It was an interesting question.
She and I were talking about all of the terrible things in the world, all that it would take to undo it, and the seemingly insurmountable obstacle every small step humanity needs to take.
We we sitting on a ledge outside of the MMM Migros, which is a supermarket chain that indicates the relative size of each location by adding extra M’s. The smallest ones are just called “Migros.” The conversation had started with personal philosophies, drifted through our respective experiences over the last year or so, and turned toward the hard politics of the present moment.
I brought up Greece.
The news coming out of Greece, just two days after our return to Istanbul, was not so great. After the people elected the radical left Syriza on a firm anti-austerity program, supported them in duels with the financial and political elite of Europe, and given them a fresh mandate as recently as Sunday, their scrappy, idealistic new government had done an about-face. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in an effort to secure a bailout for the country, is putting forward a proposal which will dramatically exacerbate all of the hardships people have endured.
While in Greece, Nathan and I spoke to a lot of people and not all of them were hardcore left-wing activists. The general sentiment, as far as we could see it, could be summed up by one woman working in the shop we stopped in on our way to the train: “Oh, we will survive. If we have to leave [the Eurozone], at least we’ll suffer on our own terms.”
That was before Tsipras shocked the world with the new proposal.
Going into the vote in the Greek parliament, it was pretty obvious the proposal would pass. In fact, very few of the Syriza deputies voted against the prime minister’s plan. Last week they said “YES for fear, NO for hope,” and 61 percent of the country said they had hope. This week they let fear get the best of them. It still has to be approved outside of Greece and the Germans are already looking to reject it, because it’s apparently not enough of a surrender.
There’s no telling what will happen next, but the fascist “Golden Dawn” party is opposed to the deal and unlike Syriza, it hasn’t just spent half a year building up the people’s trust only to let them down. It’s an unsettling thought, what support they might be able to garner if the new government that has been growing in popularity all this time manages to squander it all with a deal worse than the one they just rejected.
It’s worth bearing in mind that half of the police in Athens voted for the Golden Dawn.
Perhaps Greece is a funny point of reference when talking about hope.
A lot of people around the world have been looking at Greece, looking to Syriza with a lot of hope that they were showing that politics can be done in a new way; a more honest, more democratic, more egalitarian way. Now it looks as though “Alexis the Great,” (as at least one bit of graffiti called him) is backing down on everything that brought him and his party of street activists to power and playing the game the way it’s meant to be played. It’s not a double-cross, it’s a capitulation. He buckled under the intense pressures of every government in Europe, the whole of the global financial system, and the majority of media outlets around the world.
Without a model to point to, it’s very difficult to make a convincing argument to the broad masses of society that things can be done differently. And yet, I don’t think it’s time for despair.
I think the situation in Greece has been a legitimate source of hope for all of the last five years. The people have responded to the corruption and criminality of their rulers by protesting, rioting, striking, and finally replacing them; not as individuals but as whole parties. The traditional political class of Greece is in the opposition right now.
As an American, I find it sometimes impossible to imagine a scenario in which we take something like Occupy and transform it into a mature political movement which tosses out both the Republicans and the Democrats and forces them to team up in order to try to win back their positions. That’s something millions of people genuinely desire to see but they see no way forward. We have an issue that we call “voter apathy” but really it’s more like voter resignation.
It’s true that the new Greek government — which has lately been the point of reference for rabble-rousers the world over — is in full retreat. But there’s more to it than that.
The people I met from Syriza’s far-left faction and from the ANTARSYA coalition — who backed the “OXI” campaign but aren’t part of the government — were inspiring to be around. They’ve been on the front lines of an intense fight that has been going on for five years and they’re still organizing. They put together a demonstration at Syntagma and thousands of people came. It wasn’t the tens of thousands that came out for the OXI celebration on Sunday, let alone the turnout in the hundreds of thousands two days before, but it’s a sign that it’s not all over.
I still haven’t entirely determined where my place is and what my role is when it comes to trying to make a better world. I was once so sure of it all. But I have found reasons to be hopeful again throughout various interactions and observations across six different countries over five very interesting months.
I had been inching forward before but our trip to Athens provided a big push.
Nathan and I took a ferry ride out to the island of Büyükada today to see the former residence (pictured above) of Leon Trotsky during his period of exile in Turkey. Given that this post is about hope, I thought it appropriate. Trotsky was twice exiled from his homeland, first by the government he opposed and then by the government he helped establish after leading its armies to victory in a civil war. He lived half of his life in exile, hunted by police agents. Then he was ice-picked in the head by an assassin, who he managed to wrestle to the floor and subdue even while bleeding out from his fatal wound.