Alexandra Koronaiou, Alexandros Sakellariou Irini Chiotaki-Poulou and Vangelis Lagos, members of the Greek MYPLACE team at Panteion University Of Social And Political Sciences on the protesting Greek youth, the current socio-political crisis, memory and their relevance to the work of MYPLACE.
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The Greek society has, for the past three years, been experiencing an unprecedented economic, social and political crisis that has profoundly affected both the majority’s living conditions and the functioning of the entire institutional apparatus. The deep recession and the harsh austerity policies that have been continuously implemented within this period have influenced all aspects of social life as large parts of the population have suffered great losses in their income and they have been living in a climate of insecurity, fear, anger and pessimism regarding the future. In this context, social conflicts have sharpened and protests, strikes, and clashes with the police have become an everyday phenomenon, some of the most impressive instances of which have been covered extensively by (inter)national and global media.
The social unrest had begun after the agreement between the Greek government, and the so-called E.C, ECB I.M.F troika regarding the first Greek bailout and the austerity measures announced by the socialist government in2010. Inthese protests participated people of almost all social groups, classes and age-groups, particularly the middle-aged. The protests included strikes, marches, the occupation of the Syntagma square in the centre ofAthensas well as the occupation of public buildings mainly by the public sector’s syndicates. Similar protests had taken place in other Greek cities too likeThessaloniki, Ioannina, Heraklion, etc. Young Greeks had been participating actively in these conflicts and protests, although no distinctive youth or students’ movements have emerged so far.
Greek youth had been in turmoil (occupying secondary education schools and universities, protesting in the streets and clashing with the police) from the end of the 1990s protesting against the chronic problems of the educational system and the attempts to privatize university education. The conflict over the privatization of university education had culminated in the 2006-2007 “article 16 movement” (named after the constitutional article that guarantees the public character of education in Greece) which had succeeded in cancelling the planned constitutional revision.
The revolt had erupted abruptly within a generalised climate of growing dissatisfaction over the country’s economic deterioration and the political system’s inability to address it in the context of the 2008 international crisis: one of the slogans of the revolting youth, “money for the banks and bullets for the youth”, had been pointing directly to the severely damaged relationship between the Greek youth and the political system.
It is interesting to note that today many see the 2008 revolt as a prelude for the current socio-political turmoil that shakes the entire Greek society.
Although the Squares’ movement had not been a youth movement, young Greeks had been participating in numbers expressing an outright rejection of the established political system. This rejection was exemplified by the characteristic Greek gesture of insult and anathema (the moutza) that was repeatedly directed, by hundreds of thousands of protesters towards the Greek Parliament accompanied by the crowd’s rhythmic shouts of accusation against their MPs: “thieves” and “traitors”. At the same time, terms such as imperialism, colonialism, enemy invasion, oligarchy, junta and totalitarianism reappeared in the public vocabulary, after three decades of oblivion
The movement shook the Greek political system provoking the first governmental crisis and forcing the government to a reshuffle, following the Greek PM’s proposal to resign in favour of a coalition government that was rejected by the opposition. Nevertheless, the movement’s inherent limitations (lack of a specific political agenda, organisation and representation) as well as its harsh suppression by the police lead to its weakening and finally to its disappearance.
The protests however resumed last September when secondary and university education students had been occupying universities and schools to resist the implementation of the new Education Law that had been voted in August. Moreover, young Greeks had been participating in last October’s protests of public and private sector employees against the new wave of austerity measures imposed by the Greek government. The protests climaxed during the celebrations of the national day of the 28th of October for the commemoration ofGreece’s entrance in WWII.
The celebrations of this day became an opportunity for thousands of citizens in most Greek cities to protest against the austerity measures.
The scheduled military parade in Thessaloniki was cancelled due to the people’s protests. Parading school students in various cities were looking the other away when passing in front of the government officials or waving black armlets, thus, participating in the crowd’s protests.
Video: Parading school student on a wheel chair looks the other away when passing in front of the officials attending the parade, while the crowd is shouting at them “take the bailout and leave the country”
These protests lead to the second this year severe political-governmental crisis that resulted in the resignation of the Greek government and the formation of an emergency coalition government. It is very interesting that after the formation of this new coalition government there are not any demonstrations taking place, apart from a general strike that is organized for the 1st of December. The occupiers of the Syntagma square were removed by the police during last summer and since then the so called ‘Syntagma square movement’ disappeared.
MYPLACE could contribute to the understanding of all these in many ways. First of all, during the ‘Indignant Movement’ many slogans were used comparing the current situation with the military junta of 1967-1974, meaning that young people’s memory of historical events should be studied during our research. For example the protestors of the current protests were using some slogans used during the Uprising of the Polytechnic School of Athens in November 1973 like: “Bread, Education, Freedom, junta was not over in 1973”and “Junta was not over in 1973, we are going to finish it here in this square”. Of course, the dictatorship fall in July 1974, but the 1973 is used not only because in Greek the slogan rimes but because the Uprising of the PolytechnicSchool, which took place in 1973 symbolizes the struggle of the Greek youth against a violent and cruel regime. In addition, memory is involved in the recent cancellation of the military parade of the 28th of October and this is also a matter of interest. Furthermore, MYPLACE could contribute in studying how the current economic and political crisis leads young people to radicalization, left or right, and if and how increases young people’s social and political participation, not in the formal political system though, something that results from the focus groups we conducted for WP3. We suppose that the current crisis, which seems that it is going to be continued for the next few years, is making young people more interested in political and civic issues and this is something that is going to be investigated through MYPLACE. Finally, it is clear enough that the current crisis is influencing the way young people are thinking of their future, a way that is quite pessimistic, as they all said during the focus groups.
During the last 35 years, a relatively clear trend towards the sharpening of dissatisfaction with and rejection of the political system and the functioning of democracy can be seen to characterize Greek youth’s politicization and political/civic participation, following similar trends of the general population. Such a trend can be also established taking into consideration the increasing unrest that characterized young Greeks (particularly in secondary and university education) during the same period. This means that the de-legitimization of the political system in general, the increasing disengagement from formal political processes and young Greeks’ growing readiness to adopt forms of radical activism need to be integrated to the wider framework of the evolution of the Greek society’s now explosive socio-political crisis; one that encompasses and interrelates the gradual exhaustion of all developmental processes with the growing crisis of political representation and the sharpening of social problems and pathologies related to the deconstruction of social policy. In this context, rising unemployment, the explosion of illegal immigration and the social pathologies related to them are of great importance for the explanation and understanding of Greek youth’s political radicalism. That is why we think that the economic crisis should be part of our research, because it radicalizes young people not only toward the far-right but toward the far-left of the political system as well, and Greece is a good example of this ‘two-way radicalization’ of young people, as the current economic crisis have shown.