Crisis brings disillusionment to Greece

Crisis brings disillusionment to Greece

My Greek friends were very perplexed. “Why did Tayyip Erdogan attack us out of the blue, why did he have to pick on us at this particular moment?” they asked, “After all, it is not true, we are not selling any islands!” Apparently, I could not give them a satisfactory answer, as I said that perhaps he is hitting Greece to show his frustration with the credit agencies that are not upgrading Turkey as highly as he would have wanted, and that maybe he wanted to divert the public’s attention from some worrying signals of a slowdown in the Turkish economy, etc. But they were not convinced and one colleague suggested that the “Turks are jealous because, after all, we remain in the euro and they do not.”

Actually, if there is one positive thing that came out of the recent crucial Eurogroup summit in Brussels, it was that the “Grexit” scenario, at least for the moment, has been left out. Greece stays in, the bailout money is gradually being released with lots of conditions attached, and Antonis Samaras’s government is considered by Europeans as the best option for restructuring the economy.

However, despite the S&P’s encouraging statement, what is happening on the ground is quite different. Greeks are about to celebrate the festive season, experiencing unbelievable hardship resulting from a dramatic drop in their income. And things are expected to get worse in the new year. More taxes, higher unemployment, more stringent austerity in the hope that an agreed reform privatization program will kick start the economy. If this does not happen, the Greeks fear that the discussion on whether Greece should remain in the Euro may return.

Under normal circumstances, the job belongs to politicians. However, surveys on the opinion trends of Greek society are showing that the crisis has caused a serious blow to the credibility of the old political party system, in place for at least the last thirty years. It revealed a strong need for new faces and new political narratives. A very interesting survey published in the Sunday edition of the Ethnos newspaper showed that a high percentage of respondents, almost 82 percent, are expecting major changes in the political environment of Greece, while more than fifty percent do not trust the current political structure. What is highly indicative of the impact that the crisis had on society is that a large percentage of respondents wish to see fresh faces managing their country’s future prospects, where technocrats and academics figure prominently. This is quite new. Their dismay with the old political personnel is so strong that only 6.4 percent would like to see old faces from the three parties that make up the current coalition in a government position in the case of a political reshuffling in the new year.

Most Greeks are pessimistic about the new year and do not think that the Samaras government will manage to get the country through the reforms. And most of them do not think that the reforms will lead to neither development nor an exit from the current crisis.

But perhaps the most interesting reading of the survey is that after the dynamic public protests of the last two years, most Greeks have now come to the conclusion that while they would like to get rid of the current political parties, they would not like to replace them with radicalized new parties. They prefer the new political formations to come from the center-left or the center-right. That is not good news for the radical wing of the SYRIZA, the main opposition party that has to placate their own extreme leftists. But it is not good news either for the fascists of the Golden Dawn who are seen by most respondents as just a temporary protest movement and not an ideology.

However, nobody can see a fresh face emerging right now as a serious threat to the old political stock; most players are reshuffling the old pack of political cards. Still, we should not exclude surprises.