Greeks speak out ahead of key legislative elections
Voters angry over austerity plans and a struggling economy are expected to deliver a blow to Greece’s two main parties in Sunday’s elections. FRANCE 24 spoke to people in Athens ahead of the vote.
For the first time since the beginning of the financial crisis, Greeks have been given the opportunity to channel their anger and frustration through the most democratic process of all -- parliamentary elections.
On Sunday, millions of Greek voters will cast their ballot for the government they believe best holds the solution to their economic woes. Disillusionment among Greeks runs high and many voters are expected to punish the traditional conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK that have alternated the country's leadership for the past decades, as austerity measures continue to bite. Polls suggest that up to ten smaller parties -- ranging from the new left-leaning Democratic Left, to the extreme-right Golden Dawn -- could enter Parliament, benefiting from public anger.
George Gavriilidis, unemployed fashion designer
For 25 years, George Gavriilidis used to design the clothes of Greece's popular fashion brands. His high salary allowed him to purchase his own flat, but today, like hundreds of thousands of Greeks, he is jobless and relies on his parents for help. Many of his employers were forced to close their factories because of the financial crisis that has rocked the debt-strapped country for the past years. While George was undecided about which party to vote for, he is determined to use it to punish the parties he holds responsible for the country financial predicament.
" My vote is important because it is a chance for me to punish the big political parties. I feel very angry about politicians in Greece and especially with the big political parties, PASOK and Nea Democratia, because I believe they are responsible for this situation. Especially PASOK. I feel very sorry because now people in Greece suffer. I changed everything in my life because I cannot spend money anymore. Sometimes I just walk in Athens and I'm thinking about all this situation and sometimes I stay in my house and I cry."
Pelagia Kontzoglou, cafe owner
Life is sweet for Pelagia: despite financial hardship and numerous public protests, the clientele of her central Athens cafe has remained unaffected. She shrugs off the increase of taxation because, she says, things could be much worse. And yet, she's furious at the long established politicians she accuses of abusing their power to serve their client base. She will use her vote in the hopes of restoring justice.
"I want something more fair, I want justice to come out from these elections because until now, the entire system in Greece benefited a very small group of people that were already privileged, instead of benefiting the many, the people who pay their taxes and that suffer all this political and social turmoil. So I will definitely not vote for the two big parties and none of the parties that are already in Parliament. The Pirate party, why not? Parties that have something different to say."
Paraskevi Politaki, street seller
Paraskevi Politaki just turned 18 and will vote for the first time this Sunday. Although she says she doesn't trust politicians, she has chosen to vote for an anti-austerity right-wing party. She can't afford to go to the university that accepted her because it is too far away from home. Instead, she works temporarily, wherever she can find a job: at a gas station, at a taverna, or selling corn-on-the-cob three evenings a week on the popular shopping street of Ermou in central Athens.
" I will vote for Mister Kammenos [Independent Greeks party] But the situation is a bit confusing because so many politicians make promises because all they want is their seat in parliament, nothing else. So no one is really good. But that's who I'll vote for. Nothing more. I simply hope that something good comes out of these elections because the situation simply cannot continue like this; it has to improve. There are deep problems in Greece, no money, no work, no nothing. We work 8 hours for 20 or even 10 euros. This can't go on."
Eleftherios Halkidis, retired builder
Eleftherios Halkidis is a retired builder. He stopped working three years ago and is penniless today. "I can't even afford a cup of coffee," he says. He managed to pay his taxes with help from his brother in the US -- he has no other family. Eleftherios Halkidis attended the Conservative New Democracy's rally in central Athens. He has always voted for this party, he says. Even as its popularity falls, Eleftherios Halkidis remains faithful to the belief that, out of the lot, New Democracy will at least try to help Greece.
"I will vote for New Democracy, always have. They can't give a comprehensive solution but at least they can solve part of the problem, and at least they will actually do something. These are important elections for many reasons, but mainly financial. We wouldn't have reached this awful situation if people had voted for New Democracy last time."
Philipos Galanis, army conscript
Like most Greek men in their twenties, Philipos Galanis is serving his mandatory military service. The nine-month training is now coming to an end, and he is wondering what he'll do next. Although he studied to be an accountant, he chose to work at his family business cafe in the neighbourhood of Pangrati, until the family were forced to sell it. Unlike many Greeks, Philipos Galanis is not angry at the ruling Socialist party PASOK -- he actually endorses it.
"Greeks are very confused right now because of the bail-out package and the country's default. I'll vote for PASOK because it's the only party that has proposals and a solution to get out of the crisis. PASOK is not responsible for the crisis but the conservative New Democracy, and I think -- no, not 'think', I'm sure -- that the other parties, they try to steal the votes of the people with lies. Most of my friends, they're unemployed, they're supported by their families, they try to find job but it's really difficult. I'm lucky I'm still surviving. I'm optimistic and believe to a better future and always believed that a crisis is an opportunity to fix some big problems."
George Tzogopoulos, political analyst
George Tzogopoulos is a research fellow at the Eliamep think tank and editor of its website. He is the author of The Greek Drama in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press and US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism. He is a regular commentator on the Greek crisis for international print and tv news outlets.
"The European future of Greece is at stake with these elections. In the case where the government which will be formed will not be prepared to apply additional austerity measures, there is a possibility that Greece will return to its national currency. The most striking feature of this election is the anger of Greek citizens towards politicians who led Greece to default and bankruptcy. The main reason behind their choice is not necessarily the fact that they endorse the principles of small parties but their tendency to punish the politicians who are responsible for the current crisis."
"The aftermath of these elections is much more important, in my view, than its result, which is more or less expectable. The reason is because the Troika will return to Greece towards the mid of the month, and I'm quite sure they will rediscover an additional hole in the budget deficit, and its not clear how the new government will be able to cover this gap. So I expect social unrest in the country."
Photos courtesy of Rafael Kominis