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16 June, 2019
 
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Old Greece is waiting around the corner

Populism cuts across political parties in Greece

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

The Greece of the past is resisting resiliently. We may have joined the European Union, we may have gone broke, we may have signed up to bailout programs and made some sort of exit from the memorandums, but old Greece is still here. Sometimes it feels like we have learned nothing. We carelessly return to our old habits.

The incumbent leftists adopted the nice-guy attitude for a long period after they had to stare into the abyss – the abyss they had been pulling the country to back in 2015. Now they are fervently wasting all that was painstakingly accumulated, squeezing out the Greek middle class. At the same time, they are manically unraveling the bailout reforms which temporarily purged the economy of some of its structural hindrances. Greece’s foreign lenders are watching the backsliding with apprehension. They are cynically mumbling the damned old mantra “You know what the Greeks are like, they will never change.” All they cared about was seeing Greece off their radar. Many of them will soon go into retirement, or the cozy unemployment status of a former commissioner, or simply move to a different post. Greece will no longer be their problem. They will cynically renounce any responsibility and claim that the problem is a cultural one.

But let’s leave the foreigners out of this for a moment. Recent attitudes are reminiscent of the most parochial and vulgar elements of Greece’s traditional two-party system. It was aptly captured in the words of Attica taxi union head Thymios Lyberopoulos, who said that he had admired the late socialist leader Andreas Papandreou, before moving his allegiance to the popular right and most recently SYRIZA. Populism cuts across political parties in Greece. It is written in our political DNA.

Opinion polls suggest that old party politics will suffer a defeat in the ballot. If this were to happen in spite of the benefits, the handouts, the hirings and so on, it would be an unprecedented and optimistic development. It should not drive us to romantic or naive conclusions, because a New Democracy victory will not necessarily mean a mandate for major reforms. For that to happen, Greek society must first be convinced that a plan is in place that will benefit the majority, as well as a determined team to see it through. It also presupposes the existence of a party that will have rid itself of the populism virus. Old Greece is around every corner.

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