Optimism edges up in Greece, but challenges remain
According to most political observers, 2018 will be a crucial year for Greece. It will be the eighth that the country will be fighting with a massive fiscal crisis, struggling to meet the demands of three bail-out programs agreed with the EU and IMF. However, in the summer of 2018, Greece is expected to have completed its current 86bl adjustment program and should be able to have access to international markets.
For the leftist-led Syriza-Anel, a successful completion will open a new page for the country. Encouraged by a moderate economic growth, they predict Greece will “stand on its own feet,” and look forward to winning the next scheduled elections in 2019. This is not, though, the view of the opposition who already see trouble ahead with Greece tied again to a new bail-out program and predict the end of Tsipras government earlier than the end of its turn.
But what do the Greek people think after seven long years of a severe fiscal adjustment which forced them to unimaginable economic sacrifices and condemned large parts of the Greek youth to long-term unemployment?
An interesting summary of the social surveys conducted by the reliable Greek Kapa Research company throughout 2017 was published hours before the advent of the new year. It reveals how the Greeks think today and how much these seven years of austerity have changed the way they feel about their future.
There are many surprising findings. For a start, the Greeks wish to forget the dilemma of whether their country should stay or not in the Eurozone. Remember that this was the dilemma that brought the leftist Syriza into the center of Greece’s political life as an alternative to the pro-Europe stance of the centrist and right parties. Greeks, now, look ahead to the future, and they are seeking a new model for economic growth but within the Eurozone.
However, it is surprising that they have not changed their voting choice since the controversial referendum of September 2015, when they overwhelmingly (61 percent) rejected a bail-out program proposed to Greece by its creditors. The party of Syriza had campaigned for “No,” yet Prime Minister Tsipras had to accept the terms of the program he had fought against. And two years later, the Kapa survey shows, that an overwhelming majority of voters have not regretted their vote and that they would vote in the same way should there be a new referendum!
But, the Greeks now, appear very suspicious and cautious. Their most significant mistrust goes to TV and press, to labor unions, to journalists, to politicians, to research groups, to bankers, to representatives of chambers of all kinds and associations. They trust somewhat (by 26 percent) friends and personalities they follow on the social media, also members of the judiciary, artists and writers, academics and technocrats.
Not surprisingly, they seem undecided should they had to choose between reductions in pensions/ government spending and tax/contribution increases, most of them reply “neither.” They are already exhausted enough!
There have been fascinating findings of how Greeks would vote in the next general elections. An overwhelming (80 percent) do not accept any party. Also, they give interesting replies about other social issues such as complete separation of church and state. Their primary concern is unemployment followed by lack of money; they do not want early elections, they want a simple representational system of voting, they think that the migrants/refugees have harmed Greece.
The answers indicate that Greeks will make their political choices by which party will increase their household income. Another find that may worry Alexis Tsipras is the rise of the center-leftist parties since their decision to form a coalition late last year. They are now the third most popular political group pushing down the ultra-right Golden Dawn.
Another exciting change in the attitude of the Greeks is the trust they now show towards the private sector and private enterprise. The concept of entrepreneurship is widely accepted while there is mistrust to traditional capital and old business families.
A break with the past, according to the research, is that Greeks no longer dislike Americans but see them as essential allies. The supportive stance of former U.S. President Barack Obama towards Greece against the stringent policies of Europe and particularly of Germany made a significant contribution to that. Donald Trump is unpopular among Greeks, but this has not changed the importance Greeks attribute to the Greek-American relations.
But the biggest surprise of the research was that for the first time, in spite of the economic crisis and the problems in national issues (read, mainly, Turkey), more than 50 percent of the respondents thought that Greece would make it in the end! So, Happy New Year!