Some thoughts from Greece, before I enter the polling booth
I have no problem with people voting self-centredly. It is how it works. If you and your kids have food on your plate and a roof over your heads, you should protect that by voting for an option you deem safer. Fine. I have no problem with that. But to somehow elevate your choice to the status of the only moral or sane one and diminish the choices of people who have nothing as stupid, is intellectually dishonest. You choose who you think is best for your kids and others will do the same. Accept this may not be one and the same.
Honestly, the only promise Alexis Tsipras has made that matters to me is that he will try and give “dignity back to everyone”. Of course, he cannot deliver that. Only we can deliver that for ourselves. But even mention of that word – “dignity” – in a political context is striking to me. It is hugely refreshing to have someone speaking that sort of language, instead of the Thatcherite dogma that has destroyed entire countries. A system which collapsed globally and spectacularly only a few years ago. A system which eschews taxation but required unprecedented bail outs from taxation. A system which, somehow, has now gone back to being considered infallible, supreme and self-correcting. To me voting for that is irrational and trying something different, however risky makes sense.
Dignity may be an abstract concept, but its complete absence is a very real and practical thing. Go outside a central Athens supermarket at closing time, to see elderly women, dressed in black, rummaging through the bins for food. Meanwhile the wicked accountant we have for Prime Minister boasts of a surplus.
“I won’t be a sponsor” said to me someone planning to vote for the New Democracy party. A sponsor? A sponsor for whom? Let’s be specific. Are you a sponsor for my mother, for instance? She and her generation built every, tiny particle of the country on which you stand, after a devastating occupation and civil war. She worked two jobs (sometimes three) for over 45 years and raised three kids in the process. Paid every penny in tax, and bought every IKA social security stamp. She invested in the system which promised her dignity in her old age. She now has Alzheimer’s, no medical provision whatsoever and a pension of €400 per month. Are you her sponsor? Or is she maybe yours?
I have played this game too many times. I offer specific policy X, you shoot it down on a practical point and vice versa, so let’s not. I think everyone understands the general debate instinctively. We will either, as a country, continent and planet, put life ahead of money or not. Either the markets, currency, trade, business, state are in the service of utility, of making life better for as many as possible, or utility is secondary (to something – what?). In my view, we have slipped to that latter state. We anthropomorphise the abstract on the news – “markets are sceptical”, “markets are nervous”, “markets are angry” – and offer human sacrifice to the volcano. Free market fundamentalism with a religiosity as extreme as any caliphate.
To me Syriza is part political choice, part resistance movement. I am fully aware they will probably fail – everyone and everything is against them. But this is about putting down a marker and saying “No more. Currency, Markets, the EU, Government – they are all tools in our service; not the other way around.” Ultimately, this is just one battle in a much larger war. This attempt might be unsuccessful, but (judging by the panic emanating from the Troika) the message has been received loud and clear.
Vote for whomever you deem the right longterm choice for you and your loved ones. Vote bravely. Most of all, vote.
“That was quick!”, said the man guarding the ballot box.
“Well, very few choices and very clear ones”, said the lady crossing names off the register, as she handed me my identity card.
I smile, inscrutably, and say “Καλημέρα σας”. I step outside the school, into the morning petrichor. The island seems brighter, cleaner, after the night’s deluge.
What a day.