Greeks preoccupied with elections celebrate Easter

Greeks preoccupied with elections celebrate Easter

Once again, Greek Orthodox Easter, which ended yesterday, brought masses of the faithful to Istanbul to celebrate the most important event in their annual calendar: the resurrection of Christ. Once again, the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in the historical neighborhood of Fener became the focal point of Orthodox worship with masses of visitors flocking to the ancient neighborhood of Orthodox faith to attend the daily drama of the last days of Christ on Earth and his eventual resurrection.

As each year, the majority of the Easter visitors to the See of the Orthodox Church come from mainland Greece. Since the relative thaw in the relations between Greece and Turkey, a visit to Istanbul during Easter has come to be a favorite destination for mainland Greeks, especially those from the northern part of the country.

However, this Easter was different. Yes, Greeks came to the Fener Patriarchate to celebrate Easter, but not as many as before. A trip to Istanbul is the cheapest outside Greece yet it may still be too expensive for many these days. Behind the high walls of the Patriarchate complex in the inner courtyard of the ancient church of Saint George, few hundred Greeks gathered for Holy Friday Mass.

I happened to be there and was able to observe them. They were looking somber and preoccupied. I overheard their anxious conversations about the coming general elections in Greece on May 6, the terrible situation of the economy, about the lack of prospects. “We came to ask for God’s help, for a blessing, for health at least.” 

Meanwhile, back in Greece an angry but frightened and puzzled electorate is pondering for whom they should cast their votes. Their country’s creditors abroad are warning them that whoever wins will have to honor the stringent terms of the country’s agreements to save the debt-ridden economy.

They warn them that the risk of an uncontrolled bankruptcy for the country has not been averted. On the other hand, Greek political parties have now split and fragmented in several bigger and smaller pieces, and are trying hard to lure the Greeks to vote for them. A political rhetoric which ranges from a complete break with the EU and the eurozone and return to the drachma up to a vague promise to renegotiate the tough agreements with creditors has confused the electorate even more. The people are enraged with their mainstream politicians but they are not convinced that the anti-eurozone political formations can offer a realistic counter proposal. At the same time they know that the worst is ahead as further austerity measures are already been announced to take effect after June. 

As the countdown to the election is really starting from today, Easter Monday, the latest polls are showing that the Greeks are determined not to abstain and cast their vote. The number of undecided voters is decreasing fast but at the same time the votes for the two main parties, which governed Greece during the last few months under an odd coalition, is also decreasing. More parties are being set up, even during these last days. The picture is indeed fuzzy and no party seems capable of securing an absolute majority. For a country where two powerful parties have shared power in turns for several decades, the prospect of weak government coalitions looks grim. But, as the figures show so far, the strong need to punish the old political elite is a stronger force than a deeper consideration for the future of the country. 

On such historical political junctures an old cliché is usually pushed forward: “The people know best.” But this is an occasion where even the wisdom of a society maybe misled due to unprecedented circumstances.