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Even if he wins the election, Antonis Samaras will not be prime minister or leader of the "blue"

13 June 2012 / 22:06:27  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova 

Gregory Farmakis is one of the most active users of social media in Greece. He has his own blog and thousands of “followers” visit his Facebook and Twitter profiles daily. An engineer and a businessman, he manages the consulting company for research and management of financial and statistical data, Agilis, which produces specialized software.
Gregory Farmakis ran for the first time in the 6 May elections with the ballot of Democratic Alliance. He will not run in the elections on 17 June, but along with at least 249 other rational thinkers, he created  "Open Society."

In an interview with GRReporter, he talked about it, about elections, populism, the future of New Democracy and the centre-right space, and about the power of social media.

Mr. Farmakis, tell us about the "Open Society" initiative.

"Open Society" is a citizens' initiative, which is not a political organization, nor does it intend to become a party, although it has a very clear political position. We did not want its foundation to be associated with the people who initiated it and therefore, we waited for the first 100 signatures in its favour before announcing it. In our opinion, it does not really matter who initiated it but who shares the ideas of the initiative.

We decided to introduce it on the Internet, precisely because we did not want it to be accepted as a way of making a personal image. Another 150 signatures were added to the initial 100. The initiative aims at intervening in public dialogue through activities that may be proposed by the participants, namely through writing texts, organizing discussions and anything else that can submit questions for discussion within the social dialogue or exert pressure on different decision making levels. I.e. it will not be a think tank but something like political activism to put it figuratively. Our first activity was the inaugural statement, outlining what ultimately Greece is in Europe.
A quick look at the list shows that the initiative involves people from many political spaces.

Yes, and this was one of our goals. We could say that it regards a particular political space that is a broad centrist space. There are liberals, social democrats and leftists among us. Our efforts are aimed at uniting all people regardless of their party affiliations, but who share the idea of Greece, which is based on the institutions of a constitutional state, open society, modern management, the open economy and welfare, on the state support of the weaker and on reducing inequality. The initiative is political in nature, but it is sufficiently broad to be assigned to a particular political space. In practice, it is the missing link in the Greek political spectrum. Our principals are free and competitive economy, reforms in this regard, institutions and rule of law, government intervention in the market only where it cannot regulate itself, a state providing its citizens with health services, education and security.

In the elections on 6 May, you were a candidate for deputy. What was your experience from the election process?

I think the most typical for the last elections was that many people like me, who had no party activity, decided to run in a period very negative for Greece. And this was one of the positive things.

As for the results, they were expected on the one hand and very disturbing on the other. First, it is because we see the continuously rising polarization. And no matter how we try to keep composure, to maintain the view that the solution is for all of us to agree to a minimum of common things and remove ideological differences for a while, we see that this centrist position is no longer a part of public discussion. Quite the contrary - we currently have two extremes, which are polarized.

The upcoming elections rather than the past ones bother me more as well as today's situation, which gets worse every day due to the increased violence. For the first time, we have an election period with so many cases of violence.

What is the role of populism in public life?

I think what I said about violence is directly related to populism. It is virtually a denial of rationality. Populism is not just demagoguery - it is something much more evil. It finds expression in creating a common enemy, which may be artificial, and putting it against the citizens; in deciding that the citizens are the people, i.e. a single mass, the will of which you interpret from your role as a political party. This process is very subversive because it cancels rationality, which is the foundation of democracy. When creating this enemy and giving expression to the "holy" anger of people, "oppressed" by their rightness and so on, you are creating a gap in logic. And it is filled by violence.

When the Discontented started gathering in the square last year, I was among the first to criticize them. Some even accused me of not understanding their problems. I say that, when abusing the parliament, which is an institution, or throwing yogurt at politicians, these yogurts will gradually turn into beating as happened with deputy Kostis Hadzidakis and journalist Tasos Telloglou  Will we excuse anger again then? When excusing yogurt and abuse, you are actually cancelling the dialogue. Violence will appear in the gap as you have "legalized" it without understanding it. Therefore, I was very worried when I saw the images of hangings and heard aggressive slogans. The entire political system was transformed into a universal enemy and all the Greek people were put against it. When shouting, "burn the parliament", the citizen can vote for Golden Dawn, because it promises him that it would enter it to beat. People did not vote for them because they are Nazis. The majority of them do not even know what Nazism is as an ideology. They voted for Golden Dawn because of illegal immigration, which is a matter used by many parties in a particularly negative way. The second reason was precisely the battle scenes, satisfying them. And it is because populism has taught people that "holy" anger can justify some slap in the parliament. The path of violence began quite some time ago and I fear that there may be no turning back.

Some days before the elections, it seems that SYRIZA's leader manages to better send his political messages than his main rival Antonis Samaras. What causes this in your opinion?

First, I must say that political changes happen so quickly that it is not possible to interpret the actions of a party in view of what it was even a few months ago. This is due to the mass shift of voters. This creates a two-way connection between political leaders and the electorate, but in populism, politicians follow voters rather than the opposite.

We cannot speak of SYRIZA, bearing in mind the party with an electoral vote of 5% from a year ago. Alexis Tsipras and his team realized that the percentage they won on 6 May was due to the electorate of PASOK. The majority of these people work in the public sector and are worried that they may lose their jobs. Others were against the Memorandum and could not forgive PASOK. However, they are not actually left in terms of a left communist, as are the members of the leadership of SYRIZA, i.e. part of the patriotic populist PASOK. These are the same people who left New Democracy to join Panos Kamenos’ Independent Greeks.

Alexis Tsipras’ message reaches society more easily because of the sentimental political rhetoric, which this audience was taught in the last 30-40 years. Promises that the Memorandum will be cancelled and we will teach the others, etc. are easily communicated because people want to hear just that. On the other hand, New Democracy and its leader in particular are totally unable to cope with this. And the reason is that he is inconsistent. After trying to follow this policy against the Memorandum for two years, using a similar patriotic and populist rhetoric, he has now failed to convince that he is the leader of a European political party. Antonis Samaras is simply defending himself from Alexis Tsipras. In the beginning, they even tried to do it with anti- communist rhetoric. But no one really fears that SYRIZA is a Stalinist Communist Party. This argument cannot convince anyone. I think a lot of people who will vote for New Democracy on Sunday will do it with a heavy heart, not because they want to vote for Samaras. So, I think the dynamics of developments has omitted him, and even if he wins, he will be neither prime minister nor the leader of New Democracy. We will witness major developments the day after the elections. In a strange way, not people but developments determine the evolution of things. This happened to George Papandreou. His party rejected him. Therefore, I think that New Democracy supports Antonis Samaras, simply because it failed to replace him or because it had no choice at that time. He is supported by both the voters and the party.

Under these conditions, perhaps the Democratic Alliance, from which you were a candidate, will not be eventually differentiated again. Who could be the possible leader of New Democracy?

I do not know whether the Democratic Alliance will separate again. I think it is now very difficult to make judgments. I do not know who could be the leader of New Democracy, but I believe that if the party is not willing to follow the fate of PASOK it should be reorganized. First, it should recover its centrist core, which it has lost in recent years, in order to find a leadership that will ensure that core and to also get rid of many burdens of the past. People cannot easily forgive the politicians for their "wearing out" over the years. This is Alexis Tsipras’ advantage - many people will say at the last moment before the vote, "They have no government experience."

I think the elections will form a coalition government involving New Democracy, PASOK and the Democratic Left and the prime minister will not be Antonis Samaras. So, this will help to change the steering group in New Democracy and its development.

Yet some believe that Alexis Tsipras is gaining points with his accurate statements, while Antonis Samaras as well as other leaders are not able to do it. How would you comment on that?

On the one hand, Antonis Samaras is not so specific, as he tries to mitigate things and so is forced to say things in order to satisfy all listeners. This is a classic example of populist politics. On the other hand, things said by Alexis Tsipras sound concrete, but they are not. Nobody knows whether he will ultimately first cancel the Memorandum and then renegotiate it, whether he will cancel it politically or legally, whether on 28 June, if elected prime minister, he will go to the Eurogroup, having cancelled the Memorandum before that or if he will go for negotiations. Nobody really knows what he will do to resolve the crisis and the financial problems of the country. On the one hand, SYRIZA wants to satisfy its initial supporters, i.e. radical leftists, who are against the euro and for the return of the drachma. On the other hand, he does not want to scare the new voters drawn from previous PASOK voters, who are for the euro and the European Union. Alexis Tsipras was forced to present an economic programme a few days ago, namely to stop the various positions expressed by party representatives in the media.

Despite all the other messages, people who are against the Memorandum will vote for SYRIZA. And here I would like to note that if elected, Alexis Tsipras will end up in a deadlock. He would either have to do what he promised, i.e. to cancel the memorandum and on the next day after the elections, he will have to convince voters that they will have to make greater financial sacrifices. It is because we continue to have no money. The other option is not to cancel the Memorandum because he will realize that it is still impossible for Greece to stand alone on its own two feet and then his electorate will be dissatisfied again. This is a deadlock difficult to handle.

What is the role of social media in the elections on 6 May and in the upcoming ones?

I would like to give you a personal example: I am very active in social media, many people know me from them and generally, I often use them in my activities. However, it was enough to only once appear on television in order for different people to begin to call me, former classmates whom I had not seen for years to seek me and to express their support. I mean that the power of traditional media is very strong. Twitter, for example, is a community of tens of thousands of people but voters in Greece are 10 million. We are not yet in an era when social media are competing with traditional ones in forming the public debate.

What they do is that they bring people together and help them connect with other people. People who are not connected either professionally or socially or even geographically acquaint with each other. They help people to connect and to take common action, as we did with "Open Society".

Social media provide straightness. They put citizens in a position of equality with journalists. Once I had written in my blog an article in response to an article by a very famous journalist. He had declared his support for the return to the drachma and I explained in my article why this argument was a bad choice. The article I wrote was read between 20 - 25,000 times. This is the circulation of one of the major newspapers. Before the existence of social media, an ordinary person like me would never have had the opportunity to reply to a journalist on such an equal basis. This connection helps journalists themselves as they have a direct contact with readers and are criticized more directly. In this way, they become more careful and try to gather more information. This connection with social media will be of great benefit to traditional media.

Otherwise, I am one of those who do not believe in citizen journalism, or that all of us can become journalists by using social media. This is an occupation that you should know how to do and to be dedicated to it. I do not think the need for journalism will stop. It will simply change positively due to the presence of social media.


Tags: PoliticsNewsSocial mediaCitizens' initiativeOpen SocietyGregory Farmakis
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