Melina Xaritatou Headshot

Voting for the Extremes

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"What the hell happened?"

This is a question you hear a lot in Greece during the last days. After the first exit-polls of the elections were announced, traditional "opinion-makers" of leading TV channels looked terrified. The political elite, for the first time ever, was speechless (even if this lasted only a few hours). A family living in Philothei, an upper-class neighborhood of Athens, called the newspaper to ask if the "communists" are about to take over the country. Berlin roared as it has never before. As for me, I was stunned by their surprise. Is it really possible that they couldn't see this coming? Did they really believe that Greeks are burning down successively their own capital as a hobby? Did they really assume that those who are today on their knees would just seek a quiet corner in order to die peacefully without bothering anyone? Well, they have their answer.

For starters, it is hypocritical to read the results as a message of a bunch of spoiled kids saying "I want my comfort back." Those "kids", the ones who are still hoping to save their asses, the ones who sent their money abroad and hope for the traditional system to survive the storm so they can take advantage of it when they bring it back, are the ones who insisted on voting for Pasok and New Democracy. The results are the consequence of a violent and simultaneous breakdown of both "political" and "social" contracts that took 40 years to build but only a few months to destroy... without having anything ready to replace them with. This is why, the biggest threat that Greece will have to face in the near future won't be anymore about its economy going down but about social cohesion being torn to shreds.

The "Political contract" was smashed

For the last two years Greeks have watched their leaders humiliated and being treated as lowlifes by the EU. They were accused of treachery and depicted as untrustworthy (which they surely were). In Greece, not a single month went by without the revelation of a new scandal of bribery, embezzlement or abuse of power. Most importantly, Greeks were accused of complicity. Even if you didn't cheat on your taxes, even if you were not part of the "scam" but only a mere survivor in the "bubble" created by the scam, "it was also your fault, because you voted for them." So they did what seemed natural: they stopped voting for them. Only now, they are being accused of being "irresponsible." Did anybody expect that by vehemently discrediting both parties that dominated the Greek political scene for the past 40 years, a new generation of enlightened politicians would flourish in a few months and would be ready to take over? There was no gradual political maturation leading to the redistribution of power. People chose among what was available. Moreover, when the so called "center-left" and "center-right" political umbrellas -- which by the way were nothing close to the "center" when first created -- are abruptly crashed in an environment marked by economic and social tension, then you never know who is going to go "on the loose". When people don't feel bounded anymore by the past "political contract" -- which, as rotten as it was, had achieved to encompass a broad range of ideological identities thus bringing a sense of social balance -- they start looking for new political references and, in many cases, end up in the "wrong' hands.

The Social Contract was destructed

The electoral message was not about the so-called "structural reforms" in their integrity. It wasn't even about austerity per se, even though there is a widespread consensus that it has gotten too far. As strange as it might sound, it wasn't about growth per se either. It was about a large part of the Greek society realizing that the "social contract" which ensures the redistribution of wealth is being canceled for ever and replaced by void. And this has nothing to do with budgetary discipline. Let's hypothetically say that, at some point, the "rescue plan" starts paying out and the Greek economy is back on tracks. What good will that do to workers who are being stripped of their rights to even negotiate a pay rise? After seeing the way the majority of bosses used the freedoms offered to them so far by the bailout plans, no one believes that they will share any of their future profits without being legally bound to do so. Most employees I know have accepted important wage cuts without making a big fuss. What they are refusing is being left completely unprotected to the mercy of bullies.

The Syriza vote

A poll published two days ago showed 70 percent of the Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone. Brussels and Berlin have been stepping up the pressure on voters repeating that no renegotiation is possible, and that if Greeks don't follow the bailout plan to the letter, they will exit the Euro. So why is Syriza, the leftist party that seeks new terms to the bailout plan without exiting the euro, getting stronger? Do voters believe Brussels are bluffing? Do they think Syriza is going to magically resolve the economic crisis? No. The EU has been brandishing the gun of "default" to the head of Greeks for more than 28 months. These are people who are saying, "I can't bare it anymore, so shoot me if you have to!" Of course, ideally, they would prefer to be spared and this is why they are voting for a pro-European party and not for the Communists, but, believe me, the majority of them are ready to take the shot. These are people who've got nothing left to lose and who, in a last dramatic act, are asking for a ray of hope. Their vote is not intended to blackmail the EU. It is not a contestation. It is the acknowledgment of an impasse and a cry for help. It is insane to ask from people whose lives have been crashed to choose between the euro and the drachma. They can't answer to that.

Europe's call

The more Brussels and Berlin put pressure on an exhausted and terrified population, the more people panic and react unpredictably. Today, the social gap seems to be widening between a "pro-bailout" and an "anti-bailout" camp. But if you look closer, you will see that there is another, much more dangerous division making its way through society and being masked under the so called "anti-bailout" front: If there is no de-escalation any time soon, it will not be long until the radicalized Left clashes with rising nationalism, and as mad as it sounds, fascism. Europe must understand that at this point, things have gone so terribly bad, that it is not Greece's economy that is at stake but Greece's national coherence. Europe must understand that Greece doesn't need so much money as it needs oxygen.