Point of no return

In News on May 14, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Last week, the Greek elections were at the centre of international attention. The first reason was that the election results saw a neo-nazi (yes, not far-right, neo-nazi) party, Golden Dawn, entering the parliament. The second reason was the rise of SYRIZA or the Coalition of the Radical Left. SYRIZA, which traditionally received 3-4% of the vote, reached 17% and became the second party, following New Democracy with 19% (full elections results here).

For those who are not familiar with the Greek political system, here is some background information: The country has been ruled by centre-left PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Party) and centre-right New Democracy parties alternating in power since 1974 – the year when democracy was established in Greece, after the end of the dictatorship 1967-1974.

New Democarcy 1974 1977
New Democarcy 1977 1981
PASOK 1981 1985
PASOK 1985 1989
New Democracy-KKE coalition 1989 1990
New Democracy 1990 1993
PASOK 1993 1996
PASOK 1996 2000
PASOK 2000 2004
New Democracy 2004 2007
New Democracy 2007 2009
PASOK 2009 2012

The two mainstream parties have set the internal agenda for almost 40 years. They are the ones responsible for hiring public servants based on party politics, of not using EU funds efficiently and feeding them to their voters, of excessive borrowing in the decade which followed the introduction of the euro. The two large parties are the ones that have left their stamp on Greece’s political scene.

The latest elections were viewed by many spectators in Greece and abroad as surprising and many tried to understand the”angry” vote or the way voters shifted across the political spectrum. (here is a good analysis by BBC’s Paul Mason)

While the international media are trying to make sense of Greek politics and Greek politicians are trying to shuffle a new government of “personalities” which will lead the country out of the state of ungovernability (and chaos) (e.g. see here), the anger of Greeks is rising. This anger is reflected in the rise of SYRIZA. And this anger consists of three elements:

1. anger and despair by the economic reality that has hit most Greeks, which includes income reduction by 40%, abolishing labour laws, reducing pensions, unemployment at 21%.

2. cumulative anger at the bashing Greeks have received by foreign and domestic commentators over the past two years about the Greek statistics, working hours, laziness, spending more than producing etc.

3. a cumulative anger at the political system and the mainstream parties‘ politicians who have been repeatedly lied to citizens and have brought the country where it is today. All politicians lie and Greeks like their tales. But in the past two years the hypocrisy of the Greek mainstream parties has reached new levels, as PASOK has basically become a right-wing party and New Democracy is tiptoeing around it awkwardly (e.g. New Democracy voted in favour of the 1st Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and opposed the 2nd).

With every political tactic followed by the mainstream political parties, with every article published by the Spiegel, with every comment expressed as a threat by Angela Merkel, these feelings of anger and despair are increasing.

Many Greeks no longer care for the country’s stability, Greece’s image abroad, the critique by international media and Europe’s politicians but instead want their lost dignity. SYRIZA seems to have realized this and expresses a new narrative and hope.

Increasingly, Greeks are reaching a point of no return.The sooner Europe’s political elites (and Greece’s pro-austerity political elites) realize this, the better for everyone.


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