embraced the fans, invited “supporters” and “friends” to participate. There was, of course, no doubt about the outcome. After all, there was no viable alternative to Kokkalês, who owns the team. But with his grandstanding, Kokkalês diverted attention from his legal problems and from the team’s poor European tournament play, making a mockery out of the concept of voting in the process. For those who looked upon Kokkalês’s maneuver with the skepticism it deserved, Papandreou’s election a few months later was familiar. It appears that Greeks find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between being a fan and being a voter.

In addition to being a co-founder of greekworks.com, Stelios Vasilakis is a classical philologist and a former associate of the Speros Basil Vryonis Center for the Study of Hellenism.
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