Tribal politics

The booing rose and died again as Piggy lifted the white, magic shell.
“Which is better — to be a pack of painted Indians like you are, or to be sensible like Ralph is?”
A great clamor rose among the savages. Piggy shouted again.
“Which is better — to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill?”
Again the clamor and again — “Zup!”
Ralph shouted against the noise.
“Which is better, law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?”
Now Jack was yelling too and Ralph could no longer make himself heard. Jack had backed right against the tribe and they were a solid mass of menace that bristled with spears.

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” a tale of stranded English schoolboys who veer between camaraderie and savagery as they try to survive on an uninhabited island, is a story you don’t forget very easily. Nevertheless, we should be thankful to Greece’s politicians for regularly reminding us of its key themes such as clashing impulses, moral quandaries and the desperate pursuit of power.

Even more than usual, the country’s political scene has closely resembled for the last few weeks the unforgiving and unnegotiable terrain of the island where Ralph, Jack, Piggy, Roger, Simon and the others were cast adrift. We are used to the mundane barbs from George, Antonis, Aleka, Giorgos, Alexis and the others being punctuated by the odd dose of vitriol but the political language recently has utterly caustic. Grave accusations such as those of betrayal, lying and inciting violence are now being thrown about in Parliament like backgammon dice in a kafeneio.

New Democracy accuses PASOK of mendacity, PASOK accuses SYRIZA of organizing lynch mobs and LAOS accuses KKE of a lack of patriotism. George Papandreou accuses Antonis Samaras of living in fantasyland, Samaras accuses Giorgos Karatzaferis of being Papandreou’s poodle, Alexis Tsipras accuses Papandreou of resembling General Augusto Pinochet and Aleka Papariga accuses them all of being slaves to foreign capital.

Meanwhile, the overburdened and weary Greek people wonder whether, with all these accusations flying about, anyone will ever be found guilty of anything. The presence of the Indignant at Syntagma Square for almost two months has created the feeling that politicians are in the dock, as have the growing number of verbal and physical attacks on MPs over the last few months. Politicians’ perfidious reaction to this added pressure emphasizes how out of touch they have become. They have tried to play good cop/bad cop with the Indignant protesters, inviting them for friendly chats one day and then saying their “gypsy tents” have to be removed from Syntagma the next.

Not content with showing its two faces, both of them disingenuous, the political system has now taken to threatening, cajoling or insulting members of the public. “Hands off my wife and child,” shouted Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis after allegedly receiving anonymous threats a couple of days before a planned public protest outside his home. As abhorrent as these threats may have been, he is the man in charge of the police and he would have been better off dealing with them in private rather than engaging in a bout of Mel Gibson-type public pseudo-drama that intensified the thirst for confrontation stoked by the riot police’s heavy-handedness at recent demonstrations.

In a similar vein, the injudicious Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos has also led fierce attacks on KKE and SYRIZA, accusing the latter in particular of organizing the vigilante barracking of MPs. That one party, and one not famed for its unity or organization, is plotting all these attacks is a far-fetched idea that underestimates the genuine frustration felt by ordinary citizens, not just the usual troublemakers. Undoubtedly, mob rule does Greece’s democracy no favors: The one thing worse than an ineffective MP is an intimidated one. However, the political system has to realize that this anger is being fueled by the fact that while the majority of the Greek population is now paying for the inefficiencies, indifference and sins of the past, there are some who seem untouchable. Among them are the country’s politicians.

Almost two years into the worst economic crisis in Greece’s modern history, only one current or former member of the country’s political class has faced any kind of punishment for a part in the pillaging of the Greek state. Investigations into Siemens, submarines, structured bonds and land swaps, to name a few, have so far only led to former Transport Minister Tasos Mantelis being given a suspended sentence. Meanwhile, there has been no probe into the handling of the Greek economy, or its statistics, and no satisfactory clampdown on tax evasion, which is most pronounced among high earners and businesses. Democracy operates on the fuel cells of fairness and justice, and at the moment, Greece is desperately short of energy.

On the back of this, the reaction from much of the Greek political elite, which included Pangalos responding to an open letter to MPs from the Indignant by claiming they all had “a little Hitler” inside them, is dangerously provocative. Their insistence, with the help of some sections of the media, on seeking scapegoats, be they leftist parties, unions or protesting citizens, seems a desperate attempt to turn people against each other rather than have them turn against the politicians. If this is how the political system is seeking to reconnect with the public at a time when faith in the country’s decision makers is at an all-time low, then Greece is in more trouble than it seems. Politicians viewing the justifiably angry public as nothing more than an angry horde, like Jack and the mass of schoolboys, is a surefire way to light the fuse that will blow Greek society to pieces.

“Lord of the Flies” ends with the island ablaze and hardly anywhere left for Ralph to hide as he tries to escape the clutches of the schoolboys-turned-barbarians before they are all rescued. With Greeks facing more economic and social hardship in the months to come, MPs and ministers also have little time or space left to rescue the precarious political situation. They must realize at this crucial juncture that the menace in the air emanates from them and their actions, not the other inhabitants of the island, and that this is putting everyone’s chances of salvation at risk.

Nick Malkoutzis

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