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United Diaspora, Divided Homeland

We have witnessed a series of successful visits of Greek government representatives to cities with big Greek populations in Canada and the United States over the past few weeks. Prime Minister Mitsotakis confirmed his interest in the Greeks abroad with his visit to Montreal and Toronto. Equally welcome and positive were the presentations other government officials made about the newly introduced measure of the postal vote. But I could not help smiling ruefully when I read statements about the need for the Greeks abroad and Hellenism more generally to remain united. I think the Greeks abroad do a pretty good job at staying away from partisan political divisions in contrast to what goes on in Greece.

The latest example of the wide rifts that exist in Greece’s political world is the recent ‘no-confidence’ motion the opposition tabled against the government. If such a measure would have passed it would have forced the government to step down and call elections. The main purpose of the motion was to censure the government for allegedly trying to cover up the responsibilities of politicians in the fatal 2023 Tempe railroad crash, and more generally to hold it answerable for the public’s loss of confidence in the nation’s institutions. The Tempe crash is under investigation by the appropriate judicial authorities. Claiming the public has lost confidence in the country’s governing system conflicts with the fact the government and Mitsotakis enjoy a big lead in all opinion polls. There was a lot of sharp rhetoric in the debate by the opposition, but no damning evidence was presented. It was an exercise in partisan politics.

In any case, the motion was sure to fail because the government has 158 seats in the 300-member Vouli and voting in the Greek parliament is strictly along party lines. And fail it did. The vote was 159 to 141 against the motion, with one independent siding along the governing New Democracy party deputies.

This waste of everybody’s time prompted most analysts to decry the tactics of the opposition parties and suggest instead they come up with viable policy alternatives to the issues the country faces. The government certainly needs to be held accountable for the Tempe railroad crash and the way it’s treating it, and also for the Predator case in which politicians and journalists were victims of wiretapping. But anyone who has been following Greek politics for the past few decades will confirm that both those types of incidents could have easily happened during a SYRIZA or a PASOK administration. And the slow pace of the Tempe investigation is a reflection of the deep structural flaws that have plagued Greece’s judiciary system for decades.

The proposed no-confidence vote which all opposition parties supported was PASOK’s initiative. Not wanting to be overshadowed, leading members of SYRIZA came up with public statements targeting the government which were over the top and polarizing. Professor Nikolaos Farantouris, SYRIZA’s European Union policy advisor, said he hoped Laura Kövesi, the head of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office would bring down the Greek government over what she considered its obstructing the investigation of the Tempe train crash. This provoked an outcry because the idea that a European Union official could bring down a democratically elected government is far-fetched. Around the same time Stefanos Kasselakis, SYRIZA’s leader, suggested that Greece should hold national elections with international observers because the government could not be trusted to hold fair elections. This brought an even greater uproar, justifiably so, because if there is one thing that works well in Greek politics is the election process. No one in Greece would deny an election result, much less try and reverse it.

All this does not exculpate the New Democracy government’s scornful rejection of every criticism. It shoulders indirect blame for a great deal of mismanagement and arrogance. There was a separate parliamentary inquiry into the Tempe crash which appeared to be superficial. There was a breach of data protection regulation involving a New Democracy member of the European parliament. Two government ministers had to resign because they were hobnobbing with the owner of To Vima the very day the newspaper had launched a front page attack on the government.

I can’t think of a similarly divisive climate and ideologically colored statements coming from elected officials of Greek-American or other Diaspora organizations. This may have been the case when the colonels’ dictatorship ruled Greece. But in the fifty years that have elapsed since the restoration of democracy the Diaspora has not been riven by clashing political ideologies. Some observers have claimed allowing Greeks abroad to vote in the Greek elections and have their own representatives in the Vouli would cause the homeland’s endemic political divisions to migrate to the Diaspora. We have yet to see any such evidence. Maybe Diaspora Greeks should be visiting the homeland and exhorting their compatriots to become less polarized.

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