Monday, 5 October 2009

Cry, the beloved country

I did not vote yesterday.
I live in London, innit?

Plus the election results seemed almost predestined.
Plus, I cannot legitimately bring myself to choose between the choices available and as casting a blank 'protest' ballot would simply boost the top party along its way in this curious twist of proportional representation whereby blank and spoiled ballots are added to the votes knowingly cast for the winner, I didn't vote.

But this is not a critique of Greece's electoral system.
It's not a critique of Greece's political system.
It's just a realisation, that crept up on me slowly last night as I was watching the results come in over the internet and talked on the phone with family and friends out in Greece. And the realisation is this: we, the Greek public, are like one of those girls, neglected, abused and unloved by their boyfriends but so convinced we can do no better, that we have learned to draw pleasure from the days when he isn't so bad and we are simply over the moon on the days he can muster some basic decency. And so deep is this conviction that we can do no better that, when we finally leave the brute, we end up in the arms of someone just like him because 'that's what men are like'.

How many times on the run-up to this election did you say: 'well, at least the new one cannot possibly be as bad as the last one, he may try but it is impossible to be just as bad'?
How many times did you hear: 'well now the only way is up, surely we have hit rock bottom'?
How many times did the voting public vocally and actively affirm that they considered the choices presented to them inadequate and the act of voting a mechanical discharge in the hope that further evil would be averted by removing from power the guy who so clearly failed to resolve all the pressing problems that presented themselves on his watch?

And replace him with what?
A guy the voting public had pointedly rejected twice before.
A guy who did not have the decency to resign when he should have because he knew that if he stuck around it was a matter of time before we needed somewhere to run, away from the neglect and abuse of our Nea Dimokratia boyfriend. And despite our previous rejections, when things got depserate and we had nowhere else to run, we did run straight into the arms of suitor number 2, George Papandreou: twice rejected but never actually gotten rid of.
He stuck around shamelessly and here he is now, in power.

So don't talk to me about George Papandreou's 'triumph'. Mr Karamanlis simply lost the election. He lost it with a bang, he lost it by a mile but he lost it by himself. Mr Papandreou didn't need to actively win it. He just needed to wait for power to land on his lap. As it did.

Semantics, I hear you say?
Negative voting of the 'I really don't want this guy, I'll vote for the other one' variety makes the lives of politicians really really easy. They do not need to campaign on the issues, they do not need to stick to the issues, they hardly need to do anything about the issues once they are in power. All they need to do is be perceived as a better choice than the other guy. So on this occasion Karamanlis had sunk so low in people's estimations that Papandreou could have turned up on the day without campaigning and he still would have won by a landslide.

'Ultimate personal vindication' for Papandreou, says the front page of Eleftherotypia today.
Give me a break.
They feed us this crap and we sit here and take it. As if the election results prove that Papandreou was right not to resign after his last defeat – and the one before – as if this proves we were always coming back to him. As if the poor choice and the chronic damage it is doing both to our political culture and to the country as such is not even worth mentioning. Because when it comes to prime ministers and boyfriends, they are all much of a muchness and prince charming has been dead for decades.

At least Karamanlis resigned, so that is that there and on we go with a new face and old ideas when the time for their leadership election comes. Even more mediocre suitors to choose from. But maybe the baseline will be higher. Maybe Nea Demokratia's next leader will realise that if you have been in power two years, during which all you have achieved is beaching the economy and watching idly on while riots raged throughout your country, well if those conditions are met then you don't call an election unless losing it is what you are after.
And maybe that is what you were after, Mr Karamanlis, you were tired after all and the glamour wore off pretty soon this second time round, didn't it?

So what have we got?
A populace that is dispirited, tired and completely disillusioned. A populace that puts up with the neglectful, abusive boyfriends because it is convinced that mediocrity is 'as good as it gets' and the goal is to swap one inadequate man with another to avoid the worst of it and keep afloat.

This makes the job of running for elections that bit easier. The less your voters care, the less you have to do to convince them. The less your girlfriend expects, the more you get away with.

Meanwhile, the parties of the left are losing support – not fast, but noticeably – and LAOS, the racist, ultira-nationalistic, uber-rightist party that seemed like a bad joke when it first hit our TV screens is gathering votes – fast and noticeably.

Does that matter?
Damn right it does.
Because some people vote for mr Karatzaferis despite his politics, for his affability – and that is simultaneously stupid and irresponsible. But many are voting for him for his politics and his affability: at least he cares, they say, and maybe he could have handled the riots better (as the extreme right are want to do) and maybe he would have handled the economic crisis better, by clamping down on the illegal immigrants because, didn't you know, they brought down the international banking system and are to blame for Greece's ailing economy.

So maiden Greece assessed her available suitors and, convinced she can do no better, is salvaging what she can. Taking the power mantle away from the guy who failed her most recently and giving it to the guy whom she has repeatedly rejected but who won't take the hint because he knows, he just knows her expectations are low and if he waits long enough, if he just waits long enough.

And he did. Wait long enough. And here we are in his arms. In fact, so eager were we to get rid of Karamanlis, that we rushed to the polls and gave the new guy a majority that means he doesn't need to consult with anyone, within or outside parliament, setting him up to be our new abusive and neglectful boyfriend, convinced that we can do no better.


  1. There seems to be a malaise about the European democracies at the moment and Greece may be the state in the worst situation in that respect. The question, if I may borrow from Uncle Vladimir, is: what is to be done?

    Lalu for PM?

  2. The problem though is that women need boyfriends and boyfriends need their girlfriends, otherwise their definitions do not apply. And if there are only two boyfriends available, we are bound to oscillate between the two. New faces may knock on your door, but they come from the same family so the genes are very lightly altered. To move within the allegory you have so beautifully painted, I can see two solutions. We either try to go along without a boyfriend (isn’t what those riots last December were about? A violent rage against a “non-existent”, malfunctioning relationship? ) which is physically impossible or as is needed when a supposedly “free market” is behaving like a duopoly, increase competition. But you can’t import cars made in “Seychelles” to compete with what is perceived as the local “german make”. You need credible threat, which does not exist in the current political environment. Would you stay with a boyfriend that was less than optimal if you could have opted for the “fairytale” one? Lack of competition creates complacency, and that is what we are facing at the moment.
    That does sound a bit sad. It is almost as if I am subscribing to your hypothesis “we can do no better” but that does not mean “we deserve no better”. Who is going to provide us that? I am afraid to say, we will have to wait for new faces to enter the game. But even they, need the support of a big name. To become known. To become promoted. They need the big guys with the big guns. But if there are two gangs controlling the dark streets of Athens, would you be allowed to set up your own little gang if it posed a real threat to the kings and queens of this world?... competition is ultimately doomed to be of insignificant importance.
    So in the end, what you can do is go back to your old boyfriend, with the only ammunition at hand your threat of doing to this guy what you did to the old one when he promised to take you out to a romantic walk but instead decided to watch the football match with his mates. Without any hesitation. Show him the door.

  3. @ Dave – thank you for the vote of confidence. If only you could vote in Greece, between you and my thousands of cousins I'd have the election sorted ;-)

    On a more serious note, comrade Lenin, I believe that the start is a belief that things can be different. It sounds corny but it actually colours the way people think about politics, it colours their everyday actions and expectations within the public sphere. And it makes a difference: civil society is the answer.

    @ funky buddha – first of all welcome.
    Secondly, there is always a risk of taking an allegory too far but, in principle, what I am saying is that unless you hope for more and believe that more is possible then 'same old' is what you'll always end up with - be it blue or green, Costa or George.

    As you point out, celibacy may be an option. We may also be gay and in denial. Radical political reform is always an option, in other words, even though it is highly unlikely. Even the December riots lacked political focus and if not then, the chances of demands for radical systemic reform are not going to be forthcoming any time soon I fear.

    But we may just want an altogether different kind of man than what we have hitherto known.
    Same rules (chocolates, flowers the works) but just a different kind of guy. But what happens if you think that guys don't come different than what you know? You just don't hope and make do. And herein lies our problem.

    If we start believing that change is possible, if we start expecting and thinking about it then a different class of suitor may go into politics and come a-courtin'.
    It's a vicious circle: the sort of people I would like to see in politics don't want to be tainted by it. I understand it. I wouldn't touch it with a barge poll myself. But that leaves our maiden with 'same old' and we are all to blame.

    I agree that we deserve better. But I disagree on the 'waiting for new faces part'. In fact, I love the 'new faces' part, it's the waiting I don't like. Haven't we waited long enough? Third generation of Papandreous currently in power – seriously, that's longer than many royal houses ever got to.

    And the problem is this: you can show a man the door as many times as you like. When he knows he's the only 'other guy' in the village, he can wait for you to come back. Because you will. Because coming back to him is the only leverage you have against the other guy. Anon anon.

    What's the answer?
    For me, it's us. It's civil society. It's people expecting more, demanding more, doing more. Destruction may be cathartic but the day after you are faced with the same ole' shit plus a pile of rubble. Let's be constructive. Reaction through action damn it. Let's get out there and start living how we want to live, despite the politicians. Eventually they'll have no choice but to follow.

  4. 'well, at least the new one cannot possibly be as bad as the last one, he may try but it is impossible to be just as bad'?'

    True indeed, but not only for yesterday's election. It's sad that our options are 1. not many and 2. not much to speak of.

  5. sigh no more greeks, sigh no more, politicians were deceivers ever...

  6. My dear friend no one likes a Kassandra but remember the curse she had: to always predict the truth andand have no one believe her. I think what you say here is like one of her oracles. I wish you are wrong... but I don't have any illusions anymore.
    Yes obviously Karamanlis wanted this to be over. His body language was screaming on his last rally in Athens. It was screaming "I want out! I want this to end!" And of course the next day he was free.
    Papandreou if I remember correctly was not the choice of his father. His own father did not believe he was able to govern. What does that say about the man?...
    The rise of LAOS is the most frightening and disturbing result of these elections. Karatsaferis is uber-rightist but unfortunately this is what people think they need! It's obvious they are full of fear of anything and anyone different. They forget that a few decades ago they were themselves immigrants and Germans did not want them in their country. Germany did not give its nationality to Greeks born and living their entire lives there. Did they like that? No. Do they want people who are born in Greece to get the Greek nationality? No.
    Papandreou promised the immigrants some things that sound oh so nice.. actually they sound too good to be true. For their sakes I hope that he will deliver. Otherwise they'll feel like idiots celebrating his coming of power.

  7. @ Christina: true, very true. And still we are celebrating the massive 'change'. So if I can quote you back at you, isn't it ironic?

    @ Thanos: Κοινώς: τα ίδια Παντελάκη μου. Όχι απλά από Καραμανλή σε Παπανδρέου αλλα εξαπαρχής κόσμου... Καθόλου χαρούμενη ως σκέψη αυτή γιατρέ μου...

    @ Dorothea: You are so right. In everything you have said. But particularly regarding the rise of LAOS, I am so glad someone else also goes around wondering how people can so easily forget that only a generation ago they were economic immigrants themselves.

    I have raised this, you know, with people who come up with the racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant cliches we so often hear in Greece. And you know what they always tell me? 'When we went to other people's countries we were respectful, we didn't give any lip, είχαμε το κεφάλι κάτω'. Really? All of you all the time? And you never wished things to be different? You never felt isolated, used, marginalised? You never hoped things could be different?
    I somehow doubt it.
    So here we are. One foreigner commits a crime and all foreigners are on the dock being tried. And we do unto others the exact opposite of what we want done to us. Like the good Christians that we are.

    All we are achieving is breeding hatred, misery and discontent. And all we end up with will be a generation of kids that are born and bred in Greece, the only home they know, yet they will feel unwanted and rejected. The best cocktail for social unrest I ever did see.

    So yes, I totally agree with you. Unless Georgie-boy delivers on his promises for a more equitable society, we are heading towards serious divisions, polarisation and all its natural outcomes.

    There's a happy thought to start the day.

  8. welcome back Lalu!!

    beware, that was a smart and amazingly right on target analysis so that you might be chosen by our new PM for one of his political consultants.

    Oh, I so pitty all those having fought for socialism all these past years, we managed to have it just through elections, life can be such a comedy sometimes!

    yes of course I'm joking

  9. @ el Romandante - thank you. And should I say likewise? Or are you not back yet?

    As for the rest, I shall accept the compliment and leave it at that. The thought of working for our erstwhile premier is enough to keep me awake forevermore. That is, obviously, because I fear for my inadequate socialist credentials NOT, I repeat NOT, because I do not consider PASOK a shining beacon of socialist progress.

    Yes yes of course I'm joking too.

  10. Quote away Lalu! The greatest ironies and hypocrisies are in the most obvious places. Right under our noses.

  11. Lalù their answer to your question has underneath it the assumption that "they were/are superior/different/better" in the way they behaved when they were immigrants. And it's only natural, they were the immigrants, they think good of themselves.

    BUT that's exactly what immigrants around the world think for themselves.

    And their reactions to immigrants now are the racist reactions they got when they went to a country as immigrants.

    So my answer to them would be "You assume you were different, as this people here now think they are different. Fact is immigrants everywhere are the same, they leave their countries through lack of work, or prospects and go somewhere else for a better future. They leave with hopes and dreams. They don't go to another country to suffer, to be rejected, to be treated like animals."

  12. @ Christina – the best criminal minds hide where nobody will think they'll dare hide: in plain daylight, under people's noses...

    @ Dorothea – you know the old saying 'τα δικά μου είναι σύκα και ζουλιούνται του αλλουνού είναι καρυδια και βροντάνε'?
    Few people have the ability to think outside their current situation. Or people wouldn't be so harsh on immigrants, the homeless, the unemployed, the addicts. But they feel so safe in whatever situation they live in that not only do they feel immune to the miseries of other people, they feel that the miserable are somehow at fault for both their own miseries and those of the world. How very convenient.

    I totally agree with you.
    Besides, it takes balls to leave your country and face the worst conditions just to give your kids a better chance. It takes courage to keep fighting on despite the conditions and against the odds, let us not forget it.

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