Everything looks better in the sunshine. Nothing more so than Greece. In Athens it’s rained for the past three days and gloomy clouds surround the ever hopeful, but crumbling Acropolis. Everywhere sorrowful Greek flags wave meekly in the breeze but no one is celebrating. Today is the first round of voting in the presidential election. If the Government can not get enough support for its candidate, the outcome according to some is chaos.. Potential general elections, a left party in power, spiralling markets and all of a sudden we’re back to where we began.
Thanasis Rallis has made a song about it. Satire is his outlet for frustration at the scaremongering he says is happening in the mainstream media. “No elections”, say his lyrics voiced to a sex pistols track.. “The tourists will leave, the country will burn, Godzilla will set fire to us all. No elections. We’re fine thanks.”
He has an active imagination, but it’s touched on an atmosphere of fear in the country. It’s not only the governing New Democracy MPs voicing off about a meltdown should a president not be elected, but European officials have hinted at it and even the head of the bank of Greece has spoken of the risk of “irreparable damage” to the economy should things not go the way they want.
They’ve made themselves clear. Greece must remain as it is. With a new president, but the same Government. On the same path of austerity and debt repayment.
As Thanasis jokes: why would you tamper with the so called “success story” of the last few years.
But it is this success story that many Greeks do not identify with and it’s led to an increase in support of the opposition Far Left party: Syriza.. Now almost 5 points ahead in the polls.
Those who did not flee to work abroad when the crisis hit are still, 5 years on, grappling with the highest unemployment rates in Europe (25%), the lowest wages and the harshest austerity measures.
Young activists from the”I will stay” movement, who say they’re determined not to abandon their country are hoping a disappointing outcome for the Government’s candidate will lead to a general election in the new year and a win for Syriza. They say things in Greece can not get any worse. For them leader Alexis Tsipras, simply brings hope.
In reality if he were to become prime minister he would want to negotiate writing off at least 50% of Greece’s debt.. Escape an “austerity trap” that he says concentrates wealth and power in the hands of a few and ‘deprives a vast majority of a good standard of living’.
He paints a rosy picture for many Greeks. It beats anything you will see here today. In the depressing Perama district on the fringes of Athens port, small shanty towns overlook the dockyard.
Almost half of the people who live there are unemployed.. Neo nazi graffiti is plastered over the walls. On one side of the main square people are trying their best to put up Xmas decorations.. On the other side someone has spray painted the words “I’m dying”.
It’s not difficult to see how people would want to believe in the Tsipras plan.. but it’s one thing for Greeks to believe in the Syriza dream. And quite another for the markets, for Europe and those petrified of a bank run should a Grexit look likely again.
But, as John Milios, Syriza’s head of economic policy points out the financial recovery has nothing to do with the majority of people – who do not see the 1.7% rise in GDP filter down to them. “We must ensure that debt repayment be carried out ONLY when we CAN pay it”, he says. “Under a growth clause.”
The Syriza of 2014 is undeniably more organised than that of the shaky, unprepared Syriza that almost gained power in 2011. Conservative commentators and columnists are now much less critical of it. The party may not have felt confident enough three years ago to grab hold of the reigns of power had they had the opportunity. Whether early next year it will manage to or not (even with the predictions of capital flight doing the rounds), you’ll be pushed to find anyone here who disagrees that next year there will be new beginnings, a new government, and for many Greeks a new sense of hope, come what may.