It's always good policy to be a little afraid of big, looming institutions that are stuck wandering around in circles. In The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, British historian Chris Clark reconstructed the European implosion that led to 1915-1918, reminding readers of how, during preceding years, the Austro-Hungarian empire's parliament became a place where people spent hours listening to reports on local issues, many of which weren't even translated into a common language. Up among the spectators in the auditorium balcony seats, enjoying the pantomime these faceless people were engaging in, studying the parliamentary system's weakness during those wintry Viennese days, sat a certain Adolf Hitler...
So it's a bit of good news to find that the sleepwalkers in today's European Parliament have finally come to life. There won't be any concrete effects. It's just for "show," as the Americans would say. Probably it's just a display of empty power, while the real power will play out across tabletops behind the closed doors of financial institutions and government councils. But there can be no doubt that Alexis Tsipras's appearance onstage, fresh from his "NO" victory, amid the sugar paper walls of Strasburg ultimately wound up giving one of the most aseptic locations on the planet a little injection of lifeblood.
Beyond the words, the citations from Sophocles, the proliferation of more or less discounted symbols, what really counted were the faces, the expressions, the bodies of the European representatives. Until today, they've been increasingly characterized and wrapped up in the personalities this Greek crisis has assigned to them.
There's the sanguine Alexis, to be sure, along with his indignant grimaces aimed at "eurocrats," but there's also the surly, peevish face of the (politically) empty Schulz. There's the bewhiskered Emmanouil Glezos mimicking his old companions and the staid mediator Jean-Claude Juncker, fiddling with "Oxi" signs with all the savoir faire of a man who's intimately familiar with the rules of the game. Obviously there are the evil twins Farage and Salvini, as well as supporting actors whose folkloristic demeanors wouldn't appear out-of-place in many local parliaments (one of these, undoubtedly Polish, apparently even went so far as to express hope for the rise of a new Greek Pinochet).
We haven't quite reached the point of waving a slab of mortadella bologna for the fall of a government, or the mass infighting seen in assemblies of the ex-Soviet Republics, with men grappling at one another in the middle of the fray as if they were players on a rugby field. But if politics is in part the representation of bodies and faces, and familiarity with the leaders who represent us -- even though they count for little, it's probably too late and the centrifugal tensions in play are irreversible -- today a little bit of politics has finally reared its head in the European Parliament.
This post originally appeared on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.