Thousands gathered in central Athens on Thursday to hear Greece’s left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras hail a new era of hope for the downtrodden country as his anti-austerity Syriza party draws closer to power.
It’s a word Greeks have seldom heard in recent years. “Elpida”, Greek for “hope”, was splashed all over Athens’ Omonia Square on Thursday evening as Syriza supporters gathered for their last rally ahead of Sunday’s general election.
With just four days to go before the critical poll, hopes of radical change after years of painful belt-tightening drew thousands on the vast square in central Athens, where Syriza’s charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras railed against the country’s conservative government.
“They have stolen your jobs. They have stolen your dreams and your smiles. In some cases, they have even stolen your country by forcing you to emigrate… Do not let them steal your hope! Do not let them steal your future!” said the youthful left-wing leader, referring to the scaremongering tactics employed by many of Syriza’s opponents at home and abroad.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Few people on Omonia Square had any doubt Syriza would win Sunday’s snap election, which was triggered by parliament’s failure to elect a new president last month. The last opinion poll published by Mega television on Thursday gave the left-wing party a 6-point lead over its main conservative rival, the New Democracy party of outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
“We’re starting to realize that victory is truly possible. Today’s rally is bigger and more enthusiastic than previous ones,” said Rena, 50, a Syriza supporter who came with the rest of her family from the Greek capital’s northern suburbs.
A dentist, Rena said she had witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of crisis and austerity on patients’ health. “Even in a wealthy neighbourhood like Melissia (northeast of Athens), dental care is one of the first things people give up when they run out of money,” she said.
Syriza’s promises to raise the minimum wage and provide free healthcare and electricity for the poor have struck a chord with Greek voters exhausted by sweeping welfare cuts and an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent. But foreign observers have focused their attention on the party’s pledge to free Greece from the diktat of its international creditors.
Tsipras, 40, has vowed to “cancel austerity” and unilaterally shred the stringent austerity measures tied to Greece’s €240 billion bailouts by the so-called "troika" of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He has also promised to negotiate a partial write-off of the country’s massive €320 billion debt.
“If Tsipras wins on Sunday, then so will [anti-austerity party] Podemos in Spain, and all the cash-strapped countries of southern Europe will mobilize to reject austerity,” said Anna Papageorgiou, a 33-year-old lawyer holding a banner that read “L’altra Europa con Tsipras” (“Another Europe with Tsipras”, in Italian).
This hope of a domino effect for Europe’s radical left has brought the likes of Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias and the head of France’s Communist Party, Pierre Laurent, to Athens as the Greek campaign entered its final stretch. Should it win on Sunday, Syriza will soon be facing a showdown with Europe’s guardians of austerity. But, for the crowds on Omonia Square, Thursday’s rally was all about enjoying a rare night of pan-European “Elpida”.
Many Syriza supporters came with family members to attend Syriza’s campaign rally on Thursday. © Mehdi Chebil
Alexis Tsipras, 40, said his party’s victory would spell the end of “national humiliation”. © Mehdi Chebil
Syriza’s youthful leader has become the darling of Europe’s anti-austerity left. © Mehdi Chebil
The huge crowd gathered on Omonia Square in central Athens, spilling over into nearby streets. © Mehdi Chebil
Syriza supporters Maria and Nastassa are convinced that victory for Tsipras will spell the end of austerity policies in Europe. © Mehdi Chebil
Italian student Stefano Fundelizzi, 26, travelled to Athens with four friends to support Syriza in the campaign’s final stretch. © Mehdi Chebil
The crowd listened to Syriza’s charismatic leader speak without notes for over an hour. © Mehdi Chebil
Karen Conrad, pictured in the centre, hopes a Syriza victory will mean Greece “is no longer hostage to Germany”. © Mehdi Chebil
With the latest polls pointing to a six-point gap between Syriza and its nearest challenger, Tsipras has every chance of becoming Greece’s next prime minister. © Mehdi Chebil
Syriza’s supporters partied at the end of the rally, convinced that their time has come. © Mehdi Chebil
Date created : 2015-01-23