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The ''harakiri'' move of George Papandreou that saved the game for Greece

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by Georgios Kokkolis, political scientist

Whether or not George Papandreou’s decision over a Greek referendum was correct or not, is certainly a matter that will torture the historian of the future. Is Papandreou an exceptional mind or a dangerous idiot?

Whatever the answer to the question is, fear not that one thing is certain: that Papandreou touched such a sensitive string that by no means was to be touched. This risky decision over the referendum, however, reshaped both the Greek and the European political environment.

The possibility of pulling Greece out of the eurozone forced the Greek political parties to adopt a clear position over the country’s European prospects. From a political communication view, Papandreou’s decision became the key point that changed everything. The reason is that every political party is forced to provide a clear-cut answer, which has to be precise and crystal clear. To put it roughly, it has to be a clear YES or NO.

There is no explanation or asterisk behind a YES or NO, which in terms of communication is an absolute form of answer. Furthermore, this YES-NO scheme gives a very useful weapon for political antagonism, since the opponent is able to easily fire against one’s political position.

This is the reason behind Antonis Samaras’s decision to cooperate and accept a coalition government between the Socialist and the Conservative party. Otherwise, he would have to provide sufficient excuses for why his pro-European party that put the country in the EU, would join the NO cause in a referendum that actually poses a question about EU and euro membership.

This harakiri move by George Papandreou actually managed to touch two taboos: one inside and one outside Greece. Inside, the decision over the referendum changed the political morality of Greece’s political parties, which for decades refused to cooperate, in sharp contrast from the practice of their European fellows.

Outside, Papandreou’s decision posed clearly the issue of whether Greece should stay within the eurozone, an issue that no European leader ever touched since now. Thus, he offered a whole issue of legitimization of current European decisions.

The question that arises is simple and double-headed. First and foremost, if a referendum is an approved form of ratification over the bailout process, then what’s happening if the people say NO? Will the country be left to chaos? Is there an efficient plan B?

Let’s move now on the inner core of the question: an untouchable issue that every European leader is afraid of but nobody discusses it in. If Greece is to pull itself out of the single currency (whether this is voluntarily or by force) then a moral issue occurs. Why the Portuguese, the Irish or the Italians should accept a rescue package accompanied by severe austerity measures, and why the politicians in theses countries should commit a ‘political suicide’ by voting all these unpopular laws, if the future is unavoidable and their countries will have to quit the eurozone as well? To put it in other words, why the patient has to follow such a heavy treatment if death is unavoidable?

Greece, even unwillingly, paves the way once more.