In the last decade, economy and democracy in Greece seem to be interdependent, both conceptually and statistically: 25% unemployment, 25% drop in GDP, 25% decline in trust in institutions, 25% drop in election turnout. Over time, it is indeed observed that the greater the economic difficulties of households, the greater the aversion to the public sphere and the stronger the mistrust towards political parties. Citizens thereby turn to their family microcosm, individualism, or seek a way out.
1. The 'Odyssey' of the youth. Since the beginning of the crisis, a new wave of youth migration has unfolded. The first findings of the Kapa Research/CHS survey on Greek people living abroad show that the term "foreign land" (ksenitia) is not as dramatized as it once was. Migration is now seen as an opportunity, not as a trauma: ‘home’ is where young people can work and live decently, where they want to be taxed, where they want to vote. Globalization may be the cause of their flight but they themselves are the globalization generation. The change of perceptions is clear, and as the traditional "country, religion, family" narrative is no longer defensible, the most appropriate image of Greece for those who migrated in recent years is described by a new narrative: "sea, family, Greek cuisine."
2. The ‘Odyssey’ of pensioners. Living in one’s own house and having enough savings to live a decent life was traditionally the ideal way to retire. However, the European Commission’s Survey on Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), in which Kapa Research participates, shows that in recent years, the average household’s debt in most economically developed societies has increased, as has the number of elderly people with debts. Especially for Greece, a devastating combination persisted: the loose consumerism of past decades met with the rise of life expectancy, the dramatic decline in income, and with the weakening of the welfare state. Retirement is no longer a safe situation where the elderly can enjoy the fruits of their labor. On the contrary, it has turned into a rough phase of life where meeting obligations (debts, supporting unemployed family members, paying property taxes) tends to become a permanent daily struggle.
3. The decline of trust in institutions. The degree of confidence in the institutions that compose a modern democracy has literally collapsed in Greece. Today, citizens perceive the Greek state as "non-state", as they see a severe deficit in political representation (parties, parliament, government), an ineffective public sector, corruption in public life, and a non-positive outlook for the economy. This deficiency is only offset by the assumption that the country has a rich cultural tradition, capable military, and an esteemed police force, while the rise of confidence in private enterprise is not so much a reward for the business elite but rather a transmission of people’s last hope to entrepreneurship. The Greece of 2016 resembles the region’s former Eastern countries of early 2000’s.
4. Governments without grace periods. The governing parties of the crisis begin the race from low grounds. Past vote shares of the magnitude of 45% are now inaccessible, while the 35% of the vote that SYRIZA achieved took place in circumstances of record-high abstention. Political time is dense, party identification is weak, and party vote is primarily an act of punishment for the previous government; all these are conditions that limit government grace periods. The stock of political capital accumulated before each party’s rise to power – mostly through excessive promises – is spent almost immediately, since the electorate is educated to expect immediate and easy solutions to chronic and difficult problems. The responsibility of the Media, in this respect, is central. Seeking ad sales and viewership for their economic survival, they promote loud and extreme criticism, which then becomes rampant through online social networks. Such criticism is thereafter adopted by the corresponding main opposition party resulting in a vicious cycle of cynicism, populism, and unfulfilled promises.
5. Anti-Europeanism - Euroscepticism. The mandate for Europeanization of the country ceased to be dominant for the middle and lower class. The perceived stance of the European Union during the Greek crisis has dulled the attraction of Europe as a pole of democracy and prosperity. The country follows the general anti-globalization movement and the shift to conservatism displayed in most Western societies. Greek society leans decisively towards isolationism.
6. The "60-40" division. 6 out of 10 people still believe that there is a way out of the crisis other than the bailout program, while 4 out of 10 believe that there is no alternative. The July 2015 referendum revealed and validated this division (61.3% - 38.7%). The same pattern was documented in the last three national elections where the main “YES” parties – New Democracy, PASOK-DIMAR, To Potami – gathered 38.5% in the 2014 EU elections, 39.1% in January 2015, and 38.5% in September 2015. Despite the subsequent turn of the strongest proponent of the anti-bailout majority movement, this correlation does not seem to have changed: only 2% of “NO” voters indicate that they would change their referendum vote, while the “YES” parties still cannot exceed 40% in voting intention.
7. Abstention: The 2012 national elections documented the first wave of electoral abstention. However, the parliament vote that ratified the third bailout program in 2015 (also voted for by the pro-Europe opposition) crushed any remaining illusions about the country’s return to some "lost paradise". As the flags of the two rival camps ("anti-bailout" and "remain in Europe”) faded, the stakes lowered, and participation in the September 2015 elections fell to 56%. To many citizens, the belief that their vote does not affect the country’s economic policy renders electoral participation as a futile process. The deficit in representation (parties and leaders) and in alternative policy solutions, in combination with a consumer basket of only 30-50 Euros, warn of an anomaly in the function of the country’s party system: there is a possible scenario that in the next national elections participation falls below the psychological barrier of 50%, thereby giving it a character similar to the "Orban referendum" in Hungary, an election of limited legitimacy.
The superficial debate between political parties – full of divisive accounts of the past – betrays lack of vision and does not inspire. Greek society is not interested in this kind of rhetoric, as it is essentially immersed in dead-ends and afraid for its future. In order for the political system to regenerate, more ‘tomorrow’ and less ‘yesterday’ is needed. A first step would be for parties to end their self-admiration: how will a society that struggles to come out of a crisis be inspired when its political leaders brag about their leadership in public movements, on the one hand, and in voting intention polls, on the other?
While society remains trapped in its microcosm of tough family realities, leaders enjoy their own microcosms of illusion of grandeur. This gap incites other types of forces – not necessarily political – to occupy the public sphere.
Political Research Director