A New Year’s probe into the Greek society
Traditionally, each New Year’s beginning presents an occasion to look back in time and try to foresee what comes ahead. It is the time of reflection, conclusions, assumptions and predictions for politicians, economists and researchers.
So, it was with great interest that I went through the results of a compilation of several polls conducted in Greece by the reliable Kapa Research Company throughout 2018.
For Greece, 2018 marked the end of a decade that changed the social fabric of the country. It was a period of dramatic economic and political crises, of the collapse of the economy due to a massive public debt followed by bail-out agreements provided under the EU, IMF and the World Bank.
The last decade was a period of austerity, unemployment, and brain-drain. For the average citizen, it was a period when his income and living standards collapsed. But it was also a period when most Greeks learnt how to use digital technology, smartphones and to communicate via the internet.
It was also a decade which brought the shrinkage of the old parties and the rise of marginal ones, among which is a leftist one that is governing the country now. It was the time when an anti-European feeling filled the sails of populism and nationalism, especially of the extreme right, and increased the votes of the fascistic Golden Dawn party.
The socioeconomic storm that swept the country also produced a new political phenomenon, namely coalition governments often bringing together former political foes, thus putting an end to the tradition of big dominant parties commanding absolute majorities in parliament.
So, let us have a look at some of the conclusions arrived by the researchers for the year which has just ended.
The familiarization with digital technology had a rapid effect on the way people received their information. More than 80 percent of the respondents said they get their news of the day within the first 15 minutes after they wake up by looking at their smartphones.
The phenomenon of “brain drain,” i.e. young Greeks leaving the country due to unemployment and low income, became the first symptom of the economic crisis, as early as 2010. Official unemployment figures were around 8 percent in 2008 but started rising rapidly after 2010. Worst hit was the youth. Unemployment for those under 25 ranged about 45 percent for most of the crisis period. A large number of young Greeks, mostly academically qualified, left the country heading for Western Europe. Figures vary, but some put is as high as half a million.
However, the research of the past year questioned the ones who stayed back in Greece. The answers were surprising. An impressive 57 percent of the 17-39 age group responded that they “had faith” in their country. These young people, who are probably unemployed or underpaid, according to the research are “the most qualified generation” to date, in Greece (most have university or college qualifications) and they still believe in traditional values: Justice, democracy and progress through work. Surprisingly for a generation who experienced a tough decade, they are optimistic; they feel that they will have the chance of a better life in 10 years. When asked in which country they would like to live in a decade, more than 70 percent chose Greece.
In a separate poll among the Greeks of diaspora, over 80 percent stated that they define themselves first as Greeks and then as the citizens of the country of their residence. When asked which are the first three words that come to their mind “when they think of Greece,” the replied “family, sea and motherland” in that order.
In another research among the thousands of refugees/migrants who crossed the sea from Turkey and ended up as asylum seekers in “hospitality” camps all over Greece revealed that 70 percent of respondents suffered from serious symptoms of anxiety and depression, while for similar refugee groups hosted in Italy, only 40 percent showed similar symptoms.
Interestingly enough, only 10 percent thought that “corruption” is a critical issue, making you wonder whether the anti-corruption campaign, which has been one of the core slogans of the governing leftist Syriza party and its partner, the nationalist Independent Greeks, would have any serious effect in the coming general elections later this year.
What should, though, worry many mainstream parties especially the leftists and social democrats in Greece, is the spectacular rise of the hard right and the extreme nationalism and racism fueled all over Europe. During 2018, the attempt of the Greek government to come to an agreement with its northern neighbor, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, over the latter accepting the name of Northern Macedonia, caused loud and violent reactions among the more conservative Greeks. The feeling was reflected in the research, with 45 percent of the respondents claiming that “whoever is in favor of the agreement is a traitor” and an 18 percent asking for a military coup during which “the president of the republic, the prime minister and the foreign minister should be arrested!”