The Euro Question Divides Greeks Ahead Of Election | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

The Euro Question Divides Greeks Ahead Of Election

Play associated audio

Greeks are headed back to the polls Sunday after last month's inconclusive parliamentary election left the country without a governing coalition. And like the last time, people are polarized over harsh austerity measures imposed on Greece as part of a large European economic bailout.

The split is between those who support the conservative New Democracy party, which backs the bailout deal, and those who favor the leftist Syriza party, which has vowed to scrap it. Both parties are running neck and neck, despite vocal warnings from many EU leaders that a bailout rejection will lead to a deeper crisis and Greece's exit from the eurozone.

"Fear is the ruling factor in these elections," political consultant Vassilios Dascalopoulos says. "Fear of uncertainty, insecurity – it's the most constant parameter."

New Democracy has been running a TV ad raising the specter of a Greek eurozone exit. In it, a teacher reads from a list of eurozone members: Cyprus, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Spain. A little girl asks, "And Greece, sir? Why not Greece?"

Then, a deep baritone weighs in: "We don't play with our kids' future."

Maria Kousiaki, 21, echoes the party's warnings. "I fear economic problems with bank, with politics, anarchy and maybe fascism," she says outside a New Democracy kiosk as party leader Antonis Samaras greets supporters.

"We're trying to get rid of this very negative climate that jeopardizes our future because there area no investments," Samaras says, "because tourism is going down, unfortunately, due to this very negative environment."

Despite fears of Greece's banishment from the eurozone should Syriza win, the party has won over a large portion of the depleted middle class in this austerity-weary country.

Its slogan is simple but optimistic: "We leave the bailout behind and open the path to hope."

On one sweltering afternoon, people gathered for a Syriza town hall-style meeting in Thrakomakedones, a residential area and longtime New Democracy stronghold. The residents want to know what a Syriza government would do for them — retirees who have seen their pensions slashed, businessmen gone bankrupt, young people with no job prospects.

A psychotherapist named Terapia Masaraki says many Greeks will switch to Syriza because it promises to restore what they lost. "Many people are not so depressed. They have hope because they want to change. No longer passive. No, it's over in Greece. Over. We want to change."

A few months ago, Syriza was a marginal, far-left party. But it saw a swell of support in the May elections. It finished second to New Democracy, which like the other long-governing Socialist party, suffered huge losses due to its support for tough German-dictated austerity measures known as the memorandum.

With Greece's 40-year-old political establishment imploding, Syriza has projected a solid image, says Dascalopoulos, the political consultant. "They have been persistent to their message of anti-memorandum agenda, and they have been able to create an umbrella for all protest in Greece from far right to far left," he says.

But reviving the country's economy is a daunting task: five years of recession, salaries slashed up to 50 percent, unemployment at record highs, health care cut to the bone.

George Stathakis, a Syriza member of Parliament and economist, outlines his party's plan to reverse the downward spiral. "There will be a major redistribution of income from the wealthy to the poorer strata of society, protect the welfare state and try to improve its performance. We will freeze wages and salaries at the current level."

Given the fissures in Greek society as the country sinks deeper into the debt crisis, no single party is expected to win an outright majority in Sunday's election.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Not My Job: Brady Bunch's Florence Henderson Gets Quizzed On Weird Science

For decades, Florence Henderson, who presided over the Brady Bunch, was America's perfect Mom. We'll ask Henderson three questions about the Ig Nobels — awarded for real, if ridiculous, research.
NPR

Tracing A Gin-Soaked Trail In London

Around the world, new gin distilleries are popping up like mushrooms after a rain. NPR traces the boom to its historic roots in London, which once had 250 distilleries within the city limits alone.
NPR

Ranting And Throwing Papers: An Angry Candidate Runs For Congress

State Rep. Mike Bost's rants on the Illinois House floor are the stuff viral dreams are made of. Bost says he has good reason to be upset, and wants voters to share his anger.
NPR

Tech Week: Voice Mail Hang-Ups, Apple Pay And Zuckerberg's Chinese

In this week's roundup, Apple rolls out its mobile payment system but confronts a security test in China, the problem with voice mail messages and Mark Zuckerberg shows off his Mandarin.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.