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Politics is the art of the possible

26 July 2012 / 12:07:59  GRReporter
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Anastasia Balezdrova

The leader of the Liberal Alliance Grigoris Vallianatos is one of the most famous and controversial figures in Greek political and social life. He has been an activist for human rights for years and has never hid his sexual identity. In an interview for GRReporter he presented the party's position on the situation in Greece, the government, social issues, and some taboo topics as well, that other parties do not dare even to name.

Mr. Vallianatos, what do you think is the reason for the rise of SYRIZA?

I think SYRIZA figured out how to benefit from the discontent and unfortunately they figured it out in the populist manner to which we in Greece are greatly used to. The party is expressing a very blurry political ideology about the economy. In fact, it never managed to answer the question why the so-called second world fell apart. It also failed to recover from the crisis in the 1990s so as to be able to submit a new proposal for the economy.

The second element is that the inability to present an alternative economic policy, leads you to populism. It is easy to be a humanist, a defender of minorities, of rights, to be an ordinary, "leftist" person, if we assume that all this can be concentrated when there is no economic proposal.

I have many years of experience as an activist and a participant in various movements of the civil society. There I have collaborated with people with leftist convictions as well, with whom we share the same vision for society. Our conversations, however, always break down at the very moment this vision begins to have a budget. After all these years, this experience has led me to the following "bitter" conclusion: that these people have no sense of the economy and therefore are dangerous in the company. And if not dangerous in it, they are dangerous in politics.

On the other hand, however, entire generations of Greeks have grown up with the economic vision of PASOK and its leader Andreas Papandreou. And it stated "Give the people everything", as his phrase to the then-Finance Minister Dimitris Tsovolas has remained in history. These simplifications are the Erinyes that are haunting us.

Thus, SYRIZA was able to take advantage of the people's disappointment, frustration and anger caused by the huge failure of both major parties. And, in order to be bad from the very beginning, let me say that, if the greatest responsibility for the economy belongs to PASOK and New Democracy, the left party also has a large part of it, but it is not yet time to discuss this part. On the other hand, however, we can also suppose that this time has come, yet in a very dramatic manner. This time has come because the left party was leading the cultural life, the universities and the way of expression. And this way of expression is a populist one, blindly leftist and hopeless.

The leftist party must be blamed also for the rise of the far right. Leftists are so extreme in their aims, and it is difficult to discuss with them, for example, what immigration is, that their simplified to a minimum positions belong to the Nazis. And this is one of the big problems we are facing now.

How do you see the government's actions up to now and how long do you think it will last?

The best representatives of both failed major parties are involved in the government, but also the worst of them. There are ministers, such as Kostis Hatzigakis, Yiannis Stournaras and Antonis Manitakis, but there are also others who are hindering things. Although a successful university professor and an expert in his field, Administrative Reform Minister Antonis Manitakis does not seem to understand things. He is just so "fed" with left theory that he is simply unable to cope with his task.

Yiannis Stournaras has the advantage of a person who has parted from PASOK for a long time now and currently nobody is able to make remarks about his actions. As chairman of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research, he presented before us real measurements of the actual state of affairs. Kostis Hadzidakis is also a successful choice and understands things, but at the same time people like him are a nominal minority in New Democracy.

Thus, this government is in a state of war of nerves, which includes most of the main bodies of New Democracy and PASOK, but not the Democratic Left. They don't want the changes because they don't know how to live with these changes. Of course, among them there are also people, who don't believe that the changes will bring positive results.

At the same time the opposition is doing everything possible for the government to fail. I don't believe that it can cope with the situation because the party "burden" is preventing it from starting to "swim." In this sense I think it will last until December.

I think the efforts of the Democratic Left are heroic. The party has already learned and is already paying the price for the fact that political forces have to enter into a coalition. It seems that it is also starting to understand what the economy is. And this brings hope to the rest of the Left party as well, so that the others can begin dealing with real life as well.

Ayn Rand's theory of objective individualism lies in the platform of the Liberal Alliance. Tell us about it.

The Liberal Alliance is a new party, that has existed since 2007. Liberal thought, however, is ancient, so our efforts in Greece are twofold: On one hand, to remind people that our history hasn’t allowed us to go through the Renaissance, and in this way to dispel all the amazing legends and conspiracy theories in which some modern Greeks still believe. The other has a purely political dimension.

Therefore, we liberals have decided to remind peopleabout the Renaissance and to introduce all trends of liberalism, which stems from very conservative representatives and ends up at anarchistic ones, and to feed Greeks' thoughts on thinkers and brave decisions. One of our most serious projects is the liberalist library, where discussions with representatives of various political trends take place, in order to find answers to various questions. This autumn, we are going to start a series of monthly discussions, at which very serious political and social issues will be discussed, because we believe that the best way to capitalize on the result from the selection outcome is to break some taboo subjects and to make some thing clear. This round of events will be entitled "The King is Naked" and will include the introduction of books by many different authors. 

Do you think the liberal idea, at a certain moment, can be accepted by a big part of the society?

I think discussions about the nature of liberalism are being held at the moment inside SYRIZA, inside PASOK , inside New Democracy and inside the Democratic Left. This has started because awareness of globalization and adaptation to communication show that in politics there is a simple criterion. It is that politics is the art of the possible. Therefore, people should be able to look around and see which are the countries and societies that function and to choose those similar to which they want to live in. Like the people in Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, USA., etc. Thus it becomes clear that the people in Greece have to come back down to earth and take advantage of the incredible opportunity we have - to compare the situation in different countries and to estimate what suits us. Given the resources at our disposal it is very easy to tell everyone that this liberal society is the one we want to live in and that this is the way of living, in the final reckoning, of the people who live better than us.

The example of the Greeks who emigrate is cynical, bearing in mind how difficult this is. Isn't it very logical? They go to countries such as Germany, Canada, Australia, the USA. Well, how do these countries function? Well, this discussion has already started in Greece.

In the elections on 6 May 1.8 per cent of the electorate voted for us. This is the hard core of the people who understand what we are saying. They, if you like, are very brave too, because the Liberal Alliance brought forward all taboo subjects in Greek society: the economy, education, human rights, ethics, etc. These are things that other parties are afraid to touch upon, because when they do, they hide them. Our position on the dispute over Macedonia's name is one of them. It is shared by both SYRIZA and the Democratic Left as well as by Drasi, but only we have the courage to answer specific questions in a real way.

Therefore I think that we are obliged to continue what we started, without hurrying. We have a lot of educational work before us. Political, but also educational and very pleasant as well. Our experience from the elections showed that we are credible, but a big change is needed.

What was the experience of the Liberal Alliance from the two electoral contests?

Before the elections on 6 May we worked to create a broad liberal front. Thus we talked with Dora Bakoyianni's Democratic Alliance, ReCreate Greece, the Democrats, Drasi, with which we had cooperation earlier as well, with other formations such as the Social Union of George Floridis, leftist intellectuals, etc. In practice, we entered into a coalition with Drasi. With others we didn't manage to, although we wanted to. This was also the first time we needed to hold discussions on ideological issues with potential partners. We found differences, but nevertheless insisted on a coalition, because it was the will of the people: Unity both at the right and the left end of the political spectrum. Our collaboration with Drasi was very useful and valuable and I think I had the huge chance to be the last political ally of Stefanos Manos at the end of his long political career.

The second elections on 17 June were a fiasco for us because, on the one hand Drasi betrayed us, and on the other, the behaviour of ReCreate Greece towards us was immoral. I know that these are serious things, which, by the way, I am saying for the first time. It is simply not possible on the one hand to say that you are entering into a coalition with another party and on the other to refuse to put its representatives in elective positions in ballot-papers. This is not cooperation. Also, you cannot enter into a coalition with a party whose leader you directly offend and at each appearance on television you behave as if this cooperation does not exist. After that we found ideological differences as well. This created a lot of problems for us because it is difficult to concentrate your voters, when you have so many differences with your coalition partner.

Of course, we will sit again at the negotiating table with everyone, but now we know who is who.

Grigoris Vallianatos presented the position of the Liberal Alliance in several of the most politically charged issues of tension, which are constantly evaded by the other parties. One of them is the Cyprus problem. A few days ago, a comment of his on Facebook, that the Turkish invasion of the island has been agreed between Greece and Turkey, provoked an intense discussion.

The Cyprus problem

"Yesterday, the documentary I was talking about was on national TV. It showed Greek officers who explained how their chiefs right up until the last minute, kept telling them to leave the region and that the Turkish troops were doing military exercises. An old man, who had been there at the time, said that this was the first time he had heard about these things. All Greeks already know that this case's file is the only still secret file. Just this fact alone is indicative that something is wrong."

According to the Liberal Alliance, when a person wants to be free he or she wants the others to be free, too. "We do not offer solutions to people, just ways to find them. I do not know whether Cypriots are only one people or more. I respect the fact that some of them want to call themselves Greek Cypriots and they feel Greek. I respect the fact that others want to be called Turkish Cypriots, Armenians, Jews, Romas, etc. However, we support "fair play". If the Greek Cypriots have decided to go back to the 1960s and put the Turkish Cypriots in a zoo, let them just say so, so that we can discuss it. The fact that a community doesn’t want to respect another, is a different thing. Today, the international community acknowledges the problem as a problem between two equal communities. This is also stated in Kofi Annan's plan, which was not a very good one, but it was possible to apply it. For so many years, everybody had urged for a UN plan and when it was presented, the answer was "no." Now there is no plan. All I know is that when the Cypriot President, who is a communist, is making statements, the word "Presidency" behind him is written in both Greek and Turkish. And during anniversaries, the Greek national anthem is played. I do not know how Cyprian is this. I do not know if people understand that the current rotational President of the European Union is from a country borrowing the national anthem of another country, while still saying that it consists of two equal communities. This is a very specific and indicative example.

We also respect the rights of the Greeks in southern Albania to want to preserve their language and traditions. This is different from their possible desire to unite with Greece, but this is something that can be debated. I am not the man who will tell them what to do. This is the position of freedom.

In this sense, Cypriots will have to decide what they want and to discuss it with today's society, so as not to mislead themselves and the world. The same goes for the Greeks in Albania, Albanians, Macedonians and all the rest."

The dispute over Macedonia's name

"The Liberal Alliance does not accept nationalism as a human value. Everyone wants to be something and this should be respected by others. But when this causes hatred, violence and discrimination against others, then this option is not acceptable.

I cannot accept that one race or a nation is above the others. Like every logical person, on the issue with Macedonia's name, I would like a name that is accepted by both sides to be found. Our experience of the past 30 years shows that Greece is not seeking something like this.

The proposal of the Liberal Alliance is as follows: In contemporary international law such matters are decided based on the needs of those who are alive, involving as little history as possible. In this sense, the last word for the name of the country will be its citizens'. If you like, our more difficult position is, by the same logic, that the group of people in north-western Greece, who believe they are Macedonians, and not Greeks, should be able to express this. The European Union and the decision over the European Court's issue of Human Rights are very specific. Today, international relations are regulated as follows: I acknowledge what it is, and after that I start a discussion about who accepts it and who does not accept it. There is no violence in this, no change of borders. To summarize: We would like to find a name, which is accepted by both sides. This is not possible because neither Greece nor Macedonia want it. Furthermore, we are against nationalism: both from Greece and Macedonia. The last word will be to the citizens of the country."

The Turkish minority

Grigoris Vallianatos defined as shameful the fact that in modern Greece there are citizens who are distinguished on the basis of their religion. "This is something that is not done to Greeks. I find it unacceptable for this to happen against another community, just because it is defined in the Treaty of Lausanne. To be legally exact, this agreement is anachronistic. Remarks have been made to us that today the Treaty of Lausanne is not a logical basis for talking about minority rights. "

The Greek Mohammedans

"One obvious example of Modern paradox are Greek Mohammedans. These are the people who want to call themselves this and say they are not Turks and are not determined by the fact that they are Muslims. At some point the Greek state decided to take advantage of this gap in the Muslim community because they found that we are being monitored from abroad for the actions on these issues. However, the state continued to distinguish them only on religious grounds, without ever mentioning the issue of the language spoken by these people. Here I endorse the right of a community to protect their language and their cultural heritage.

Jews and anti-Semitism

"In Greece, people still do not distinguish between Israelis and Israelites. The latter is the definition of a religion and the former - that a person is a citizen of Israel. "He cited the still implemented customs as the "burning of Judas" at Easter, the idea of the rich Jew - skinflint with a big nose, reaching to the still open discussion on whether the Greek Jews were saved or handed over to the Nazi troops.

The relations between church and state in Greece

According to Grigoris Vallianatos one of the most serious problems of Greek society is the Church. "For European standards, the impact of this Church is beyond all limits. It is rooted very firmly and very deeply into politics and public life and this is a completely illogical way of applying religion. According to what I've read, dividing people on the basis of race and nationality is viewed by the Orthodox Church as heresy. At the same time it is envisaged in the actions of most members of the supreme priesthood.

Our opinion is that the close relationship between church and government is an anachronism in a European country. I respect all believers, whatever religion they profess, as long as it does not violate human rights".

Other taboo topics in Greek society are drugs, prostitution, prison conditions, homosexuality, Roma immigrants. "The Liberal Alliance made the choice to elaborate on these topics, because it believes that they interest modern Greece citizens."

In his opinion they remain taboo, because "education in schools does not suggest proposals, decisions and conflicts on these issues. Everything is hidden under the carpet. Another issue that we consider, and we are some of the few who pay the political price to do so, is communism. How does it differ from fascism? Others are afraid to touch on these issues. They lend an ear when we discuss this, but they still have not found the political courage to reach specific positions."

Here he pointed to the example of the Communist Party MP Liana Kanelli, who was attacked before the elections on air by the then-candidate and spokesman for the Golden Dawn party Ilias Kasidiaris. "The fact that Liana Kanelli is a very popular MP is the best proof of the confusion, reigning in the minds of modern Greeks. She is a woman who began her career, speaking very good Greek, with proper pronunciation and courage. She is a lesbian and has never hidden it. She began working in television and she fascinated us. Then, she wandered here and there, to get to the Communist Party. And what is she trying to tell us? That everything unfree, that the nations are trying to get rid of, and the fact that the Greek Left is glad that it lost the Civil War, may suddenly appear to be the solution to the crisis. This is not an ideology, but a torn rag, which is not subject to discussion at any level in the European Community. While in Greece, thanks to the tolerance of the Right and the quasi-ignorance of the left intellectuals, it still bothers a very large number of people. I find it absolutely unacceptable for a European country to talk about communism without mentioning its crimes."

The last question to Grigoris Vallianatos was whether he thinks the Liberal Alliance will be able to enter the next Parliament. "I do not think things will develop normally and the reasons are two. On the one hand, because populism is very strong. The change in people's lives is very big. Even if they had been well informed, the shock was so great; and now many people won't be able to feed their children. The other is that in Greece there are no social services. The country simply won't be able to cope with serious problems - the disabled, the sick, the poor. This means terror. And because these services do not work, gangs are finding fertile ground. This is the reason for our concern, in our more intensive work on these issues, and we are aiming at the exact centre, without subterfuge.

I really do not know whether we will get in the next parliament. But surely we will be part of every public discussion, which will dissipate legends, which will be aimed against taboo topics and which will have the purpose to inform Greeks how the other countries that are in good condition, and which they already envy function."

Tags: Politics Liberal Alliance Grigoris Vallianatos taboo topics human rights minorities
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