“I’m telling you, we’ll go bankrupt inside the memorandum. Blood will be spilled in Greece, out of hunger if not anything else. But since this government’s been elected, until that happens there’ll be funds for that job—the question is, Will they be released this week or next? I hope it works out for you, because there’s money there. There are no salaries anymore, for me it’s just what I can sell in the souvlaki shop…” The heavy-set, white-haired man shouting into his mobile phone on the overground in Athens summed it up perfectly: a temporary reprieve of sorts, a postponement, followed by—what?
There’s always a sense of let-down after an election: all those promises, all those fantasies and fears giving way overnight to hard reality. The Greek vote on Sunday came with more than its share of dramatic expectations. Athens was crawling with foreign hacks waiting for “drachmageddon,” if Syriza should win and scrap the bailout memorandum. The German Financial Times published a piece in Greek telling voters to “resist the demagoguery of Alexis Tsipras and Syriza” as if they were the Luftwaffe dropping leaflets on occupied Athens; Die Bild followed suit in a more demotic vein: “If you didn’t want our billions, it would be fine with us if you voted for any leftist or rightist clown you liked.” Meanwhile, Alexis Tsipras was promising a new dawn of dignity and hope, change and renewal, liberty for Europe’s peoples, free gifts with every purchase. And New Democracy’s Antonis Samaras—who has twisted 180 degrees with the political wind on the bailout agreement, and whose party is co-responsible for the state of Greece’s finances and up to its eyes in corruption—was playing the national savior, warning of disaster if the “drachma lobby” should triumph.
Whatever else the Greeks may be, they weren’t born yesterday. Most people I spoke to on election day didn’t think much would change whichever party won: the economic and social breakdown is now so profound that it will take many years to swim up to the surface. Many still weren’t sure which way they were going to vote because “no party expresses me”—or because they were afraid they might get what they wished for. Those who have little left to lose went for Syriza in droves, unfazed by the fear-mongering, pushing up its share of the vote from 4 percent two years ago to 17 percent in May to 27 percent on Sunday. But even Syriza’s leaders, or so the rumour went, were hoping to come second. A friend involved in their campaign put it to me like this: “If we lose, I’ll be disappointed and relieved. If we win, I’ll be worried.” Until a few weeks ago Syriza was a small oppositional left coalition; it isn’t ready (yet?) to nail its various banners to a single flagpole and become the state. And if Syriza won and failed,as it was almost bound to do given the situation, its inexperience and the guns of Berlin and Brussels all lined up against it like a firing squad? Then where would the dispossessed of the memorandum turn?