A Citizen’s Guide to Greece 2015


April 14, 2012

Conceptions of politics: changing patterns in Greece

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Written by: pdcadmin

By Kostas A. Lavdas

Greeks know a thing or two about politics. But the reasons why they do – the conditions that help nurture a political culture prone to intense politicization – are diverse and, at least some of them, divergent.

In fact, as I have suggested elsewhere, political development in modern Greece can be best approached with the help of three different conceptions of politics: civic commitment in a free polity, guardianship, and voluntarism in a populist or (alternatively) a republican version. These have been embedded in three distinct discursive contexts formed in the course of political development: frustrated early republicanism, conservative authoritarianism, and voluntarist anti-necessitarianism.

Indeed, the years preceding and immediately following the establishment of the modern Greek state were associated with a frustrated republican impulse. Vide the declarations of the Epidaurus, Astros, and Troizina assemblies between 1822-1827. By contrast, the Kingdom of Greece led to the articulation and final predominance of a concept of politics as guardianship with a strong underlying exclusionary thrust. The exclusionary dimension was later reinforced with the bloc mentality associated with the civil war of the 1940s and its aftermath. The culmination of this period, .i.e., the introduction of explicit authoritarianism with the coup in 1967, can be seen as driving the view of politics as guardianship to its extreme conclusion, thereby changing the parameters of the debate.

The third conception of politics emerges in the context of the break with conservative-authoritarian rule in 1974. The break in 1974 represented also a certain departure from routine politics: for a crucial albeit brief historical moment, a number of different political outcomes appeared possible. This transitory emphasis on political possibilities left an unmistakable mark on the Third Republic: the sense of political possibilities combined with the defiance of inherited structures and of the traits and constraints that shaped them tends to characterize the dominant post-1974 conceptions of politics and of citizenship.

This particular form of anti-necessitarianism constructs its conception of politics in terms of a seemingly expanding horizon of political possibilities. The concept of politics in this context retains elements of the civic emphasis which the previous two concepts had endorsed in markedly different ways, but registers a heightened state of anticipation of new forms of substantive popular participation in the polity.Some aspects of this conception led to valuable searches for the remarkable potential inherent in Greek republican sensibilities; other aspects simply provided ammunition for the populist digression of the 1980s. Yet it is also true that, for many Greeks, active citizenship acquired a substantive dimension after 1974.

As the international financial crisis that exploded in September 2008 became a major issue within the EU, developments led to a re-opening of discussions over key issues and dilemmas on the eurozone and economic governance. In Greece, the financial-cum-economic crisis reshaped the parameters of the debate. From a longer-term perspective, it may seem as if the crisis simultaneously wreaked havoc on the social fabric and forced open a window of opportunity. In view of the latter, a new pragmatism may become part of the changing conception of politics. But to achieve this, we will need to curb some of the structural constraints on large-scale reform while at the same time reassuring Greek citizens that national democratic accountability is not a thing of the past. Both aspects are crucial: it is the combination that matters.

University of Crete


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