Monday, 30 November 2009
Just another Athens Sunday
Shoot-outs in Athens last night.
And all I hear you say is 'what's new then?'
A man and a woman shot at policemen in Metamorphosis, an Athenian suburb. The story goes that they were flagged down for a routine check, they duly stopped and when the policemen got out of their patrol car the pair, on a motorcycle, opened fire before speeding away and disappearing.
The motorcycle was later recovered but, surprise surprise, it had not been properly registered so we don't know who the Metamorphosis Bonnie and Clyde were, why they were armed and why they were so keen to flee.
And as nobody was injured, this is almost a non-story, buried in the back pages of the few newspapers that deigned to report it. And I am only mentioning it here as a backdrop to the main news: the fact that yesterday Nea Dimokratia got a new leader, a man who will spend the next few years trying to persuade us he is better, not only than his predecessor, but also better than the current prime minister at governing the ungovernable jungle that has become Greece. As of today, he wants to make the Metamorphosis shoot-out his problem. He wants to make the ailing economy his problem. He wants to make all our problems, his problem. So here we are. The scene is set and our great protagonist makes his entrance.
You cannot be bloody serious.
What's so bad, I hear you ask? Wasn't this man once hailed as the greatest hope for Greece's future?
Yes he was. But that was a long time ago. When we were all waiting for Samaras to save the day with bated breath, I was still in high-school and the New Kids on the Block still had a career.
And there has been nothing but water under the bridge since then. Dirty water under a rickety bridge, to be precise.
But let's be fair.
In many ways, Mr Samaras is a definite upgrade from Mr Karamanlis: he has as strong a pedigree being the son and grandson of famous and respected scientist and artists, he has an excellent educational background with degrees from Amherst and Harvard and, quite unlike Mr Kramanlis, he has experience in government. And that, in many ways, is where the problems start...
Mr Samaras served as Finance, Culture and Foreign Affairs minister throughout the 80s and 90s but, if you ask people what they remember him for, no grand policy initiative or genuine substantive change drive springs to mind. People remember him for one of two things:
they may remember his inflammatory and populist 'hard line' approach to the macedonian question that completely failed to take into account geopolitical realities, international treaties already signed or the sheer laws of probability...
Or they may recall the fact that, in 1993, he single-handedly brought down the government he had until the previous year been a minister for by creating his own party and encouraging the defection of an MP that tipped Nea Dimokratia's precarious majority. And all because he had been removed from his post for pursuing a misguided and pointless 'hard line' policy on the Macedonia question.
Mr Samaras' new party, with the comedy name 'Political Spring' and an ideological positioning that largely overlapped with Nea Dimokratia but was decidedly more conservative on a number of issues, was an excellent vehicle for vocal, sweeping opinions and grand dramatic gestures – made safe in the knowledge that the party would never be in government.
And of course it never was. In fact, the party was hardly in parliament as the joke grew tired soon enough. In fact, much sooner than Mr Samaras had anticipated and, after a fairly good run in the 1993 general and 1994 European elections, the party lost support and failed to be reelected. Ever. Then in 2004, mr Samaras rejoined the party he had beached a decade before.
I just want to make clear we all know who we are dealing with here.
And while he's back, with a bang and a vengeance, what I cannot quite decide is whether we – the Greek people, the electorate, the tax payers, the voters – are ridiculously good-hearted and forgiving or just plain dumb, forgetful and criminally indifferent.
And it's not Mr Samaras' victory alone that makes me wonder that. It's the nature of the campaign, the vendetta-style opposition between Samaras and the defeated Dora Bakoyiannis and the populist undertones that drove the voting: rewarding Samaras somehow for his 'stand' against a man that now everyone has learned to hate, the then Premier K. Mitsotakis.
Forgetting how politically irresponsible and devoid of substance Samaras' defection was in 1993, his supporters within the party chose to view it as 'resistance' to the man the entire party now hates, penalising Dora in the process for being mr Mitsotakis' daughter. Despite her solid record in office. And the fact that, regardless of whether you agree with her politics, she was the only contender for the conservative leadership with an agenda, a portfolio of genuine policy initiatives while in office and some political substance. But never mind all that, right? Cos we don't like her daddy. And her last boss. Which brings us back to Mr Samaras whose hands are clean of the failures of the last government. Because he was simply not in it. And why was he not in it? Because he rejoined the party he had brought down a decade previously in 2007 and he never got round to holding serious office, serving as minister of culture for a mere few months following a late-term reshuffle in 2008.
And now here he is, top dog.
Despite accusations of bullying leaked by other candidates. Despite the technical melt-down at the start of the election process that caused ripples among journalists who suspected Florida-style tampering and got momentary illusions of grandeur a la 'first Bush, now us'. And despite a populist campaign of assorted sound-bites, completely devoid of content.
Despite it all, he's back in black. And despite it all, the top dog promised he'll play nice and will 'wipe off with a sponge' (I am not making this up, check today's Eleftehrotypia for the original quote) all that he heard during the succession race because party unity is now uppermost. Let's all be friends, he says, and together let us 'lead the party in new struggles for the country's progress and young children's right to hope'.
No, it's not a bad translation, it made no sense in Greek either.
So here we are. And I am already dreading the next election. Already. Because it will be just another big pile of 'same old'. In the context of the same old corruption, the same old violence, the same old inefficiency, the same old poverty for the many and same old cushy set-up for the few.
It will be just another Athens Sunday when we go back to the polling booths in four years time and I am getting sick and tired. But at least Olympiakos won both the footie and the basketball yesterday. So thank God for small mercies. Because for once corruption, inefficiency and cushy set-ups gave me something to cheer about and given everything, all you can hope for in Greece is small mercies.