In times of crisis true leaders stand out. It is natural, then, that in this wretched age, Giorgos Karatzaferis should emerge from the daily sludge like some shiny creature from the lost lagoon of an idealized past. Where others hum, haw, bluster and equivocate on every issue, his moral clarity radiates like the sun on a bronze statue of Alexander at noon; where other politicians pay lip service to the law, he does what he likes whenever he likes, knowing that in Greece the “political” dimension of things is more important than any temporal collective illusion of absolutes. In this case, the political dimension is his personal pursuit of truth, justice and the superiority of all things Greek. In this he is truly a great Greek: because he knows better than anyone else what the fatherland needs, everything that he does in pursuit of his further advancement is justified because he himself is dedicated to a higher cause.
His whole life has been devoted to creating a mythical persona that is no less splendid for being real, for his generous willingness to be one of us, one of the people. He has been a bodybuilder, a disc jockey, the owner of a school for models, a journalist, owner of a television channel (dedicated solely to the Karatzaferis personality cult) and, now, a politician. Throughout his political career (first as a New Democracy gadfly, now as a party leader), the charismatic chief of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS, an acronym which stands neatly for “the people”) is perfectly in tune with a society that is built on the precarious foundation that people are what they say they are – not necessarily what they are trained to be.
So gorgeous Giorgos is the Greek everyman. Not only is he made up of something from everyone and something for everyone, but his political opportunism, too, is based on feeding on the luxuriant bottom of the social and political barrel. His extreme right-wing opinions are peppered with statements that make the extreme left look like pro-capitalism, pro-banking cheerleaders. His piety leads him to Church on Sundays but does not get in the way of xenophobia, anti-Semitism and wild conspiracy theories. The issue is not whether Karatzaferis believes in everything that he does or says – or trusts in his alliances with even more extremist groups – the issue is that his lack of any seriousness, of any questioning of his beliefs, works wonderfully with a growing segment of the electorate.
And this is where Karatzaferis’s moral clarity comes in: he wastes no time pretending to be something other than what he is; and in doing so he shows up the Greek political system for what it is – a stage full of sound and fury signifying nothing, simply reflecting the opportunistic gropings of the day. Giorgos did not need to waste his time or ours instructing his party’s MPs how to vote after Monday’s debate on whether former minister Aristotelis Pavlidis should face a parliamentary inquiry. The Constitution says parliamentary ballots are secret and a matter of personal conscience. So, Giorgos marked all the ballot papers of his MPs according to his personal conscience. He then sealed them in envelopes and handed them to his deputies. Even they did not know which way they were voting. Perfect secrecy. What his MPs learned was no secret, as they had known it from the moment they climbed aboard Karatzaferis’s personal vehicle: it’s his party, and they can cry if they want to.
Milestones&Footnotes comment in AthensPlus, 8 May, 2009