The economic meltdown has segregated Greek society – a development that has huge political repercussions. In the past, you had the rich, the poor and a big middle class between them. A large chunk of the population that saw themselves as members of the middle class now feel that the ground under their feet has given way. First they gave up their economic status, then their trust in the establishment. Alexis Tsipras managed to reach out to them as SYRIZA climbed to power. Now they are politically orphaned.
Can conservative New Democracy or a coalition of center-left parties win their trust? Any politician or political party that tries to do so will have to overcome a number of obstacles. Mainstream parties will have to make these voters feel that they really care about them. These people are angry and frustrated, but they still believe that with a different government they might have to give up more of their salaries or pensions.
It is also a matter of principle. No society can move forward when a large part of the population has slipped beneath the poverty line. And to be fair, most of them would hardly benefit from the economic growth propelled by the current structural reforms anyway. Politicians must find solutions for this part of society.
A second challenge is making sure that these people will not be swayed by the sirens of populism again. This is probably the hardest part. Meanwhile, the elites in the center and the northern suburbs of Athens are busy recycling political figures and stereotypes without any real connection to the outside world. It is truly worrying that there are no personalities out there who can inspire Greek society. And, in any case, if you are to be charmed by somebody, you must first get to know them, and trust them.
Right now we are in a situation where these two separate societies have lost all connection between them. That person who has not switched on his radiator in five years will never be able to communicate with someone who thinks that “the crisis is over because Kifissias Avenue is jammed with traffic again.”
This battle is being waged on social media and in the traditional media. The problem is that although SYRIZA’s populist narrative proved to be pie in the sky, there is no fresh narrative out there to take its place.
Any new narrative cannot be based on technocratic conclusions alone. Greeks are sentimental people and they long for a sense of bonding. It’s a tough equation, especially when a society is as exhausted, polarized and angry as this one.