Greek Politics; Time to Grow Up

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Greece
Europe
The World

Liberal vs ConservativeGreek politics have created one of the world’s finest political soap operas.  In this play, political parties quarrel over Greek political history and abstract ideology, the prime minister threatens with elections, government party cliques have power struggles, opposition parties largely refuse to provide alternatives, and protestors make bizarre demands.  In the background, European officials make guest appearances while the economy crashes.  Greece faces a series of tough choices, contrary to popular belief financial and monetary decisions are not part of them.  The option for its political culture to mature is. 

Politics in Greece have never been particularly concessional and overall cooperation in policy making has never been big.  To an extent this can be attributed to the country’s history and the political cleavages created.  Regardless, the quality of political argumentation appears to be in constant decline. Following the mid-80s and onwards political discussion, parliamentary debate and elections in the country seem to be more about a rivalry between two main public cliques and their ever-changing satellite groups.  Open discussions over ideology and policy have given way to an “us vs. them” mentality.  This has caused obvious problems for the economy, but more alarmingly has reduced Greek politics into child’s play.

A good example of this can be found in today’s Greek parliament.  In a time where policy options are limited, opposition parties can opt to support or constructively criticize actions taken by the government.  Unfortunately, opposition parties have taken a negative stance on the policies adopted but have not provided any alternatives with the exception of the “re-negotiation” of the bail-out package; a rather unlikely event.  The government has not been particularly keen on comments either.  This helps no one; parties’ ratings have been growing smaller as public frustration over inaction turns to sour disappointment and political disengagement.  Furthermore, left wing parties have not managed to use the crisis as an opportunity to provide a fresh perspective; something the left used to be renowned for.  Instead, they have decided not to cooperate, further fracture and play the same policy tape running from the late 80s (or early 1920s depending on which “left side" you are standing on).  This environment has provided an excellent boost for populist right wing ideology. 

But a parliament is merely a mirror of the society it represents; the public has refused to grow up politically.  On the one hand, Greeks have blamed various sources both foreign and domestic over the rough spot the country is in.  The IMF, the EU, the USA, NATO, banks (of course), politicians (why not), illegal immigrants (I smell right wing spirit) and various other evil forces are often blamed for the current situation.  On the other hand, the broader public has not been willing to take responsibility for the situation and produce a coherent set of demands.  It often appears that Greeks expect a top-down approach to policy but at the same time complain over the results.  Abstract or incoherent proposals for more democracy, dissolvement of parliament, changing the Constitution, and complete refusal of the measures has not been helpful.  The public needs to organize and streamline the information it’s sending towards policymakers;  NGOs, labour unions and other such groups can help.  Clearly articulated and realistic agenda recommendations are more likely to produce sensible policy solutions than incoherent, negative, unrealistic arguments.

Of course, the Greek public and its political parties can always opt to maintain the zero-sum political debate format they are still using.  This will further reduce the legitimacy of Greek democracy, further push away people from politics, create poorer policies (likely to lead to a default), and finally draw away more decision making powers from the public and its representatives towards domestic and international institutions.  I am not arguing that the situation is not tough but hard choices, honesty and  painful (sometimes) progression are a part of growing up; Greek politics should grow up.

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