Global Politics

Which Way Will Greece Go?

Greeks head to the polls again on June 17th. Elections were held in May, but no party won a majority and no one seemed keen to form a coalition.

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The center-left and center-right parties that have dominated Greek politics for decades took a pounding, largely because they agreed to eurozone-mandated economic austerity measures. Instead, voters went for more extreme parties on the left and the right.

"Hope." That's the one word you could hear people uttering over and over at a recent political rally for Syriza in Athens.

Syriza is a coalition of left-leaning political parties looking to unseat the center-left and center-right parties that have taken turns governing Greece for decades. The party's leader, Alexis Tsipras, is young, charismatic and photogenic.

In May, many Greeks voted for Syriza because they were upset with the financial crisis, and the politicians who they feel brought economic ruin down on them. Syriza placed second in the voting, but in previous years, had never received more than five percent of the vote.

Katerina Vrana is from Greece, but lives in London and works as a stand-up comedian. She's returned to Greece to vote (Greeks can't cast ballots from abroad). I met up with her and asked how she was explaining the elections to her audiences.

"The way the Greeks voted last time, it was a bit like someone who has just broken up, and is going into rebound sex," says Vrana.

Some Greek voters, Vrana said, abstained. They didn't vote at all. Others continued having sex with their ex – they voted for the old center-left and center-right parties, PASOK and New Democracy respectively.

And finally, Vrana says, some were angry and wanted revenge. "They just want to prove that they can have sex with whomever they want. So, they chose the young Toy Boy, Tsipras."

Vrana, clearly, doesn't buy the message of Syriza or its messenger, Alexis Tsipras.

And she's not alone.

I go along to a poetry reading at a local, privately run museum not far from the Greek parliament building in Syntagma Square.

There I meet Maria Sardi, an Islamic art historian who does volunteer work here. She says that Syriza is making a bunch of populist promises it can't keep if it wins the election. But people, she says, are buying it.

"The problem in Greece is that no one wants to hear the truth. They always like to hear their politicians promising things that we know, deep inside us, they are not able to do. What Syriza says is just like a nice fairy tale for stupid people."

Sardi's husband, Yannis Verikis, fears that Syriza's policies would leave Greece isolated.

"Their political way is to bring us out of the eurozone and European Union," Verikis says. "That's something I don't want to happen in my country. It is very important, because I believe in the euro.

Let's be clear, though. Neither Verikis nor Sardi are fans of the old parties – PASOK and New Democracy – either. Both told me that they'll find smaller parties to vote for on Sunday in the hope that their choices may end up in some kind of coalition government.

The race itself is anything but decided. Syriza appears to be running neck-and-neck with New Democracy.

Nikos Chryssochoidis runs a family-owned stock brokerage in Athens. He voted for New Democracy in May, and says he will "stand firm" with the party on Sunday.

"I have no illusions," says Chryssochoidis. "There have been many mistakes that should be fixed, and these mistakes were made by New Democracy politicians as well as the center socialist governments as well. On the other hand, I still feel the people who are there to enact the policies I would like are New Democracy."

Chryssochoidis fears that Syriza's policies would take the country backward fifty years, instead of forward.

And time, it seems, is on everyone's mind here. In the sense that the country is running out of it.

Most here say that whatever the outcome of the vote on June 17th, a government of some kind needs to formed as quickly as possible.

And that might mean as least some of the parties putting aside their normally vitrolic politics, and forming a coalition.

"This is a critical dilemma for us," says John Nomikos, director of The Research Institute for European and American Studies in Athens.

"We are in a financial war here right? Are we going to exist, or become a failed state? This is not a joke. The parties have to join forces to fight in order to stay alive."

Others are trying to keep things in perspective.

One voter told me that she talks with her grandfather about the crisis. Her grandfather, she says, reminds her that he had no shoes to wear as a kid, no electricity, no refrigerator. And still, he says that he managed to live a long life, a good life.

"So, the crisis is the crisis," the voter told me. "Life," she said, "is another thing. And we'll survive."

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