It was an amazing moment. In the Syriza campaign tent in central Athens last night, tall Germans from Die Linke, Italian communists waving their Bandiera Rossa, Podemos activists from Spain, a French couple with a Tricolore, they all clapped and swayed and danced with ecstatic Greeks. Strangers wept for joy in each other’s arms. Three young Canadians asked me where “the red party” was; a French woman hugged me and said, “Merci, les Grecs.” Rainbow flags waved among the red and purple; people were pogoing and dancing the tsifteteli side by side. The square in front of Athens University, where so many protest marches have begun, filled up with people, cameras, flags, waiting for Alexis Tsipras to make his victory speech. A giant banner proclaimed Kalimera Grecia e Europa (Good Morning Greece and Europe); a home-made placard read Gute Nacht Frau Merkel. So many Greek faces—faces that have been drawn and grey and anxious now for years—were lit up with an energy that felt half new and half remembered. Everyone knows it’s going to be hard, but something vital has been won—a battle against fear, for hope, for change.
But what change, exactly? And how? The vote for Syriza was not just a negative one, born of a desperate need for relief from austerity measures. Desperation also turns people to the far right. (The dark news from yesterday’s vote is that Golden Dawn is now the third party in Parliament, with 6.34 percent and seventeen seats, only one less than it won in 2012, even though its leadership and most of its MPs are in prison awaiting trial). The Syriza government has also emerged from a new way of doing things, a new spirit that’s taken shape through the years of crisis, a blend of self-reliance and solidarity. At one end of the spectrum are the hundreds (if not thousands) of local self-managed community projects—food banks, social pharmacies giving medicines to the uninsured, farmers’ markets without middlemen, free doctors’ surgeries, cooperative cafes. Syriza has had the good sense to support them without taking them over; the party and the projects have learned from each other. At the other end are the new small-scale enterprises selling technical know-how or design or organic olive oil. The educated young running those are more likely to have voted for Potami, the last-minute centrist party put together to occupy the yawning gap in the middle of the Greek political spectrum, which came fourth in the election. But the practical spirit—autonomy, creativity, inventiveness, getting things done yourself—is the same.
Talking to people voting yesterday in different Athens neighborhoods, from working-class Nea Ionia to leafy Psychiko, one common theme emerged. The old corrupt practices—the godfather politics, the jobs for votes, the backroom union deals, the bribes under the table, the yards of red tape and, above all, the asphyxiating power of Greece’s oligarchs, who buy politicians by the dozen and feed the population a debilitating diet of pap on their private TV channels—all that has to go. Tsipras’s promises over the last few months to attack the deep subterranean network of financial and political interests that Greeks call “the entanglements” has won him the support of young and middle-class voters who might never have voted for a left party before. The young, the middle-aged, the unemployed, private- and public-sector workers whose lives have been blighted by a culture in which you can’t get a job or a contract unless you have the right connections, all say they want meritocracy, transparency, dignity: to become a “normal” country.