Gov­ern­ment doesn’t want to change, but can New Democ­racy?

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY MARIA KATSOUNAKI

“You are be­com­ing the flag-bear­ers of pop­ulism,” Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras said in Par­lia­ment on Thurs­day in re­sponse to crit­i­cism from the con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion over the de­ci­sion to scrap the tra­di­tion of hon­or­ing top pupils at pri­mary schools by se­lect­ing them to carry the na­tional flag in school pa­rades, and opt­ing to choose them by lot in­stead. Tsipras said that ev­ery­one has the right to carry the na­tional sym­bol and that his gov­ern­ment’s def­i­ni­tion of ex­cel­lence is to en­sure that schools open on time, that new li­braries are es­tab­lished, that sci­en­tists are given in­cen­tives to stay in the coun­try, and that young peo­ple are of­fered schol­ar­ships and op­por­tu­ni­ties for post­grad­u­ate study. By play­ing both roles, as gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion, SYRIZA has been nar­row­ing New Democ­racy’s room for ma­neu­ver. As a re­sult, the con­ser­va­tives re­sort to pe­jo­ra­tive gen­er­al­iza­tions about the gov­ern­ment’s pur­ported “as­sault on mer­i­toc­racy” or “its to­tal con­fronta­tion with the ideas and val­ues of peo­ple who want to fight for their in­di­vid­ual [progress] as well as the progress of our coun­try at large.” While the coun­try’s univer­sity in­sti­tu­tions and tech­ni­cal col­leges (TEI) were be­ing un­done, cour­tesy of the gov­ern­ment’s bill on ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion voted in Par­lia­ment, the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry raised is­sues – namely, chang­ing the rules for flag-bear­ers at school pa­rades or scrap­ping the rais­ing of the Greek flag be­fore class – that were cer­tain to mo­bi­lize the re­flexes of par­ties and vot­ers across the left-right spec­trum. All th­ese, of course, are thinly veiled PR stunts by the gov­ern­ment, which is mis­lead­ing and po­lar­iz­ing the public by cre­at­ing ar­ti­fi­cial ten­sion. How­ever, as any news bul­letin will show, most of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion is pre­oc­cu­pied with more se­ri­ous stuff – fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, taxes, pay­ment schemes for their out­stand­ing debts. News about the grad­ual eas­ing of cap­i­tal con­trols first in­tro­duced in 2015 only ap­pear to af­fect a small chunk of the pop­u­la­tion. Asked about what they think the pro­ce­dure should be for se­lect­ing school pa­rade flag-bear­ers, most say they have more im­por­tant things to think about. SYRIZA is set­ting the agenda as gov­ern­ment and as op­po­si­tion. New Democ­racy is find­ing it ex­tremely hard to catch up with that strat­a­gem, mostly mo­bi­liz­ing a re­jec­tion­ist lan­guage which leaves a lot to be de­sired – mostly be­cause it can hardly in­spire vot­ers about its re­formist am­bi­tions. All that is very con­ve­nient for the gov­ern­ment. It helps it keep it­self in power, dodge re­spon­si­bil­ity for its mis­takes and omis­sions, and draw strength from the past – a past on which it is founded, and the worst ver­sion of which it ac­tu­ally re­pro­duces. SYRIZA does not want – and in­deed can­not – change. Can New Democ­racy?

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