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25 May, 2024
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Persuasion and force

The past few years have passed as though we had all taken a big dose of some sedative

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

The past few years have passed as though we had all taken a big dose of some sedative. Nothing seems to surprise us anymore and we put up with everything in the end.

This attitude was first evident after Greece was slapped with capital controls in June 2015. Foreign and local experts had warned of the chaos that would ensue, but people seemed to take it all rather well. Sure, the damage to the Greek economy was huge – and we are still suffering the consequences – yet the people’s reaction was mild, almost indifferent.

The sedative did its trick again against the cuts and reforms mandated by the bailout agreement that followed. Foreign observers were left scratching their heads as the government was able to impose a plethora of austerity measures without any real opposition on the street. Even the once-riotous protesters appeared sedated. Many of society’s trademark post-1974 reflexes came to a halt. Athens was spared the violent weekly ritual rally and protests took on a rather predictable, quasi-institutional character.

Many analysts in and outside Greece wonder whether the effect will wear off when the leftist government is out of power. It’s a fair question. Already, many a diehard is warming up to get back out into the streets. They believe that the next government will provide enough incentives, or excuses, for mass protests, strikes, riots and anything else they think is necessary.

What SYRIZA decides to do once it returns to the opposition is not that important. It will obviously be comical to see SYRIZA folk taking to the streets to demonstrate against Cosco, the US government or Fraport’s control of the regional airports. But even if they did, they would never succeed in mobilizing the masses or arousing the youth to anger.

Recent experience has pushed voters that were previously lured by a purely anti-systemic vision or lie, toward other more extreme directions. They may migrate to the far right or to the far left. The international environment favors fringe attitudes to the expense of the moderate, pragmatic approach. The dominant rhetoric in Europe and the United States at the moment is extreme and conflictual. It is reminiscent of SYRIZA back in 2008.

As the sedative slowly wears off, we will have to wait and see how Greek society will react in the next phase. It will take a very difficult combination of persuasion and force to avoid a period of unchecked developments.

Speaking of sedatives, some certainly came in handy at the last cabinet meeting. And who knows, some may also be needed in the next meeting of the government.

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