Seven-year crisis matures Greeks politically

Seven-year crisis matures Greeks politically

Since April Greece has been going through the eighth year of an economic crisis that forced most of its citizens to learn to “live with less” and brought havoc into the traditional political spectrum. It pushed mainstream parties to near extinction and gave the mandate to a previously little-known leftist group who now governs with a small rightist, nationalist party, having a slim majority in the parliament.

Already two and a half years in government, the Alexis Tsipras government has given the Greeks as many highs and lows that no other government did in recent history. Greeks voted for a youthful, vibrant leader who said he had an alternative plan to take them out of the suffocating austerity programs that three successive coalition governments imposed on them. Greeks, after putting all the blame on the old political elites who controlled the country since the return of democracy in 1974, rushed to support this new yet untested political voice from the left. They voted for the leftist Syriza twice and even allowed them to team up with the nationalists Anel. 

Two and half years later, Tsipras accepts “many mistakes,” but thinks the worst is over. “When I came into this office, I had no experience, or sense, of how big the day-to-day difficulties would be. I think, now, I have a very different picture from the one I had initially,” he conceded in an interview with The Guardian newspaper.

Things look better. After a long painful negotiation, the country’s creditors approved a few days ago the disbursement of 8.5 billion euros as emergency funds. The first attempt by Greece last week to return to the markets by selling a new five-year bond was successful as it managed to get a rate of 4.625 percent. 

The Greek government knows that the next months are crucial. They will have to attract enough investors to straighten the economy, because the current bailout program ends next summer. Nobody could accept a new rescue deal: neither Tsipras who would be trying to be re-elected in 2019, nor the suffering Greeks. Can he make it? Against a fierce onslaught from the opposition parties and while the central leftist parties - old and new - are making attempts to glue themselves together against Syriza.

A recent survey by Kappa Research, from 13 regions of Greece reveals some interesting findings on the current mood of the society. 

First, more than 90 percent of the respondents, state that they have been affected by the long crisis. It affected them in their “lifestyle and their family economics,” but surprisingly, very little in their values and beliefs. More than half thinks that the worst side effect has been unemployment, and only about 20 percent think that the drop of income or brain drain have been a serious problem. Only one in five also believe that tax hikes have been a serious problem! To the question, “What are your dominant feelings about the state of the country and your family,” most cite “disappointment, anger, fear and worry” for the country, while they express “hope, happiness, pride but also worry and fear” for their family. 

In their respect scale, they put judges at the top followed by writers, artists, academics and technocrats most. They least respect the press, politicians, journalists, unionists and TV channels, in that order. 

Perhaps the most interesting answer of the survey was related to their stance toward the negotiations with the EU regarding financial help. Remember when two years ago a newly elected Tsipras, pressed by Greece’s creditors, called for a referendum asking the country if they should accept new tough conditions; over 61 percent said “no” then. Yet, days after, in a dramatic U-turn, he accepted a new tougher austerity package. In the recent poll, to the question “if the 2015 referendum was to take place today, with the same question would you vote in the same way? A surprising 84 percent said “yes,” in other words, “no” to austerity measures.

In such confusing times, the leader of the official conservative opposition is well ahead in popularity against Tsipras as prime minister, yet almost half believe that none of the two is suitable for the job. 

There is no doubt that after a “seven-year itch” the Greeks have matured enough to be cautious, and they have shown enough resilience to withstand hard times. That is why they will think twice before they cast their votes for anyone, before they see real evidence of their aptitude for the task.