If, as in the manner of the ‘Wogboy’ writer Christos Tsiolkas ever wished to capitalise upon the success of his incisive and deeply disquieting masterpiece “The Slap,” by creating a sequel set in Greece, then he can look no further than the sordid and infantile world of Greek politics and media, where he can find a plot already woven for him.
Imagine, if you will, a group of politicians representing a broad spectrum of political ideologies invited to a televised discussion. Very soon, however, they begin to hurl abuse at each other, causing one of them to throw a jug of water on his colleague and then slap and throw a punch at another one. It is for Christos Tsiolkas and his genius to determine the extent of consequences of such a slap yet it is for all of us to divine the inner meaning of such an unexpected event.
One of the characters that could grace the pages of such a sequel could be a man surnamed Kasidiaris, meaning someone who has lost his hair through alopecia. His surname in this instance could denote someone whose conscience, ethics and political beliefs are as sparse and lacking as hair on a shiny bald pate. Kasidiaris, as the entire Hellenic world now knows, is however, not a figment of a writer’s imagination. Instead, he is an elected member of Greek parliament, the so called bastion of democracy, representing the extremist far right Golden Dawn party. The politically mature and abounding in critical thought Greek citizens have seen fit to elect to parliament a person who denies the Holocaust, has been implicated in the attempted robbery and murder of an Athenian academic in 2007 and who, when teased and verbally abused by a particularly articulate parliamentary colleague on national television, responds by throwing slaps and punches, as he did, on Ant1 television recently. Q and A, eat your heart out.
Enter into our little drama a massive and garrulous Greek politician who was once a journalist, renown for her outspokenness and almost tear-jerkingly beautiful mastery of the Greek language, Liana Kanelli, elected representative of the Communist party of Greece. Yet Liana, the eloquent harbinger of a new left, glosses silently over the impassioned speeches she gave in the seventies, in support of centre-right Greek prime minister Konstantinos Karamanlis. Instead, she does what she does best: subjects the brutish simian Kasidiaris to five minutes of unstoppable abuse, calling him a fascist and a Nazi, then, taking obvious pleasure in watching his blood boil, allowing the abuse to reach a crescendo, she hurls a copy of the Communist Party’s rag “Rizospastis” in his face. Now the provocation has done its work. Kasidiaris will respond with violence and Kanelli, who should have known better and displayed some basic courtesy to allow a discussion to take place on a civilized level, has obtained what she set out to achieve by her premeditated attacks: to see a rise in her popularity and be proclaimed a martyr to democracy, a victim of the fascist hordes, and through her concerted effort to subject all and sundry to irrational and unceasing abuse, a protector of free speech. Graciously, the great martyr refuses to seek to press charges, magnanimously declaring for the camera, that Kasidiaris is beneath her dignity.
Centre left, enter the distinguished Rena Dourou, the shrill representative of the left alliance SYRIZA who also subjects the primate Kasidiaris to a tirade of abuse, denying him the right of reply. Incensed at him being a fascist and a Nazi, while glossing over the deeds of the members of her party who have incited the recent rampages in Athens, where buildings were destroyed and people killed, she continues to goad and provoke him until her, not unexpectedly lashes out in the manner already foreseen: He throws a jug of water at her. Here too then is another martyr of democracy and free speech baptised, in the conflict of the arena. For was it not the great Proximo who said: “Thrust this into another man's flesh (the abuse sic.), and they will applaud and love you for that. You may even begin to love them.”?
Enter right the bored, pudgy face of the self-satisfied Greek law professor and member of the centre-right New Democracy party, the honourable Mr Prokopis Pavlopoulos, instigator of some of the most undemocratic electoral laws in Greek history, who sits idly by, watching the shrill banshees of the left ‘defend’ the dignity of their political causes against an uneducated, inarticulate brute, with a disinterested and detached look on his face reminiscent to that of Gaius Semprnius Gracchus, passing the time at the Colosseum, watching the combats of gladiators. He lifts not a finger to attempt to restore some semblance of rationality and personability to a television program that exposes Greek politicians for what exactly they are: a bunch of self-serving careerists and populists, who, divorced from any sense of political courage or purpose, exploit but do not believe in the threadbare and unrealistic ideologies they so prostitute to the masses, in the sake of inflating their own egos, and in the quest for public exposure. This is theatre of the absurd at its very best and the unflappable Pavlopoulos underperforms his role to perfection.
One man however is rejoicing more than all others in this breakdown of civility. The king of daytime Greek television, Giorgos Papadakis, who while going through the motions of trying to keep the baying parties at bay, finally gives in to his thirst for ratings and lets them loose on each other. Giorgos also has a parting shot for his guest Liana Kanelli. He allows her to persist in shrieking and swearing, believing that the show has concluded, while the cameras continue to roll, sending swelling ratings inexorably up and up until they explode in an orgasm of crass television.
Before we join the drama by lamenting the behaviour of the ‘heirs’ of Pericles, let us remember that prior to the modern era, Athens (as opposed to the rest of Greece which had various monarchical or restrictive governments) was only ever a functional democracy for some fifty years and we, possessed more of Alcibiades’ who would subvert that system are not its heirs. Instead, we are the heirs of all those who, smug in our own illusory perception of our past as having been descended in unbroken continuity from an imaginary golden period of perfection and rationality that is a western construct that never existed, refuse to seek for anything outside their own self interest, or immediate benefit and will not or cannot learn from and emulate such political structures and practices that are necessary to the proper running of a modern state.
How and when the Greek people will emerge from their perverse penchant for ogling, conflict and abuse and demand serious and committed politicians as their representatives is a question that cannot be answered. In the meantime, it is suggested that until such time as Vladimir Putin descends into the Balkans at the head of his hordes and puts a stop to this madness, that Greek elections be determined through mud-wrestling qualifiers and slap-happy politicians assaulting each other. Let them wallow in the swill in which they belong.
First published in NKEE on Saturday, 16 June 2012