Sunday, 16 September 2007

Den xero

Three and a half years ago in Greece you could hear animated discussions everywhere. The socialist PASOK party had served its time. After being in power for decades, the Greeks thought they might see how somebody else would do.

This somebody else was Kostas Karamanlis and his party Nea Demokratia. He thought he was doing so well that he called an early election for the 16th September.

But on this day you will not hear animated discussions like in the past. The people are tired after the hot summer, they are tired of the wretched television images of the wild fires, they are tired of all the discussions seen on television, they don't believe any more in the leaders of the two biggest political parties who keep on accusing each other. Last week when Karamanlis visited Lesvos for the elections, there were no crowds to receive him. Maybe the few that were there cheered him for being the premier, but not for being the future premier. More than one Greek will have thought that he is a man with many promises which never happened. The Greeks lost their faith in politics.

In Myitilini there were some posters that praised one or other political party. In Molyvos there was no sign that national elections were going on. Mothers were angry because of their children being out of school for a few days, because the school is used for the elections. They could not be too angry because last year was worse. When the schools started then, the children were home for 6 weeks because the teachers were on strike.

Last October the situation was quite different. For the election of a new mayor everybody in Molyvos was busy in order to gather votes for their favourite party. Even our telephone didn't stop ringing with all the invitations we got to attend election meetings. In the whole village there was no talk other than about a new mayor and wherever you looked you would find the eyes of a prospective mayor staring at you from the posters.

Here in the municipality of Molyvos there are no complaints about our new mayor. Even the tourists remark that there is a man cleaning the streets. We do have to push the municipality sometimes to make sure that they remove the boats of the refugees from the beach, but that problem is like a flowing river you cannot stop.

Maybe if there hadn't been those big wild fires in the Peloponissos and Evia, the Greeks would have been discussing a new parliament. Now the people have had it. They no longer believe the fine words of Karamanlis, nor those of Georgios Papandreou, the leader of PASOK. The third biggest party in the country, the KKE (communist party) and the smaller parties: Syreza, a party that is a mixture of commnunist and ecological groups and the right wing LAOS, a party that is anti immigrants and Jews, take their chances: they hope for more seats in the parliament thanks to the mistrust of PASOK and ND.

The Greeks themselves do not believe in small parties. The KKE is too strict and Syreza and LAOS are too small to change things. If you give your vote to a small party, a big party can take this as an advantage. Conclusion: most of the Greeks do not know what to vote. Den xero! There are even people who say: let Europe rule us.

The inhabitants of the small island of Lipsi (south of Samos and Leros) have another reason for not voting today. They feel abandoned by the state, because three years ago the ferry from Athens to their island was stopped. It resumed half a year ago, but that was not enough for the inhabitants, since another ferry to Rhodes was also stopped. So why should they vote for a state that doesn't care that their island is difficult to reach?

In the history of Greek elections there is another such incident. There was another small island with the same problems. The inhabitants went to vote, but then refused to send their votes to Athens. The government could come and get the votes themselves, with the promise of a ferry line.

Then there's another group of people who don't want to vote today. The victims of he wild fires have other things to think of instead of wondering which party is to blame for this disaster. They are sure that whoever wins, they will be forgotten in a few weeks.

And so today it is a Sunday as usual. A fierce wind makes sure that the temperature doesn't rise too high, tourists are walking along the beaches, the Greeks are gathered in their village of birth where they have to vote. They enjoy big Sunday lunches and stay unsure if they'll go and vote. Some have got the money, or part of the money for their fares to their home villages from a political party. But nobody controls if in fact they give this party their vote.

At the lunch and coffee tables in Molyvos and Petra the discussions aren't about the elections but about the bankruptcy of Olympia, a Dutch travel company. To which hotels or apartments do they still owe money? Who is likely to go bankrupt because they're still owed tens of thousands of euros from Olympia? The conclusion is that the tourist business is getting more and more risky. Each year now travel companies go bankrupt and take owners of small apartment complexes with them.

And so life goes on in a country where you have to pay not only the doctor's fees but also thank him with an envelop, where the salaries are too low, where the pension funds are paying too late or not at all. A country that has to return millions of euros to Europe because they where incapable of getting all of their land registered.

The Greeks are finished with their political leaders. The Greeks are tired of all their unfulfilled promises, they are tired of their country that is still between a third world country and a modern state. The Greeks are not proud anymore: the images and the criticism of the fights against the wild fires were too devastating.

So who is going to win today? No Greek seems to be interested. Because PASOK is bad news, as well as Nea Demokratia. There is no more choice today. Neither was there in the past, nor will there be in the future. I never saw the Greeks so sad.

17th September. Nea Demokratia has won a majority with 43% of the votes, which means that Karamanlis can continue ruling Greece. As predicted the big parties lost a lot of votes to the small parties like KKE, Syreza and LAOS. It's even the first time since the ending of military dictatorship in 1974 that an extreme right party won seats in the parliament: LAOS won ten seats.

And Lesvos? It was a close race between PASOK and Nea Demokratia. But maybe Karamanlis' visit made a difference: he won with a small majority. Lesvos is no green island anymore... (green is the colour of PASOK). But it keeps on being an exception for Greece. The island used to be communist and the KKE is still strong here. This election the KKE got 14% of the votes, which is more than the double the amount they got in most other voting districts.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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