Bennett Morgan reports.
It is not all that apparent yet, but an earthquake of epic proportions has shaken politics as we know it; this is the dawn of a new democracy.
Greece has turned the page on pain, passivity, neglect and disharmony and, from tomorrow, will start work on a new chapter.
European leaders have long warned against the rise of the anti-austerity SYRIZA Party, led by the charismatic 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras, but their calls of warning have not been heard by the people. Voters at the voting booths in Athens were questioned by foreign media all day as to why they have joined the growing surge to this new left movement; one woman said the cuts to crucial services had simply become “unbearable”.
Indeed, the cuts made to health and education and the tearing of the social fabric by the conservative Greek government had left the economy in taters – 25% unemployment among Greeks, and a terrifying 60% unemployment among youth. Austerity simply wasn’t working; and Greeks felt they had endured enough.
SYRIZA, once just a fringe party of marxists, environmentalists and feminists never expected to get into power. In recent decades the country had been dominated by a Centre-left party (now almost defunct) and a Centre-right party. The SYRIZA Party has changed, evolving into a less radical party backed by everyday Greeks who demand better.
Both previous governments had accepted the EU’s harsh austerity program.
Since the adoption of the program at the beginning of the debt crisis, Greece has overseen a surge in poverty among the elderly, young and disabled. Too many Greeks can’t afford food and health cover, and the conservative government’s promise of more cuts was the last straw for many.
Hundreds had resorted to set-up street hospitals which were entirely volunteer-run. Next to them were set-up soup kitchens for the starving. Trained nurses and health professionals treated those with illnesses that a universal health care system should have helped.
“A long time ago, when I was a student, I’d see myself volunteering. You know, in Africa somewhere, treating sick people in a poor developing country. I never once imagined I’d be doing it in a suburb of Athens.” Ogla Kesidou, a volunteer, told The Guardian last week.
The leader of the conservative government was backed by almost every government in Europe that argued a conservative, pro-cuts government would be the only chance for Greece to path the way back to “stability”.
Tsipras, now set to become the country’s first SYRIZA Prime Minister is setting out to re-define “stability”. Can stability exist when 1 in 4 are out of work? When Greece is ranked #1 in childhood poverty? When millions cannot afford health cover?
Tsipras, in his victory speech to thousands gathered before him promised that the “memories of poverty” were now over, Greece was headed for a new dawn.
Little over a year ago many believed a different kind of dawn would shed its light across Greece; Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn, the Far-right neo-nazi movement in Greece was attracting a disturbing level of popularity, but ever since most of its party were jailed last year, the movement has been collapsing.
The victory for SYRIZA will send a immense shockwave across Europe, and according to several commentators prompt a win for the anti-austerity party Podemos to sieze power in Spain later this year.