Democracy field notes

Democracy field notes

Greece – the Moment of Dignity

Boarded-up shops in an area of downtown Athens ruined by austerity. Helen Sotiriadis/flickr

During the past three years, several anguished and rather melancholy ‘Democracy Field Notes’ tried to analyse the causes of the Greek crisis and the terrible pain and misery unfairly inflicted on many millions of Greek citizens by European austerity politics.

Overnight, as if the local deities had suddenly decided to offer lavish comforting gifts to poor, picked-upon Greece, things have changed. Votes are still being counted throughout the country, yet it now looks certain that the Syriza coalition, with its refusal of rule by austerity and commitment to revive the spirit and substance of democratic politics, is headed for a near-absolute majority of seats in the Greek parliament.

To capture something of the mood of the moment, I reproduce below a short exchange of text messages with a dear friend and trusted colleague, who was among many tens of thousands of Greek citizens who returned to Athens, especially to cast their ballots.

‘My dear John!’, began the exchange, just over a day ago. ‘I’m already in Athens catching up on sleep, social life, politics.’ She added: ‘Exciting times also full of apprehension.’ Then came a playful afterthought: ‘Is it ethical to bet on the electoral results?:-)’

I wrote back: ‘Kalimera! never mind the gambling. Plz just make sure that Samaras & Venizelos & Papandreou are thrown out into the streets. Michaloliakos & his [Golden Dawn] friends should of course stay put [in prison]’. I added: ‘the deities know the rest :-) & wise citizens know something else: not to invest great hopes in elections. I shall be thinking of you good luck!’

My friend replied instantly: ‘I know! and older people suggest it feels like 1981 all over again [when PASOK, led by Andreas Papandreou, won a landslide victory and formed the first socialist government in the history of Greece] but with more depressed spirits. Let’s see.’

A few seconds later, an image of Alexis Tsipras, about to cast his vote, looking jubilant, came through from Athens.

The leader of Greece’s left-wing Syriza party Alexis Tsipras arrives to cast his ballot at an Athens polling station, January 25, 2015. Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP

Then up jumped the moment of elation, this morning’s early breaking news. My friend bubbled with joy. ‘U know i’m kind of blasé and don’t hold much hope for Greece’s future’, she wrote, ‘but today’s voting experience was really a religious one. The hope and the trepidation. A special feeling. And the moment I was thinking exactly that the Sunday morning church bells next to my parents’ flat started to chime.‘

My fumbling reply tried to capture the moment when millions of Greeks trapped in squalour suddenly acted in solidarity, to reclaim their stolen democratic rights: 'Kalimera! It’s dawn here - and dawn in Athens :-) just watching every channel I can get my eyes on, with great excitement (& I confess some tears of joy) a thumping victory! perhaps even an outright majority! Tsipras is surely right’, I wrote. ‘Whatever happens hereon, this is an important moment of dignity (and 'democracy, solidarity and cooperation’, he said) when the people who were the first to suffer and suffered the most are now the vanguard of a real european alternative to the widespread prevailing misery’.

As for the strangely mystical feelings that sometimes grip democracies at the moment of sweet victory in a hard-fought free and fair election, I could think of just these few parting words. ‘Transcendence yes & little wonder the bell ringers struck @ your heart it is an unforgettable democratic moment congratulations, dear citizen!’

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