Once upon a time, Athens had a river running through it, the Kifissos, flowing from Mt. Parnitha through the city down to the Saronic Gulf. A city really needs a river or body of water to be considered World Class but anyone who’s been to Athens knows that it relies on its ancient heritage and not its modern state of decay, a disgrace of grey, concrete buildings; graffiti-smeared abandoned classical structures; dirt posing as grass, limp parks, and virtually no public art in the country that really created it.
You can’t see the Kifissos today because it’s a covered-over flowing garbage dump and repository for toxic industrial waste that for its final 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) is chanelled under a highway flyover. It’s the perfect simile for what too much of Greece is, especially its political parties – all of them – that are really just machines designed to milk the public coffers and enrich a few.
That’s the nature of politics anywhere, of course, but you’d expect better in a country where its youth had to take an oath to transmit a city better than they had found it and which has, to this day, such stirring inspirations of public service. So how did Greece get from Pericles to Papandreou?
Since the fall of the junta in 1974, Greece has had nearly 40 political parties at one time or another, although for all intents and purposes, it’s really had only the New Democracy Capitalists and their erstwhile rival, the PASOK Anti-Socialists, the same way that Panathinaikos and Olympiakos are the only two teams in basketball and soccer that matter.
For decades, New Democracy and PASOK took turns plundering the treasury and hiring hundreds of thousands of needless workers in return for votes, an unlawful practice known as vote-rigging in most democratic countries. But since Greece isn’t really a democracy but a plutocratic oligarchy that’s another matter.
All that did was create what’s today a $430 billion mountain of debt and forced Greece to beg for international bailouts that came with such harsh austerity measures they created record unemployment and deep poverty. Greek voters were so angry at New Democracy and PASOK that they brought them back into office, proving once again people get the government they deserve.
The problem has been for voters: where do you turn? Americans really have only two choices too but at least, until recent years, they could could on decent Democrats and Republicans crossing the aisle and working with each other occasionally for the common good. In Greece, there’s only personal gain.
Greece has no genuine alternative and the two ruling parties are so rotten to the core you need a gas mask to be around any of their members. The major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) is a just a band of Maoists, Stalinists, Leninists, Trotskyites, ecologists and Che Guevara-loving Fidel Castro suck-ups, except none of them volunteer to work in the sugar cane fields of Havana on their vacations, preferring the Moulin Rouge.
It’s the ultra far left counterpart to the ultra-super-duper-far-right-way-out-there-crazy-as-a-loon-extremists-neo-Nazi Golden Dawn storm troopers. A vote for SYRIZA is like a vote for Golden Dawn: meaningless and designed to destroy. Greece’s Communist KKE party is an anachronism, the Walking Dead of politics, and irrelevant. Just talk to one of them and hear how they wish Stalin was still around killing people except they forget he’d start with them.
The most hopeless and hapless are the rag-tag collection of leftist parties, starting with PASOK, that went from 44 percent of the vote in winning the 2009 elections to dust bin territory today, thanks to backing pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings that are allegedly antithetical to its principles, except those are really political expendiency.
PASOK’s leader Evangelos Venizelos, a dinosaur, sold out his party and himself so he could be Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister in the coalition led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy chief. All Venizelos really wants is to keep his kisser in the paper and on the news and pretend he’s important when he’s just a big, empty suit.
So covetous is he that once he saw PASOK was in File 13 that he tried to attach himself to The 58 Initiative, a group of academics and intellectuals hoping to keep the Center-Left unified. Typical of Greek politics, especially the left, they’ve already fallen out before they got started and now there’s just splinters and sawdust.
They now join the defunct United Democratic Left, United Left, Progress and Left Forces Alliance, Greek Left, United Socialist Alignment, The Liberals, Movement for a United Communist Party, Organisation of Communists Marxists-Leninists, the Radical Left Front on the list of the dead.
Every so often another group pops up, such as the one founded by Dora Bakoyianni when she decided to coast on her family name and let Samaras become Prime Minister until she saw that 3 percent territory made her invisible, leading her to crawl back on her belly to New Democracy. She’s still invisible though.
Then there’s another left group from former PASOK minister Andreas Loverdos which should really be named Limelight because that’s all he wants. A couple of more New Democracy rejects and ejects are going to form a party too but not even their family would vote for it.
And just to prove as well that what this world needs is fewer people telling us what this world needs, Greek TV presenter Stravos Theodorakis is giving up his profession and the his show Protagonistes to say he would launch his own party to compete in the European elections that come in May.
That comes at the same time as municipal elections in Greece that look like a win for SYRIZA so far, unless Samaras pulls a Papandreou and starts handing out money and jobs of people wise up and find out SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras couldn’t govern a periptero.
Theodorakis told Greek media in a turnaround that he justified his decision by saying that people he met while filming his shows often expressed disappointment with Greece’s political personnel. He said his party would be pro-European but did not make it clear in which part of the political spectrum it would be located.
He did, however, insist that nobody who has served in office would be allowed to take part and that it would include “students, intellectuals, economists, laborers, artists, unemployed, traders, doctors and architects.” “A team that has intelligence and strength, the strength of logic and justice,” he added. And destined to lose, of course.
The question that needs to be asked is why someone would give up a high-profile job on TV to start a party that will be an afterthought the day after the elections, sparking speculation he’s in the hire of those who want to take down Tsipras and use Theodorakis as a straw man. Wicker Man is more like it when he sees what happens in politics on the field and not on TV.
If he’s not just yanking everyone’s chain and doesn’t have a side game going, it’s admirable someone would try to rally the troops for justice but he’s going to find out what Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson did running against Republican WWII hero Dwight Eisenhower for U.S. President. Stevenson was told he’d get the vote of every thinking American. “It’s not enough,” he said. “I need a majority.”
Theodorakis even has a catchy name for his party: To Potami. It means The River, but he’s going to find out that it’s the Kifissos.