Post-election summer impressions from a small Greek island
Spending my summer vacation on my home island in Greece was different this year. Usually a happy annual refuge that balances the stressful working months with a healthy dip in the sea and in childhood references, this year my summer break in the latter part of August started with a nasty shock.
“Turkey had better watch it and stop asking for trouble. Why is it preventing the economic recovery of Greece? Why is it making trouble by preventing Greece from extracting its natural resources? What do they want? Do they want trouble?”
It was not that I had not heard this argument before. Open or indirect accusations that Turkey is the one major factor preventing Greece from realizing its economic and strategic potential, which lies at the bottom of its seas, have long been put forward by nationalists, even before the onset of the economic crisis. But it was the person from whom these remarks came that took me aback: a young man, in his early thirties, an amateur musician and photographer with no special talent, who now runs his father’s travel agency on that small island in the Ionian Sea.
After following the developments in Greece closely, albeit from a distance, in Turkey, in order to be able to show off my analysis of Greek matters, I came face to face with the reality of it for the first time, and it was frightening. In front my very eyes, there was a young ordinary person from a relatively affluent and peaceful part of the country, and from a relatively well-off and protected background, who had been transformed into a militant member of a new rising political force, the fascist movement of the “Golden Dawn.” His black T-shirt and his physical appearance of a person who spends long hours on body building only confirmed his politics.
This first experience with the new reality of Greece bothered me for some time during my stay on the island. I tried to find out who else is following this new party, which has won several seats in the new parliament and operates street squads all over the country attacking foreign immigrants and acting as auxiliaries to the legal authorities. The range was impressive: It included the local notary and his adolescent son, the art teacher at the local high school, the owner of the main cafeteria, a young retired general, a retired captain who also believes in UFOs, and several unemployed sons and daughters of local sailors’ families who now live with their parents due to a shortage of money.
Actually the new reality on the island was apparent in June’s general election. Of a permanent population of about 3,000, there were some 1,800 voters. Most votes were split between the center-right party, New Democracy, and the rising star of the elections, the leftist party Syriza – they got about five hundred votes each. The Communists, historically a major political force, lost almost half of their votes but remained in third place, with some 250 votes, while the socialist PASOK, the dominant political force until recently, was decimated, with about 230 votes. But then, the surprise: 129 votes went to the Golden Dawn.
Upon the advice of more reasonable islanders, I avoided seeing my neo-fascist friend again, although he had insisted that “we should have a serious talk about Turkey.” I was also advised not to bring my car, with its Turkish number plates, into Greece, just to be on the safe side. But in general the locals did not take the whole matter very seriously, as for them “these are brainless, confused, ignorant idiots,” just a temporary phenomenon of these difficult days. Still the presence of a huge number of legal Albanian immigrants – almost 1,000 -- who have become the main source of manual labor on the island makes many locals worry.
In a recent poll, it was found that the Golden Dawn (GD) is now the third-strongest party in Greece. The government is rushing new legislation in order to facilitate the arrest of GD troublemakers, even of its deputies. But a winter of even more hardship and austerity may increase support for the GD among the silent majority, as the mistrust many feel towards mainstream parties increases.
An ironic footnote: One bright day, the Savarona, flying its Turkish flag, moored at the entrance of the port for two days. I was wondering whether my friend saw it, and whether he knew the yacht’s background.