The end of hate

International media coverage of SYRIZA has focused on their economic plans, but very little has been written about their divisive rhetoric. This article, by well known political cartoonist Andreas Petroulakis, was published in Greek on the eve of the election. 

While we still can, let us say a few words about the country we are leaving behind — every election takes us to another country. This new country is uncharted, but I hope two things about it: that it be part of Europe, and that it is not so full of hate.

Tomorrow the day belongs to SYRIZA. I think that, regardless of what they have been saying in the past, they will do what they can not to derail our country’s European course. I hope they will succeed in that. I will focus on hate: this party is to a large extent responsible for the volume of hate in Greek society. And I truly hope that as of tomorrow they will try hard to defuse it, and to become a government also of those against whom they had been directing the hate. They should not forget that at least 65% of people still do not trust SYRIZA’s proposition. And let them not say, as I expect they will, that SYRIZA never blamed ordinary people, just governments and the banks — no thanks; their hate fed a rhetoric which spread everywhere. Families and friendships broke up, and people who were neither Ministers nor bankers were publicly slandered and abused.

Hate was kindled and constantly reproduced since 2010 on the basis of three factors. The first was of course the rapid drop in living standards in Greece and the impoverishment of a large number of people — hate easily springs from misery, if you know how to direct it. The second was laying claim to a monopoly of compassion on the part of SYRIZA. The third was constant war against everybody else, who had no right to claim to be sensitive, because they had a different interpretation of the facts from that of SYRIZA.

Oh yes. These people were fighting a war, and they often admitted it. Suddenly in Greece the democratic right to disagree was abolished, mostly by the major party of the opposition and by the network of public voices, journalistic or other, that revolves around them. Whoever disagreed, or was just uncertain, about the main political proposition of SYRIZA — i.e. to abolish the bailout agreements with a single law, to write off debt unilaterally, etc., in other words this plan that was being put to the people as an easy way out — was torn apart. He or she was immediately labelled as somebody’s mouthpiece, or as corrupt, or simply as an idiot who cannot see the obvious, and certainly as being insensitive to the plight of 1.5 million unemployed, starving children and thousands of suicides. Even, perhaps, complicit in all of that. They would not accept that you could be hurting as much as they by what was happening around you, but that you did not believe that SYRIZA’s plan would solve the problems.

This hate has not evaporated, and it may be channelled in three dangerous ways. First, it may be fed out of inertia and continuously directed against the same old enemies, on whom problems are always blamed. Second, it may be used as fuel for revenge in selected spaces (e.g. in ERT, the public radio and television organization). Third, and most important, when everybody has realized there are no miracle solutions, it may turn against the party itself that is in government, as happened in the case of Mr. Samaras.

In any case, starting tomorrow delusions will come to an end. Even the most unsuspecting will realize that from the start of the crisis all of our real options were very painful. My hope is that this common understanding will be the beginning of the end of hate.

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