A Crucial Year: Greece between Crisis and European Elections

In 2008, the worst financial crisis in the last 80 years struck the western world. But as tough as the price was for every country, it was not as hard as it was in Greece. Since the end of World War II, a monstrous public expense afflicted the nation which resulted in a sky-rocketing public debt. When the financial crisis hit Greece, the outcome was ominous. No longer able to repay its debts, it was forced to ask the EU an emergency funding for more than 289 billion euros.

But the financial rescue came at a price. The unemployment rate reached a peak of 27,8% of the population. It means that there was no job for 3 out of 10 people, while for the younger generation the number almost doubled. More than 400.000 men and women emigrated. Besides, the government led by radical-left leader Alexis Tsipras cut public expenses heavily to heal the country’s accounts.

On the verge of a crucial electoral year for Greece, with the European and local elections taking place in May and the vote for the Parliament renewal coming in autumn, we tried to find out how the crisis affected the way Greeks look at politics, and their mood right before going to vote. We were in Volos, an industrial city in which most of the factories closed or moved abroad.

The Scars of the Crisis

It takes just a walk on the main roads to notice the scars of the crisis in the empty shops’ windows, that sadly await an owner. Not to mention the forest of flashing signs showing where you can exchange your jewelry for cash. A central square with a cafe looked like the perfect place to ask the locals, as it was surrounded both by the City Hall and the Syriza’s local offices. Old men refused to answer our questions, probably because they didn’t feel like to expose themselves to foreigners’ judgment. Others, though, shared their thoughts and beliefs.

A closed shop in Volos.

We discovered that younger people just can’t see a bright future. They remember the drop in salaries, that made the wages half of what they were before 2008. That means having enough to cover your expenses and not much more. So people began to avoid unnecessary services. It resulted in tough moments for Maria, a young lawyer whose job started to be no longer required. On the other hand, most of the younger generations are struggling to find a job, jumping from one short contract to another. If you are so lucky to find one. That’s why many did like Iagos, looking for a job in another European country (such as Germany or the Netherlands) where they reward your work three times more than in Greece.

The new Democracy

The outcome of this situation is the way younger people approach the incoming elections. Both Maria and Iagos are sure to vote, they just don’t know for whom. Even if the worst part of the crisis has passed, they believe the Syriza-run government didn’t do enough for the country. Still, they feel like they don’t have an alternative either.

That’s why today’s polls look so different than the ones from 2014 elections. A lot of parties disappeared, while others changed name and members. If the conservatives of Nea Democratia (New Democracy) have jumped from 22 to 35%, the most impressive results have been gained by the far-right party Krysi Avgi (Golden Dawn). The last years have undermined their consent, and most of the public opinion hates their xenophobic views, but they still have 8% of the votes. Even though the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas, delivered with the consent of the head of the party in 2013, turned into a heavy drop in their popularity.

Pavlos Fyssas, murdered by Golden Dawn activists in 2013

Those who paid the heaviest price in terms of votes were Syriza. As professor Nikolaos Tzifakis states, the ratification of Prespa Agreement played a part. Although the treaty finally solved the ongoing quarrel between Greece and FYROM, the vast majority of Greek People was against that. They read this compromise solution as another concession to international interests, instead of the Greek ones. Thus, it became another powerful drive for nationalistic and far-right movements.

Is everyone the same?

Syriza’s offices in Volos are a good example of this situation. The main entrance, as well as the balcony, is covered in graffiti and red paint that someone threw at them. On the other hand, even the inside looks too quiet. It is empty and dusty, stuck in the past: its pieces of furniture are coming straight from the seventies. While Alexandra – the office’s secretary – makes us sit, she shows us the historical value of that place. From that very balcony, the major of Volos addressed the crowded square urging people to rise against German occupation.

Paint-covered balcony outside Syriza’s office in Volos

Alexandra is pretty aware of the situation. “People are a little bit hostile to Syriza because they thought that Tsipras could make heaven on earth. Of course, everyone wants to go back the prosperity of the 80s and 90s. But actually, changes take time. Not everyone understands it.” That’s why so many people, in her opinion, turn to the xenophobic views of Golden Dawn. Not only the illiterate but also middle class and educated people.
In her opinion, this is the outcome of a lack of trust in politics. If you want a chance to win elections, it is actually better to run for an independent movement than under the symbol of a traditional party. But she doesn’t agree with the others. Golden Dawn is not the same as the anarchists, their ideas are not comparable, so voting can still make a difference for everyone.

In the Greek language, “crisis” has a double meaning. It could correspond both to a period of distress and to a moment in which things are judged. No matter their outcome, these elections will be crucial to show how much people appreciated the guidance of their leaders in such a terrible moment.


Note:

The article is the result of a group activity held during last EVS on-arrival training in Volos. I wish to thank Marco Castelli, Liedewey R. Branderhorst and Marie Chauffour for the interview and the pictures.
Thanks also to all the Greek people that made us understand their country and their situation after ten years of crisis better .

Post Author: Francesco Cirica

Francesco Cirica
I am a 28 years old Italian guy, who quietly looks at you from the corner of the room. A cinephile from the bottom of my heart, I love stories and all means to share a good tale, from chatting around a campfire to books, video games and Social Media.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.