New elections in store

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras suffered a severe defeat in the European Parliament elections last Sunday, his party Syriza trailing the opposition New Democracy party by about ten points.

Syriza stormed the Greek political scene on an anti-austerity platform six years ago, then suffered a backlash after imposing cut-backs as part of a third bailout in 2015. This month the government introduced more than one billion worth of handouts in the form of tax cuts and pension payouts, unwinding some of the austerity measures—but it proved to be too late in the day, although the handouts may have averted an even steeper defeat.
Let us not forget that Greece lost a quarter of its economic output during an eight-year depression, which economists record as the worst contraction of any developed economy since World War II. Unemployment peaked at 28 percent in 2013 and remains at 19 percent.

 

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras

Voters punished the ruling Syriza party for broken promises but also for a deeply unpopular agreement signed by Tsipras to resolve a long-running name dispute with North Macedonia.

Tsipras has now announced a snap election, to take place in the coming month or so. The government’s current term was due to expire in October.

The high score of 33.2 percent of the vote won by the opposition party New Democracy suggests it might manage to energise a greater voter base in the coming month. It would need about 40 percent to rule outright, without a coalition partner.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has promised a restart of the economy. He says he will lower tax on businesses from 29 percent to 20 percent in two years and lower income tax on farmers from 22 percent to 10 percent.
He also says he will seek to create 700,000 new jobs in five years and has pledged to bring home at least half a million of the 860,000 skilled workers who, according to the Hellenic Statistical Service, have left the country since 2009.

 

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis

 

Of course, such promises are founded on the assumption that the economy will achieve an annual growth rate of around four percent per year, a goal which might not be so easy to achieve. The economic plan mostly hinges on a key promise to negotiate a new deal with Greece’s creditors, which would allow the government to spend less on repaying external debt and keep more money in the economy for reinvestment.

In his talks, Mitsotakis sounds optimistic if not bullish—but we’ve heard it all before. We just have to keep our fingers crossed.

The Sunday Papers

Today is the second Sunday of the new year. Time for stocktaking – what are the prospects before us?

I took a look at the main Sunday papers. Although of different political persuasions, the themes they deal with are the same.

THE ECONOMY

The problematic state pension scheme, the constantly increasing taxes, and the difficult measures that have to be taken in order to satisfy our lenders. Depressing, to say the least!

THE NEW DEMOCRACY ELECTIONS

The second round of voting to choose a leader for the New Democracy party (the main opposition party) takes place today. It is between Mr. Meimarakis, a member of the old guard, and Mr. Mitsotakis, much younger and more modern, but a member of an old political – and often controversial – family. Is there, in actual fact and despite what they’re proclaiming, much to choose between the two? Voters who turned out in decent numbers for the first round are, so far today, exhibiting election exhaustion.

 

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THE REFUGEE ISSUE

European countries are complaining about the number of refugees allowed into Europe but, let’s not forget, most of those are still in Greece (to say nothing of the vast numbers stuck in Turkey). It is clear the situation is totally out of control. Today the articles were about increasing instances of fights amongst the refugees themselves, especially between groups with different religions; abuse of women and children; cases of women selling themselves in order to pay the traffickers; extortion; black markeering in cellphones, fake documents and other goods.

In a horrifying statistic given out by the organization “Missing Children Europe“, 50% of unaccompanied children arriving at one of the refugee centers disappear within 48 hours never to be found again.

Very few of the refugees are actually in the centers – the rest are wandering around, penniless, hungry, hounded by the police.

Meanwhile, the trafficking business is thriving, starting from Syria itself, where allegedly there are special ‘schools’ coaching people how to reach Europe.

In Bulgaria, the police has issued a warning to hunters to be careful what they shoot at in the woods, in case the prey is not a wild boar but some refugee hiding from the authorities.

However, in a different article, there are glowing reports from various workers from the NGOs working on the island of Lesbos. This is close to the Turkish coast and has received huge numbers of refugees. The NGOs are doing a great job, but they’re also full of praise for the islanders, who have been welcoming the refugees to the best of their ability. People collect food, prepare formula for babies, grandmothers are even knitting little sweaters. Many volunteers from all over the world have also arrived, some giving up their vacation to help, others declaring their willingness to stay ‘until the war ends in Syria.’

Another, more curious, article deals with the refugees who have arrived with their pets. As a general rule, this has been well received by the Greeks, who think it a very human touch. In some other countries, however, (apparently Slovenia is one,) the refugees’ pets have become an object of political pressure, as well as a business: border controls confiscate cats and dogs, even those with passports, microchips and the correct vaccinations, and put them in quarantine,  demanding for their keep and release exorbitant amounts (up to €2000). Otherwise the animals are euthanized…

FOOD

The Sunday supplements have the usual restaurant reviews: a new Italian in Kolonaki, an Asian street food bar, a tacos place. And two great salad recipes, to detox after the festive overeating. My favorite? A rocket salad with roasted beetroot, walnuts and orange.

The political situation remains unstable, and thing are not looking good yet. But the start of a new year always feels like a new start, and there is a tiny whiff of optimism in the air.

In other, unrelated, news , as Anita Kunz put it: ‘As if everything else this past year weren’t enough , now Kim Jong-un shows up again.’
She’s doing a cover of him as a baby playing with toy missiles, for the New Yorker.

Please feel free to join in with other pleasant surprises awaiting us in 2016!

Election Results

Alexis Tsipras, the ‘Laughing Boy’ as he’s known locally due to his youthful looks and smiling face, won the elections by a comfortable margin. He is to form a government with ANEL, a right-wing, anti-austerity party he’s already collaborated with in the past. Godspeed – he has a huge task ahead, and now he’s been given the mandate to proceed. No more referendums or elections, no more escape routes.

The ‘Return to the drachma’ faction was wiped out as it failed to win a single seat in Parliament. Tsipras bounced back from an in-house revolt of radicals which nearly made him lose control of his party. He now must prove himself as a leader to deal with issues such as the immigrant crisis and also implement the reforms he signed for the bail-out agreement.

The elections are finished, the Troika returns, screamed a headline in one of the dailies. The election is over, the crisis isn’t, wrote another paper.

Let’s hope that politicians will settle down now and do their jobs, instead of spending their days on TV panels, shouting at each other.
In a worrying statistic, 2 million less people turned up to vote than in 2004. That’s around 45% of the electorate, a record by Greek standards. In a population of around 10 million who can vote, that is huge. Parties will have their work cut out to win those people back.

imageEven more worrying, Golden Dawn, the extreme-right party, won two more seats in Parliament than before. That means that 400,000 people voted for a party who has acknowledged murdering people and whose leader has spent time in jail.

What will be the face of Greece in two years? In five? We are facing an uphill battle, but Greeks have proved they are resilient, so we must hope there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

photo by Eleni Koryzi 

The suspension of disbelief

The politicians are at it again. Disregarding the huge problems looming over Greece, they’ve dropped everything to stand on their soapboxes haranguing the crowds. Their aim? To persuade people to vote for them, obviously.

Every other program or issue has vanished from TV channels, as politicians are monopolizing air time. Everything is at a standstill.
In one of the ‘shows’ I briefly watched, young people in the crowd looked positively catatonic as the would-be future leader – it could have been any one of them – trotted out the same, tired old platitudes. They all have identical weapons of choice: shouting as loudly as possible, and blaming each other for every difficulty the country is facing.  They obviously think this will make the audience overlook their total lack of credibility, the absence of any constructive proposal. Promises – how can they promise, with a straight face, to do the things they never did when they were in power last? Why should anyone believe them this time round?

imageDoes anyone believe them? Some are certainly turning up to listen – is it curiosity? Hope springing eternal?
The suspension of disbelief can only go so far. A quick poll I conducted over the last few days uncovered a startling fact. Practically everyone I asked is refusing to vote. I say refusing, because Greeks consider voting a matter of principle and pride. They’re certainly not abstaining because they can’t be bothered.
Possibly – certainly – my sample was skewed. But, in all my years as a voting citizen, this has NEVER happened before. Usually, Greeks love to argue, to try and persuade, to discuss politics for the fun of it. Now they’re just disgusted. They don’t want to know.

Will they resist to the end? On Sunday, we shall find out.

Photograph by Eleni Koryzi