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Samaras strays out of line in search for new normal
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has a habit of defending his government by saying that his aim is to make Greece “a normal European country.” Whatever he may mean by this and however genuine he may be in wanting Greece to recover from its long crisis, this is an infuriatingly patronising comment. Intentionally or not, it aligns Greece’s prime minister with all the cranks in Europe and Greece’s misinformed critics beyond who view the country as some kind of basket case.
There is, though, another dimension to consider. Linking Greece’s “normality” only to the performance of its economy ignores a whole raft of other aspects that define a country’s wellbeing If Greece’s prime minister wants to look out over a country that is truly part of the European community of nations then the rate at which its GDP is growing or how much foreign direct investment it has received cannot be his only measurements.
Freedom of speech and tolerance, for instance, are two other yardsticks that can be used. The murderous attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris emphasised just how precious these values are and how much more they define us than the level of our salaries or whether our standard of living is a little higher or lower.
Yet, Samaras’s reaction to the shocking events in another European capital suggest that the Greek leader has no comprehension of the factors that need to be woven together to ensure “normality” or something close to it. Either that or in the panic of a feverishly brief election race he is fishing for votes in the murky ponds of the far right. It is difficult to know which of these two is worse.
“You see what is happening in Europe: Everything is changing dramatically,” he told a New Democracy gathering in Evia a few hours after terrorists shot dead 12 people, including Charlie Hebdo’s irreverent cartoonists. “In France, the Socialist [Prime Minister Francois] Hollande has sent the army onto the streets.
“There was a massacre in Paris today and here some people are inviting over illegal immigrants and handing out citizenships.”
Samaras’s reaction to the tragedy in France was to try to shoehorn it into his quiver of arrows to fire at SYRIZA. While there are legitimate questions to be asked about the opposition party’s relatively laissez faire policy on immigration, linking the Charlie Hebdo incident to this issue could only be the work of a very warped or desperate mind.
Earlier, New Democracy’s parliamentary spokesman Adonis Georgiadis tweeted that the “hit in Paris may prove to be the end of innocence about Islam as far as Europe is concerned. Here, SYRIZA is talking about opening the borders.”
Within a few hours of the abhorrent shootings, Samaras and Georgiadis had linked the attack to immigration and Islam. Not even the far right in France plunged to these depths.
Front National leader Marie Le Pen spoke of the attack being the result of “radical Islam.” “This attack must instead free our speech about Islamic fundamentalism,” she said, drawing a clear distinction between Islam and those who choose to warp its message for their own perverse needs. The French extreme right leader’s comment is a world away from that made by the parliamentary representative of a supposed centre-right party in Greece.
There was a similar chasm between how the two parties approached the issue of immigration in relation to the Paris attack. Speaking to the BBC on Wednesday evening, Front National’s Vice-President Florian Philippot drew a clear dividing line between the perpetrators of the attack and migrants living in France.
In effect, New Democracy, the party vying for another chance at running Greece in the upcoming general elections, has positioned itself to the right of France’s Front National, which even UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has accused of “anti-semitism and general prejudice.” Whatever Samaras might claim, there is nothing “normal” about that.
Follow Nick: @NickMalkoutzis
Thanks, Nick, for your continuing insight and analysis of current events affecting Greece. I wish the source of this week's piece didn't need to be about something as heinous as the Charlie Hebdo shootings.
While Samaras is clearly tone-deaf (praising the Evros fence while the rest of Europe is troubled by ghost ships, or pinning the Charlie murders to illegal immigration), I don't think his latest statements are mere fishing for votes from Greece's far right. Early on in his administration, Samaras confirmed long held beliefs by stacking his inner circle with fellow racists and nationalists like Georgiadis, Dendias, and the now-toxic Baltakos, leaving voters in the center right with few ethical options come election time. It's bad enough already that a vote for Samaras implies approval (or, at least, acceptance) of his handling of the economic crisis; it also makes many ND voters unwilling supporters of Samaras's paranoid nationalistic views. Greece's economic and immigration policies both desperately need changing to something sustainable for the long-term. How worrying that we have no one capable of doing it.
Unfortunately Samaras has proven to be so subservient to Berlin that he has lost any legitimacy as a national leader. Instead of offering a true choice he is presenting the Greek voters with a mediocre party to match an equally bad choice offered by the opposition.
And this sums up our national tragedy. At a time we need true leadership we only get the worst of choices. Maybe we deserve it, maybe not. But what a cruel reality instead of strength, fortitude and hope of which we seem to have none.
>"Either that or in the panic of a feverishly brief election race he is fishing for votes in the murky ponds of the far right."
Imho there is only panic, and may be some self-cognition regarding the lack of real success resulting from his past term.