Archive | May, 2012

The Greek Spring

18 May

Spring in Athens was short but wonderful, while it lasted. The flowers bloomed, the tourists returned, and the white soldiers wore their white, summer uniforms (in the winter, they are actually blue soldiers). For a few short weeks, the temperature was perfect; people were happy, the first summer fruits appeared in our laiki, or neighborhood market.  The other day a bunch of spinach seduced me so completely that I baked it whole and almost bare – it was delicious!

The Athens spring soon morphed into something we’re more familiar with in the Middle East: the turbulent, sandy smog which descends on us between winter and the unbearable summer months. Open windows don’t suffice anymore; the aircon is back. Despite this, beach water is too cold to swim in. It’s plain unpleasant.

This mugginess also manifested itself in Greece’s political realm. The Greek people seem to have accomplished their goal in last weekend’s parliamentary elections: duping the system into non-functionality. Fed up with the government’s response to European austerity measures imposed on them since their country’s economic collapse, Greeks have rebelled by returning to their government what their government gave them for so long – a catch-22.

Our little corner of the Hellenic state welcomed the rise of the Left and the disintegration of the coalition with open arms – and hopes for a better tomorrow. The public rejected austerity measures (who wouldn’t?). All of this was tempered by the rise of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, which received 7% of the vote, the first time in recent European history an overtly neo-Nazi party has received such a large percentage of the vote.

We got a taste of Golden Dawn when someone spray-painted a swastika on our building. Was this for us, Aharon and I thought, with a hint of intrigue. This will make a good story back in Israel!

But seriously, what do you do? I doubt the police will care much. A few days ago, the party’s leader publicly denounced the Holocaust. I don’t feel threatened but it doesn’t make me sad to leave this country!

Until earlier this week, the leaders of the top-scoring parties tried in vain to create a coalition. There will be new elections in June, and Greece may leave the eurozone.

This is an interesting outcome. To some, voting intentionally for small parties seems self-destructive. But really they are shooting the ineptness of their government right back at it.  Most Greeks want to stay in the euro but not under Angela Merkel’s austerity regime. In fact, they often say that this is the “second German occupation.” While this may seem self-serving and even lazy by some accounts, there is no solution in sight – eurozone or not.

From what I can tell, Greeks have traditionally voted for centrist parties which do little to improve the lives of their constituents but reinforce the status quo. Now, because Greeks have reached rock bottom, they reacted extremely. They know that voting for small (and sometimes extreme) parties cannot create a stable government. Leaving the euro isn’t ideal but neither is staying in – not under the current conditions anyways. The status quo has only failed them thus far.

So if they must vote, let them vote for who they really believe in, even if this won’t bring an immediate solution. For many, this meant supporting leftist and even anti-Europe parties. For others, that means affiliating themselves with an extreme xenophobic Nazi group.

This is a brave move. In Israel, too, the majority favors conformity; the status quo is better than the unknown, many say. While it is practical and aims to avert results which are considered worse (for example, when leftists voted for Tzipi Livni in 2009 to prevent a Bibi win), it usually backfires in the long-run. In the above-mentioned case, Livni received more votes but Bibi formed the coalition and became prime minister.  Recently, Livni resigned from the Knesset after an ineffectual stint as opposition leader; her replacement, Shaul Mofaz, joined the coalition and we have “King Bibi” on the cover of Time magazine. Not an ideal outcome!

I admire the Greeks, and I hope that Israelis can find some inspiration here, too. Although we know that fragmented governments are not effective, if we continue to vote for ambivalent parties such as Kadima, void of ideology and doing little to change or improve anything – whether it be bringing peace or social justice – we keep ourselves in the status quo, in a trench of conformity.

Last summer’s social protests were a start. Israelis briefly broke out of their apathy and called for major change; we said loud and clear that the status quo doesn’t work. I’m optimistic things will continue in this direction. I hope we don’t have to reach rock bottom, as in Greece, to cross the threshold, and to stand up to our government, to create REAL change.