Greek democracy at a crossroads | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 08.05.2013
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Greek democracy at a crossroads

The birthplace of democracy, Greece is now struggling with corruption, clientele policies and politicians weakened by the crisis in which they flail.

Political scientists generally agree that until the onset of the debt crisis, democracy in Greece was working better than ever before. And sociologist Ilias Katsoulis believes it would serve the Greeks well to remember the achievements, particularly now, in the midst of crisis. "Following the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974, Greece became a western-style democracy in which political parties alternately share power," Katsoulis told DW, adding that the country has remained absolutely true to its democratic values.

Clientelism vs democracy

Greek former defence minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Corruption is rife in Greece

Political advisor Levteris Kousoulis agrees that democracy is an integral component of Greek society, a fact that he attributes - at least partially - to the country's 1981 entry into the EU. That said, he believes his country has been degenerated by party democracy. "Although democracy is unimaginable without political parties, the interests of these parties should not be used to weaken democratic institutions," Kousoulis says. He believes the omnipotence of political parties in Greece has opened the door for clientelism.

Political clientelism is also visible elsewhere. A decade ago, when the Greek government registered citizens initiatives and NGOs active in the country, it recorded a total of 45,000 groups. But as Katsoulis explains, most of them were not real, and had been set up by bureaucrats and party functionaries to get hold of state funding. As a result, genuine citizen's initiatives find it hard to win public attention and credibility.

The role of the Greek media in the political crisis has been widely criticized by experts, and not, Kousoulis says, without reason. "An initiative that represents a new idea only gets noticed when it uses existing power structures and party oligarchies."

Fragmented party landscape

Greeks are caught between a rock and a hard place, as the veteran politicians considered responsible for the country's economic demise are the same ones that want to lead the country out of the crisis.

beggar on a street

Anyone around to help?

Many political scientists say the answer is a transitional period in which the party landscape is broken down and regrown. The beginnings of such a trend was visible in the 2012 double elections, which saw the conservatives and socialists lose more than 15 percent of their voters to new groups such as the Democratic Left.

But the fragmentation of the established party landscape and the demise of the leading groups of old, could come at an unwelcome price. Since 2012, a neo-Nazi party has been represented in parliament, and surveys show it to be the third-strongest political power. There is a chance that they could win a seat in the 2014 European elections, unless Greece can find a way back to its democratic roots and values.

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