50 years of achievement and failure:

Democracies may slide to a slow death if we do not pay attention, if there is no social participation to the political process

 The star-studded, three-day Conference “50 years of the Metapolitefsi” (thus is known in Greek political parlance the country’s post-dictatorship course starting with the fall of the dictatorship the restoration of democracy and lasting until now) had several high points. From one who made it a habit to attend most of its sessions, an appraisal:

Τhe climax of three days soul-searching-cum-heated(at times)-debate, with two Presidents of the Republic, four Prime Minsiters, several political grandees and dozens of analysts/academics participating, was when Eleni Papoulia, Executive Director of the Center for European Studies of Harvard injected to their deliberations a strong dose of warning. She opined that further to reflecting over the last five decades of achievement and success as well as of flirting with failure and setback, one would be advised to be watchful from now on. To be watchful of illiberal impulses that may surface in all of our societies, notwithstanding the fact that even in the toughest turns of this 50-year period liberal democracy has persisted. Democracies – to her – may slide to a slow death if we do not pay attention; if we do not acknowledge the rules or when such rules are undermined. This occurs when there are no adequate checks and balances in place and if there is no social participation to the political process. “In each and every turn, we should fight for democracy”: this may sound like a plea at a graduation ceremony, but it carries much weight in 2024 Greece.

If one accepts that democracy goes further than the electoral process – which in post-1974 Greece remained thankfully untainted (no such luck in earlier times!) – and it goes on to include the rule of law, things get slippery. The recent European Parliament Resolution on the rule of law and speech freedom in Greece is a matter of concern however decried by Greek officialdom; the EU Ombudsman report on Greece’s lack of mindfulness over the massive loss of lie of migrants in a recent shipwreck near its shores adds a somber hue to challenges over the respect of fundamental rights (the right to life stands at the pinnacle of human rights).

In the context of another Conference debate over how safe is democracy in Greece – along with the issue of “reformability” of the country 50 years on… – an intriguing intervention came from Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras. (Intriguing, that is, since the debate moderated by Hugo Dixon of Reuters, earlier of the FT/Lex column and Breaking views involved historians and political scientists and the suchlike). Stournaras stressed that persisting inequality and related social discontent were eating away at institutional stability; coming from a central banker, this point deserves more attention than paid to social issues nowadays.

[The Conference was an initiative of “Kathimerini” daily newspaper, the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation and the LSE Hellenic Observatory, with the assistance of the Delphi Economic Forum].