Posted on 23. January 2015
Elections again. Already a phrase almost worth laughing about in some peoples’ minds. Citizens in their 30s, have already voted more times than some of our parents have in their lifetime, some will say. Yet, the laughing stops there. Elections, a very serious act indeed. And the beginning of this table-talk tale; on Greek citizens’ perceptions about Greece, politics and the EU. In Germany, and especially in the yellow press, circulate many stereotypes against Greek people. One goes like that: Greek live in order to eat – and not in order to work. This is why I present there thoughts as a table-talk tale.
Hors’ d’oeuvre. Did we want elections in the first place?
The stability argument stands somewhat in opposition to our democratic laws. Parliament must elect a president or a general election will have to be held. Prior to the final round of the presidential vote in Parliament the following was the central question on the news, on papers, online, on the street: Did Greeks really want elections? And what would these elections bring along? The process itself, the possible election of the highest office in our political system, the President of the Hellenic Republic, was, sadly, irrelevant. What everyone cared about was the prospect of elections, whether they supported them or not. And the clock was ticking: On December 29th, former EU commissioner Stavros Dimas, who was the only candidate, also failed in the third round to secure the votes required to be elected president.
Main-course: The pre-election period.
Who are you going to vote for and why? To this moment everyone seems to be convinced that Syriza, a party of the left, will be the winner of the general election. Even Angela Merkel and her government have allegedly been secretly negotiating with Syriza representatives; something which, officially, has been refuted.. However, the determining factors on the ballot choice are not the specific positions of the competing parties on various policy fields (good luck trying to find them online) but the broader views on Syriza, its alleged role as governing party, its positions vis-a-vis the EU. It is not clear for example whether voters believe that specific promises will be fulfilled. Will, for example, the basic wage be returned to the pre-crisis levels (751 euros/month from 511 euros pre-tax)? Hardly a determining factor. Anyway, it’s too low; no one can live on 500 euros. Curiously enough, voters across the political spectrum actually agree on that point.. On the other hand, what really seems to be affecting peoples’ minds is stance vis-a-vis the EU. Syriza argues that in the context of the EU, a different solution can be negotiated, in respect of the Greek people’s right for a decent life. In other words, Syriza argues that the EU is much more than one set of policies, superimposed to the European people by non-democratic forces (an argument often employed in the local news over the past years)
Interesting, isn’t it? It is a national election, but what really occupies voters’ minds are how parties position themselves towards the EU. Equally, the Greek election certainly concerns the European public opinion. Maybe European integration is far deeper than we thought.
Dessert: The day after.
This is the most interesting part. No-one on the street, seems to really know what the future holds. However, citizens, in their majority, appear to be motivated by the same decisive, often contradictory, arguments which will determine how they cast their vote. Let me give a few examples and thoughts:
- The dread of an alleged Grexit, which no-one wants. Some fear that we might be kicked out of the euro with grave consequences; the party of New Democracy in a new electoral spot directly encourages this fear. This affects part of the electorate’s point of view; even if they recognise that we cannot go on like this, they are afraid that changing government might have far deeper consequences. On the other hand, the majority of voters seem to have overcome this argument, supporting that a different policy mix, more socially oriented, can and should be negotiated. A certain mood of “sentimental” fatalism might also be present: If we risk to change currency because we hope for the best, so be it, some might say; this is not the spirit of the EU that our nations have built.
- The need for quality of life. Everyone accepts that citizens are under serious strain, that the younger generation (up to their 40s that is) has been deprived of choices, of dreams and of the chance to innovate. The urge to improve is a top priority. But this is where the “stability determinant” kicks in: Even if we are in dire straits, a possible change might be a step We need to improve and in order to improve we need a stable political environment.
- Our relationship with the EU. This is what the elections focus on. And arguably it is a “democracy” While there is a general agreement that the situation in the country cannot go on as it is, elements of acceptance and of defiance of the workings of the European Union are present in parallel. Acceptance, of the board of the game. The two competing parties, both adopt the message that the EU is were we belong, and that any solution to the problem will be at the EU level. So the question is whether these terms can change (terms, which, currently, are generally believed to be set by Germany). In other words whether Greece can affect a change of direction internally and in the EU.
- The “internal change” determinant. There is a consensus that we need more change, not only in the private and public sectors but also in the political sphere. People feel under-represented, while the traditional concepts of “right, centre and left” seem for many, a distinction of the past. This view, however, does not call for de-politicisation but for re-definition. Progressive vs traditional are to some more appealing terms. The latter is also a determining factor for the elections. Greeks are ready to see coalition governments; yet, ironically, the electoral law, with the 3% threshold, seems to be suggesting otherwise. Were the system to be different, many would vote for smaller parties.
So: What motivates Greeks whom to vote? Their very own personal perception about change. Greeks are citizens of this Union. Just like the Germans, who very often know the Greek culture only from the restaurant in their neighbourhood. But many of my fellow citizens would not be able to afford a three-course-meal there. Instead, they depend on soup kitchens and food donors even in the posher areas of Athens. And that will also be decisive for the vote on Sunday. Because as all citizens, what the Greeks want is a decent living.
And with this in mind, they will cast their vote on Sunday.
This blog post has been published in German on Süddeutsche Zeitung in the framework of FutureLab Europe and Süddeutsche Zeitung’s cooperation.