By Lois Woestman, Guest Contributor
Dr. Lois Woestman, both a Greek and US citizen, is a Lecturer in Anthropology of Contemporary Greek Society at Arcadia University (Athens branch), an External Funding Officer at the Agricultural University of Athens and an independent research/policy advice consultant (including for UNWOMEN, Europe-based WIDE+ Network, global Association for Women in Development – AWID).
Athens, June 18, 2012
Yesterday felt like the eye of the storm. We Greeks had our second round of elections to determine our futures – in/outside of the Euro/pe, of austerity – and to some not insignificant degree set the stage for broader European, if not global, developments.
Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, was out in full force – as if to make up for the eerie silence. Uncharacteristically, my fellow Greeks were keeping their voting cards close to their chests - not to be secretive, but because they were genuinely baffled as to which choice to make. Many voted at the last moment, wavering all the day/way to the box. When I coaxingly asked one colleague which party she will vote for, she said: “The one that is going to save our country.” And when I asked which one that might be, she said: “I wish I knew.”
Yesterday’s “choice” consisted in one between two roads that lead to the same bitter end, just at different paces and through different means: Do we remain in the Euro, and with it the austerity straightjacket that has caused five years of recession, dropping living standards for the majority, growing social unrest and splinterings to left and right “radical” parties – with more stringent austerity and worsening circumstances to come for at least the next decade? Or, do we “bite the bullet”, and leave both, so as to take things into our own hands, albeit based on a now severely dysfunctional economy and political system? Either option portends very difficult times ahead.
In a recent discussion I had with a lawyer, he claimed that if we leave the Euro, we will be “sta machieria” – up in arms against each other, literally. But, as I responded, if we implement the austerity programme as is, without any growth mechanisms in place, we will also be “sta macheria”, just at a slower pace.
Yesterday’s vote demonstrates a squeak-by “victory” for the remain-in as vs. bite-the-bullet path. In the next days, it remains to be seen if New Democracy, the right-center party winner of yesterday’s election, can form a coalition government with Pasok, the “socialist” party that ruled during the signing of the two austerity programmes. This is likely, given international pressure – and the fact that Syriza, the party advocating the tearing up and rewriting of the austerity memorandums - which obtained only 2% less of the vote than New Democracy - declared it will not join a coalition with New Democracy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkl is said to have settled back last night into her easy chair, heaving big sighs of relief. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle declared yesterday that Germany may grant Greece more time to meet its targets – but that the targets remain unchanged.
A colleague of mine who recently returned from a trip to Germany explained that, already prior to the elections, Germans had written Greece off - their mental maps, TV screens. It is perceived as but a far away sprite of a country that constitutes 2% of the European economy, whose time in the limelight has come and gone. A “Grexit” did not threaten any longer to affect them, as contingency plans were ready. There were bigger fish to bail out – Spain, Italy – as a “Spexit” or an “Itexit” would pose a more immediate threat to the Euro’s, and hence Germans’, wellbeing.
If New Democracy and Pasok form the expected coalition, our hopes may, ironically, rest with Germany. If, as predicted, Merkel’s coalition will lose the German elections in fall, 2013, the German Social Democrats may join with France's President Francois Hollande to finally bring some growth into the European economic equation. This might be encouraging news for others in Europe, but I fear comes too late for us, as our fate has essentially already been written in stone in our already signed and sealed austerity-only Memorandums. As my recently returned colleague said, the most we can hope for in the way of changes in the Memorandums' conditions until the German elections are a shifting of a few commas from here to there.
As foreign journalists also noted last night, there was not much celebration going on, even by New Democracy supporters. This morning, most of us are walking around as if hung-over. Not from drinking too much, or only from too little sleep, or the oppressive heat. The feeling is one of listlessness. Aeolus continues to fill in for speech, and to provide impetus for movement to Greeks who voted across the political spectrum. Pandora is said to have kept sealed hope inside her jar, after she released the ills from it. Most fellow Greeks and I sense especially strongly today those ills flitting around us on the winds - with the eye of the storm our entrapped hope.