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Sunday, February 15, 2004

Our Opinion

Splitting the Difference: The Americanization of Greek Politics


It was George Wallace who famously said that there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between the Republicans and Democrats. Of course, the right-wing populist was significantly undervaluing the distinctions between the two parties even when he made his comment back in 1968; after all, the Democratic presidential nominee at the time was Hubert Humphrey, while Richard Nixon headed the Republican ticket, having resurrected his political career after promising (he saw it as a threat, naturally) just a few years earlier that reporters wouldn’t have him “to kick around anymore.” Thirty-six years and nine elections later, interestingly enough, there’s probably more difference between Democrats and Republicans than there has been in most Americans’ lifetimes (caused, for the most part, by the seemingly unending reactionary regression of the Republican party in the last two decades). Which is why election year 2004 has already taken on an almost historic heft about it. Of course, the elections to be held in Greece in three weeks are also beginning to take on a historic weight — but for radically different, and increasingly distressing, reasons.

Our first two articles this week are both about these Greek elections, and we recommend them to our readers. We believe that their analyses, taken together, will adequately convey the sheer cynicism of the political (and, by definition, social) consensus in which Greece is mired today. The supreme irony here is that while the United States is finally rediscovering the irreducible truth that democracy is meaningless without fundamental internal oppositions — precisely because it is these oppositions (Jefferson’s notion of generational revolution) that invariably lead the way to social and political reformation — Greece is aping the most pathetic, “American,” consensual politics (and social system) in which the only thing that matters is securing office and the only salient political position is compromise (or submission).

In his article, “Centering Greek Politics: A Comment on the March 7 Elections,” Nikos Chrysoloras writes that the governing PASOK party has “convinced many laissez-faire libertarians from New Democracy that it [can]…administer their interests more effectively than their own party [while] many ‘patriots’ within PASOK have become disillusioned by the liberal, Western-oriented policy of its post-Andreas leaders and have moved toward Greece’s ‘patriotic’ party, New Democracy.” Political transformations, rebirths, and rebaptisms are, of course, common phenomena in democratic — and undemocratic — politics the world over. Mussolini started out as a socialist and Stalin as an Orthodox seminarian. On a more prosaic level, much of the Republican party in the southern United States, from officeholders to voters, started out in the Democratic party when the “Solid South” described another political dispensation and had not yet fallen victim to Richard Nixon’s southern strategy. In Greece, those archenemies and respective party leaders during the 1980s and 1990s, “conservative” Kônstantinos Mêtsotakês and “socialist” Andreas Papandreou, were once, decades earlier, both members of the same “liberal” party. Politics not only make strange bedfellows, but strange, and procrustean, beds.

Yet, genuinely democratic politics must be based on some ideological rationality if they are to be meaningful in any way. Nikos Chrysoloras’s reference to PASOK “patriots” primarily concerns former PASOK deputy and minister Stelios Papathemelis and his followers, who have in fact “defected” to New Democracy. It must be said, however, that Papathemelis’s defiant nationalism, heavily colored by a retrograde Orthodox piety, and tinged with an almost pathological suspicion of Greek-Turkish rapprochement verging on anti-Turkish racism, do not begin to balance his ostensibly social (if hardly socialist) concerns. Papathemelis is, in fact — and has always been — what in the rest of Europe is called a Christian democrat. His migration to New Democracy is not only understandable, but also, quite frankly, long overdue. Indeed, if anything, it has seemed for very many years now that his natural home was in the right wing of New Democracy.

The more distressing movement was the one announced a few days ago from right to “left,” specifically, that of Stefanos Manos and Andreas Andrianopoulos to PASOK. We assume that the party’s late founder, Andreas Papandreou, was doing somersaults in his grave at the news, which resulted from the successful machinations of his son and dauphin, George. Without burying ourselves deeply in the ideological thicket of Greek politics, suffice it to say that Messrs. Manos and Andrianopoulos were not only once ministers of New Democracy governments, but constituted the intellectual and political backbone of the most unyielding Thatcherite wing of Greek conservatism. Both men are extremely intelligent, extremely dedicated to their vision of the world, and — it seemed until recently, at least — of the highest integrity, unwilling to bend their neoliberal knees to any notions of compassionate conservatism. Their migration to PASOK speaks — indeed, screams — volumes about the mind-boggling (and mindless) degeneration of this once “socialist” party.

We’ll have more to say on the subject of the Greek elections in our next edition of greekworks.com. At this point, we’ll close with one thought: George Papandreou’s recent “election” as president of PASOK by a million “voters,” most of whom were not members of his party but simply indeterminate “friends,” will go down in the annals of democratic politics as one of the more astonishing shell games ever witnessed, equal to the graveyards of Cook county voting for JFK in 1960 or the chadified US elections in 2000 in which the presidency was stolen in plain sight. We tip our hats to this worthy descendant of the Papandreous grand-père et père, but we must lament, even if only momentarily, a Greece so corrupt or cynical or indifferent as to accept such a grotesque spectacle, and even dignify it with the title of democracy. An enthronement decidedly, a masterful coup de théâtre without a doubt, but a democratic and legitimate electoral process? Even George Bush’s landing on an aircraft carrier was more authentic — and certainly more real.

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