“.. every contingency must threaten a society which is no longer guaranteed by citizens.”
from “Understanding and Politics (The Difficulties of Understanding)” Hannah Arendt
Tomorrow, Sunday May 6, Greeks, like the French are going to the polls. We don’t ask each other “who” but “what” we are voting for. It comes up in almost every conversation. Sometimes not until the end, sometimes as an after- thought, but we ask each other the question quite bluntly. It feels vital somehow,even though we all know there’s the “fait accompli” of the mnimonio, the economic shackles of the “PSI” and other assorted terms that have been agreed upon by our unelected coalition government. Nevertheless, there is an energy and urgency to the conversations around the upcoming vote: after all it is a shot at voicing any number of points of view. There is the “punishment” vote – those voting against their traditional allegiances, like the ΠΑ.ΣΟ.Κ., Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party, and ΝΕΑ ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤΙΑ, New Democracy, loyalists, there’s the “Anti- mnimonio” vote that runs the gamut of extremes, from the far left, Stalinist Communists (KKE), to the (incredible!) ΧΡΥΣΗ ΑΥΓΗ “Golden Dawn” Nazi-sympathizers. There is the “political vote” and the “ideological vote” which for some of the above is one and the same, but for a great majority, including myself, it’s the dilemma that follows the question “What are you voting for?” — That we are asking “what” rather than “who” is revealing of a state of affairs which is no longer about leaders – there are none – but about the platforms whose groups might bring the possibility of future hopes closer to reality — which group, we ask ourselves, might undermine the real threats of the extremes which are alarmingly gaining ground.
For many, the issue of “what” versus “who” is one of ideology versus survival; ideologically, in a more hopeful world that might give momentum to a vote that could make a difference, the vote cast might be the vote that builds that ideological hope. But that hope is now hijacked to the larger question of how to fight, or resist the growing economic strangulation which has resulted in a shocking 40% rise in suicides since 2010, and a ballooning unemployment rate of 21% and rising with degree-holding graduates in the 22-35 age category being the 3 in 5 of the unemployed. To then hear Mme Lagarde say “There is still medicine to be taken” sounds frankly insensitive or, more possibly, simply indifferent to the grim fact of these facts. Of course as the April 8 “60 Minutes” CBS coverage of the crisis in “An Imperfect Union: Europe’s Debt Crisis” noted, in the voice of one economic consultant interviewed, once the mnimonio loan package was signed, “Creditors take over.” While Greece has effectively lost its sovereignty in what P describes as “a government sponsored default” beginning with the George Papandreou government which complicated an already devastated economy with belated and mistaken initiatives that brought the country to ever-greater threats of complete collapse. It is now, indeed, the creditors who have taken over, and they, of course, are not expected to have sentimental feelings about the consequences of what the country has to go through to pay its debt. But the looming question remains where is this leading us, and who is doing the leading? It doesn’t help when Wolfgang Schäuble, the federal minister of finance in Angela Merkel’s cabinet, makes reductive statements like Greece’s “prosperity is thanks to our handouts [from Germany]”; the rhetoric in the foreign press over the crisis has been generally problematic, and sometimes appalling. Students at HAUniv did a discourse analysis on the word choices of some of these articles (which I’ll post at a later point), but even in Steve Kroft’s “60 Minutes” discussion, phrases such as “the relaxed Greek lifestyle” and binaries like “the frugal, industrious north” versus the “Portuguese, Italians, and Greeks who are more relaxed about work and money,” aggravate already problematic misconceptions, and feed into a slew of reactionary responses, from Katerina Moutsatsou’s recent, embarrassing, “I am Hellene” Youtube clip blogged on Keep Talking Greece to the passionate, more to the point “My name is Spyros…” response.
The discrepancies between the reality of what the austerity measures have done, & continue to do, to the social fabric of the country, and the unabashedly threatening overtones of the likes of Schäuble (See blog on “German FinMin Threatens Greek Voters 36 Hours Before the Elections”) which treat these realities as inconsequential has created outrage. It has also made tomorrow’s vote an important one. There are the cynics, or realists, who claim “it doesn’t matter what I vote for” since “it won’t change anything.” There are those, like F who holds dual-citizenship but has never voted a day in his life, either in the U.S. or Greece, “because if you look at it mathematically it really doesn’t make a difference.” There is I voting KKE (Stalinist Communists) for “sentimental reasons” because the village her parents come from, and the one she visits regularly, still remembers the Civil War (1946-1949) as that fiercely bloody time when the British and American backed rightists (Democratic Army of Greece) fought the Bulgarian and Yugoslavian backed leftists (KKE Community Party). T and D with many others are voting for ΣΥΡΙΖΑ the Coalition of the Radical Left (which the polls are tagging as the third party at 11.5%), hoping that it will create a nub of informed resistance, including what T views as necessary “de-growth” sustainability initiatives. E, J, and K are voting for ΑΝΤ.ΑΡ.ΣΥ.Α. the Anti-Capitalist Collaboration of the Left for the Overthrow” [of the mnimonio] which has pulled in some well-known actors and authors to its ranks. ΔΡΑΣΗ, Action, with its wonderful slogan “We are citizens, not clients” almost strangely, is low on the polls with a mere 2.2% of the predicted vote — though a lot of people I’ve spoken to, including myself, are hoping ΔΡΑΣΗ will make the 3% for seats in parliament. There is Kamenos’ right-wing ΑΝΕΞΑΡΤΗΤΟΙ ΕΛΛΗΝΕΣ, Independent Greeks, polls predict will get around 7% of the vote, the ΧΡΥΣΗ ΑΥΓΗ, the Golden Dawn thugs with an unbelievable 4.1% of the vote which would get them into the parliament; and a new hopeful ΔΗΜΙΟΥΡΓΙΑ ΧΑΝΑ! Create Again! which P is voting for because “None of these people are politicians.”
The one common denominator across party lines is the belief that we are, in this critical time, without inspired leadership. Evangelos Venizelos who heads ΠΑ.ΣΟ.Κ., the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party, admits all too smoothly to “our mistakes” without any concrete discussion on how issues like tax evasion and unemployment will be addressed. He is also weirdly unaware of how servile he sounds when he speaks of his recent negotiations as Finance Minister with Schäuble et al., challenging “anyone else” to manage such tough deals. Then there’s Antonis Samaras who heads ΝΕΑ ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤΙΑ, New Democracy, the party most likely to get the largest percentage of the vote (polled at 22%), who comes across as someone having a fit of hysteria every time he talks of, or screams, his determination to return Greece to a “self-respecting country.” How he plans to this is never made clear. While many believe, given half the chance, he will sell off the country’s remaining assets to the first bidder.
So what are we going to vote for tomorrow? We’re hoping that at the very least, those coming into office will realize how fragile any tomorrow will be, and salvage it.