By Maria Katsounaki
Like much that is outrageous, national populism, populism and xenophobia are governed by their own brand of logic. But this logic has no place in the center of the political spectrum with which the prime minister strives to be identified, going as far as to seek expansion into the turf of the more progressive part of PASOK. It is entirely at odds with the purported pragmatic and technocratic character of the government’s decision-making, not to mention the touted battle against entrenched mentalities that are blamed for keeping the country in the past.
The apparent readiness to “break eggs” – a term often used by the prime minister’s inner circle – is incompatible with the opinions recently expressed by ruling New Democracy lawmakers and members of the European Parliament for the simple reason that these are precisely the kinds of beliefs that constitute the eggs that need to be broken.
It is telling that the uproar from within the party’s ranks was sparked by issues concerning immigration (MP Konstantinos Bodganos) and the rights of the LGBTQI community (MEPs Anna-Michelle Asimakopoulou and Manolis Kefalogiannis). The former backflipped over a social media post that sparked vehement reactions from the opposition but also upset the party, while the latter abstained from a vote in European Parliament on gay marriage.
You don’t need to fly the banners of progress and the future to understand that the world is changing. Institutions play an instrumental role in shaping and evolving the relevant framework with every major change, whether this concerns policies of migrant assimilation or ways to ease coexistence and protect diversity.
It is easy to hold up the Antetokounmpo family as a paradigm. Its most famous member, basketball star Giannis, is also a charming young man, the family’s rags-to-riches story is the stuff of novels, they are all incredibly popular and they represent solid principles and values, hard work, talent and commitment to a cause. Even the most hardcore nationalist populists have trouble finding something disparaging to say about the Greek-Nigerian athletes. What happens with the toddlers of migrant parents or gay couples, though? What happens with those who are not Antetokounmpos?
Can a political party truly survive without a clear line on such socially sensitive issues? Can it go on with lawmakers who fly solo, who invest in their personal image in the social media marketplace, espouse poorly revamped party fogeyism, who cozy up to an electoral clientele which is rife with deniers of all sorts or who will never be swayed by the Antetokounmpo example?
The deeper the fissures grow, the more risk there is for the bridge-builder to fall in. The extremists abhor the center and a group of motley extremists does not constitute the center.