A Prime Minister, A Scandal, and the Assassination of a Country’s Reputation, Part 2

By Neofytos Aspriadis

In my previous post, I described how character attacks have been utilized in Greek politics during the COVID-19 pandemic, which reached a peak during the EYP wiretapping scandal.

Until now, country reputation assassination was viewed as a tool that political leaders use in the international arena to support their national interests and diplomatic goals. However, the aftermath of the EYP wiretapping scandal illustrates how interstate character assassination techniques can be used by national and international media for strategic and non-strategic purposes. In this case, an important question arises: to which category does this process belong? Is it the random, non-strategic effect of an article that happens to promote a negative image of Greece? Or is it part of a constructed defamation campaign by some external power?

In this case, this question may be impossible to answer. The most interesting element lies in the use of country reputation assassination for domestic political purposes. Even if the defamatory New York Times article is merely a random report about the recent developments in Greece, its character assassination value lies in its use in the political opposition’s pressure campaign on the Greek government. By connecting the government’s actions with an international defamation campaign, the Greek opposition has led the process of country reputation assassination into new waters.

A government that mishandles domestic scandals – even when those scandals are publicized? across the world, as happened to former – is one thing. But when those scandals share a common cultural resonance, like western countries connecting the EYP scandal to the “corrupted Greeks” frame of the financial crisis of 2010, or social media users linking COVID-19 containment measures to the actions of a dark authoritarian regime, the story changes.

The main opposition probably understands this. Consequently, they aim to put pressure on the government by highlighting and weaponizing such attacks as part of a character assassination campaign against the Prime Minister and his government. No matter whether they are random or strategic, country reputation assassination attacks are used for the purpose they were invented: to destabilize and overthrow a government.

The difference, however, is that country reputation assassinations usually come from outside actors pursuing geopolitical or diplomatic goals, threatening a country’s stability by provoking a crisis. While this country reputation assassination attack originated with an external actor (a random international journalist), its severity was heightened by an internal actor, the Greek main opposition, who promoted the article to achieve domestic political goals. In the Greek case, we see how extreme domestic political polarization enhanced the effectiveness of country reputation assassination. When such attacks are introduced into the political system through a domestication process, they may trigger polarization rather than the usual rally effect. A combination of negative depictions of the country and strategic blaming against the government (which portrays international negative images as the government’s fault) may eventually lead to political change (in elections or overthrow of the government). As of now, however, the outcome of the Greek case is yet to be seen.

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