Walter Benjamin, “Experience”
This blog is a series of riffs on post-election feelings, happenings, anxieties …
The historic upending of the two-party system with SYRIZA’s (The Coalition of the Left) coming in as the second party with nearly 17% of the vote put PASOK (the Pan-Hellenic Socialists) in third place with an all-time low of 13. 18%. Meanwhile the right-wing NEW DEMOCRACY, the predicted winner, got 18.86%, of the vote. Even a coalition government looks like a slim possibility right now. That PASOK dropped so dramatically from its 43.92% win in the 2009 election is stunning. As one journalist noted, this represents a loss of one percentage point every month since the last 2009 elections; the result is that PASOK’s electoral body has shrunk by over 70%.
About the political thermometer of the election results, G, at work the day after, said: “the THYMO(ΘΥΜΟ)metro broke,” Thymo = Gk for anger. He was being critical. He wished we could have stayed cooler.
I said, “How? Everything’s been falling apart. The only thing people are told is that there’s no choice. Not only that, but that it’s just going to get worse…” Even the coolest have their limits.
Headlines in the international news speak of an impending default. In the GUARDIAN Tristan Cooper a sovereign debt analyst at Fidelity Worldwide said “the eurozone’s weakest link just got weaker…A Greek Eurozone exit is now firmly on the cards … The irresistible force of German austerity has clashed with the immovable object of Greek popular resistance.”.. “immovable” is a curious adjective, I think on the contrary there has been a constant, anarchic movement. One of the unnerving aspects of the various “anti- mnimonio” groups is that they can’t pin down a specific rescue agenda, so we’re left with the troika, and the previous coalition government’s threats – “What if..” leads to take-overs, the instant drying up of basics — gas, food, supermarkets suddenly bare — But, what we now have in front of us is already terrifying.
B left a post-it on my desk yesterday morning. She needed to talk. B is a work-study student; I wasn’t concerned since we often communicate through notes when our schedules don’t coincide. But as soon as she walked into the office she started crying. The picture in her camera showed a spray-painted swastika with its Xrysi Avgi wreath on the side of a silver-colored car. The car is her father’s. B’s family has lived inAthensfor over 16 years and owns their home. B speaks and writes Greek fluently as she was very young when her family moved fromAlbania. “Xrysi Avgi”, Golden Dawn, is the Neo-Nazi party who has just won 6.97% of the vote which gives them 21 seats in the Greek parliament. B assures me she and her family are close to the people in her neighborhood. But “there was a woman” she tells me, the girlfriend of a friend of her boyfriend’s, who had admitted to being in the party. B says she distanced herself, but remembers that she had told B she shouldn’t be going out with her boyfriend who is Greek, “what will happen to your children?” she told her, “who will be mixed blood.” B is suddenly very calm. “Believe it or not,” she tells me “I’m more sad than angry.”
“It was a mistake not to give these people more news coverage,” someone else says during the same day. “People may not have voted for them if they knew exactly what kind of people they are.” I say the obvious. What more does anyone need to know when a group defines themselves as Nazi-sympathizers. E says a lot of the vote came from villages, the islands, Mani, the southern Peloponnese, Crete, even – this truly defies comprehension – Kalavryta, the mountain village where the Nazis massacred the entire male population above the age of 12, after locking up the women in the church on December 13 1943.The village was burned to the ground. Here “Xrysi Avgi” got 6.44% of the vote. E tries to explain the broader picture, though I am hard put to grasp it. “People feel they are being occupied. Everyone’s now a foreigner, a threat, the immigrants get the jobs, the politicians are dishonest, corrupt … you should see how the priests and the police treat these Xrysi Avgites, they greet them in the streets. They see them as the protectors.”
When journalists went to interview the XA leader after the election results, they were told to stand up. The camera caught a screaming thug yelling at the group of news reports to “Stand up in respect for the leader!” A journalist writing for the Greek newspaper Kathemerini had her entire personal life splashed over their web site, then there were threats, after her April Op-Ed questioned the constitutionality of the party even running in the elections. Stathis Gourgouris’ May 3 piece in ALJAZEERA “Greece at the global forefront” speaks of the “knee-jerk reaction of a people” enduring the “conditions of flash impoverishment” as a result, among other things, of German policies: “What seems to have escaped the pundits… is that German policies are producing new Weimars elsewhere in Europe.”
After NEW DEMOCRACY failed to form a coalition government, the mandate went to Alexis Tsipras the 38 year old ex-KKE member who leads SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Left. KKE (the Stalinist Communists) flat out rejected any invitation to collaborate with SYRIZA, with whom a coalition government could have been formed. But Aleka Papariga, like her party’s ideology, is another voice of extremity (& the past). For all her party’s expensive posters and large rallies of the Greek youth, she publicly declared she does not want any part of governing power; she only wants to represent “resistance.” “When are we going to learn to say more than ‘No’” one journalist lamented. “When, are we going to finally decide what we want and who we are?” The question is profound. 35% of the voting body did not go to the polls on Sunday, a shocking number given that the bulk in that percentage belonged officially to PASOK and NEA DEMOCRATIA. 19% of the voting body cast votes for parties who did not pass the 3% threshold for parliament seats, including parties center right and left, like the “Greens” (Ecologists); DRASI, with their “citizens not clients” logo, Dora Bakoyannis’ neo-liberal Democratic Alliance party, and DIMIOURGIA KSANA, “create again,” all just points shy of the 3% mark.
The day before the elections A came over to the apartment where we sat on the balcony as the sun splayed through the pines’ May green. A is a professor, active in her field and politically engaged. But that afternoon we talked mostly of her dying cat. How she could only feed her finger food, and how much she loved the cat. Her whole life in the past month has revolved around the cat. There are tears in A’s eyes. I ask why she won’t put the cat to sleep and she says because she doesn’t want to interfere in its dying. The cat seems to come to after food. She lifts herself from the pillow when she’s put out on the balcony and seems to look toward the sun even though she’s completely blind.