Friday, June 15, 2012

Political sports in Greece

During my initial visits to Greece I was always impressed with the level of political activism. Everyone had an opinion and almost everyone supported a political party. Come election time the streets would be filled with people waving flags enthusiastically, topics would be debated and insults would fly. People sitting in the cafés would count the political points that their team made during some panel discussion. And they would debate the pros and cons of the political parties with the same enthusiasm as they would discuss the starting line-up of their favourite football team. As if politics was a sport.

And that is what it is in Greece - a sport.

In Australia the weekend would be devoted to actual sports. The TV stations would vie with each other to show different events. Switch to any channel and you could watch the tennis, Aussie rules football, golf,  swimming or even lawn bowls. Now with the run-up to the Olympics I am sure its all Olympic fever, with different channels devoted to broadcasting different events to provide 100% - 24 hour coverage.

Here in Greece, aside from the Olympic torch ceremony, the Olympics is forgotten. At the moment of course yes people here are watching the EURO championship. But its only since Greece won in 2004 that Greeks paid the same interest in their national team that they would to their local soccer teams like Olympiakos or AEK.

The major sport however has always been politics. The weekend has even more talk shows with politicians talking from the morning - straight through to midnight. Want to watch a sporting event? Switch over to France's TV5 and watch their rugby, otherwise forget it.

The only sport to watch is politics. The problem with treating politics like a sport is that political discussion is reduced to political point scoring. Instead of discussing 'what' makes a good political leader it's reduced to numbers from polls, who scored the most in a poll of who is the better leader.

To get the most points is simple - Say whatever you want to get the points. The criminal action is that no one, especially Greek journalists ever challenges them on how they will implement their promises, do any fact checks or follow up on past promises. One TV station SKAI is pretending to evolve, they asked SYRIZA how they would pay to implement their promises such as hiring 150,000 new public servants, the response was - "We're not saying because other parties will steal our ideas." How very mature. I say pretending to evolve because just asking the question is not enough, a real journalist has to follow up. So when they ask the same question to New Democracy and they respond "we will implement wide ranging measures", a journalist has to follow up and ask "What specific measures" and "How much much from each measure - and who has costed it" etc... and then fact-check it from an independent source.

Of course this is all new to Greek journalists. One of the measures implemented as a result of the much hated Memorandum - Which all parties blame as the source of all Greece's ills and present situation - is that Greece actually produce a central budget, with forecasts and reviews. Instead of having each Ministry handle its own money and spend it on where it wanted without any oversight, and just simply spend. So i will forgive them not knowing.

As a result of this realisation the façade of "political awareness" has worn off, and not just for me, but for many people. Even though voting is mandatory, in the last election around 30% of eligible voters did not turn up to vote. But for many who used to believe in the façade it has turned to disgust with the politicians and their parties. Quite a few politicians have switched sides, PASOK politicians are jumping ship like rats of a sinking boat and are trying to get on-board the far left party SYRIZA. They of course claim that they are doing so out of personal conscience. But if that was the case - they would stay in their party and change it from the inside, not leave because they fear losing their seat. And the same could be said of the other politicians leaving parties like LAOS to go to ND.

And just like in sports, these are treated like sports player transfers. The "numbers" that could be gained as a result of this star transfer.

Talk of ideology or even a plan for Greece - forget it.

This is why i see no ray of hope in these up-coming elections. There is no in depth discussion of what really needs to be done. No balancing of the pros and cons. Instead its all talk of appeasement.

SYRIZA talks big and makes promises - but at the moment the leadership is shitting themselves. They might actually win and that's something that they don't want. Because they know that there is no way that they can actually deliver on anything that they promised. Which is why in the dying days they are fuelling fears saying that "We are no euro fetishists" hoping to scare some voters away from them. In opposition and in control of the Unions they know that they can wield much more power without any responsibility.

New Democracy on the other hand. Wants to show itself to be responsible, and that it will take leadership which its base demands it take. But you can see it in their eyes... If we win, lets just delay things and hopefully something will happen, like winning the Spanish lottery and we won't have to make any decisions, after all that is what PASOK did and look at where they are now.... oh shit!

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