Athens, June 19
In 1948 the Italians were asked to vote on the future of their newly founded republic. If they voted the right, Italy would become a liberal democracy under the umbrella of the United States, and as such eligible for Marshall funds. If they voted the left, Italy would become a socialist state under the influence of Moscow. There was no third way.
The right wing Christian Democrats presented themselves as guardians of civilization, with a shield and the holy cross as their symbol.
The left wing socialists and communists had united in the ‘Garibaldi alliance’, after Italy’s iconic hero of the wars for independence.
The election campaign was completely based on fear. In people’s consciousness it wasn’t the name of Garibaldi that became associated with the leftwing parties, it was the name of Stalin. If Italians would vote communist, it would mean another barbarian invasion, and it was going to be worse than Atilla and Barbarossa put together. Or so the establishment predicted. From the Vatican, the pope didn’t care too much for subtlety when he excommunicated every single communist.
It worked. Italy voted for the right. The country became a member of NATO, and a founding member of the European Community. The Christian-Democrats gained power, and clang on to it throughout the Cold War, until the first republic was blown up by a corruption scandal of epic proportions in 1992.
No-one came after me any more, the house still stands, and with a little twist of fate, I’m still here. Long enough to witness yet another general election.
For some reason, the Greek elections of May and June this year reminded me a bit of what happened in Italy in the wake of WW2. Only now the big question on which the people got to decide was if Greece should stay in the eurozone, or if she should default and start all over.
The left wing has managed to unite into an alliance which ranges from social-democrats to various radical communist denominations. They don’t want to pay the debt. They want out of the euro.
The right wing, which includes both major parties, wants to stay in the euro, and they based their campaign on fear. To them, a default and a return to the drachme would mean complete collapse and misery. Simply because Greece doesn’t have the economic basis to stand on her own. She needs Europe and the rest of the world.
Naturally, a majority of Greeks doesn’t want international institutions and markets to dictate national policy, but that’s not what the election is about. There is no third way. Either you want in, or you want out.
Greek society is so deeply divided on the subject that two rounds of general elections have been necessary. The first one was held on the day after we arrived, and the second one was last Sunday.
Nothing really changed in the mind of the Greeks over these last few weeks, so the results were pretty similar. The only scarry news is that the fascists gained even more than last time. As if to say that Greeks didn’t vote them out of frustration. Almost ten percent of the electorate support the neo-nazis, and they mean it.
In general the results show the following. There is a small majority that wants Greece to stay in the eurozone. There is a large minority that wants a return to the drachme combined with an evolution towards a certain degree of socialism. There is a small but significant minority that wants to turn Greece into an independent nationalist dictatorship, and there another small but significant minority that doesn’t want any form of government at all.
Last year’s dream of direct democracy and popular participation is not an option. There is no spirit of revolution in the air. Instead you can feel the desire of many people to return to how things were before the crisis started. It had only been a generation or two since Greece had turned from basic rural misery to urban consumerism. People had only just got used to the western way of life.
Now, even if people really wanted to make a real change, a revolution, they wouldn’t know where to start. And this goes not just for Greece. We modern city dwellers might be the best educated generation in history, but when it comes down to practice, we are absolutely helpless.
On average, we have no idea of how to work the land. We hardly even know which crops are typical of our climate, and in which season they grow. We don’t have any real technical or mechanical knowledge either. We wouldn’t know how to build a shed, or a fence, or a house. We wouldn’t know how to fix a car or a pump. We don’t know much about electric circuits and how to create energy. Finally, we haven’t got any profound knowledge of computers, be it hardware or software.
We are perfectly capable of using the front end of the system, but we haven’t got a clue of what’s going on under the hood.
Sure, we can learn, but who is seriously prepared to do so? To many people it feels unnatural, as if it were a return to the past. We came from being hunters to being farmers, to being artisans and labourers until we reached the final stage of evolution. Our own office chair.
Once you’re there, in the office chair, it’s hard to go back to doing or making real things. And so you delegate.
The Greek people have delegated. They have given the traditional parties a mandate to negotiate a way out of this crisis. They want them to get this train back on track, or else things could get unpredictably ugly.
In the midst of all this the only true revolutionary gesture that I haven’t even witnessed, but heard about, was that of a compatriot of mine. He came to Greece years ago, he fell in love, and now he bought a piece of land with the ferm intent to make it bear fruit.