Old-style campaigning on its last legs
By George Georgakopoulos
The crisis has changed most things in the everyday life of Greeks, and political campaigning certainly is no exception. And although new forces have emerged in the political spectrum, also using less traditional and more up-to-date ways of reaching their audiences, the old parties are still here, with their old-fashioned ways alive and kicking, as the last day of campaigning showed on Friday in Athens city center.
Conservative New Democracy and the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) held their main election rallies in the old-fashioned way, leaving television, radio and the social media to others for the night.
Yet the times have changed indeed, and the rallies were not a patch on the passionate events of yesteryear. It was as recently as in 2009 that central squares of cities suffered from the weight of party supporters flocking to listen to their leader. All this has changed now, although there are still some signs of past habits, that die hard.
Poll-leading New Democracy held its rally at Syntagma Square, a brave decision given the open square that would require a great number of participants to send out a positive image of support. Indeed, the numbers on the night may have disappointed ND organizers, who probably expected more, as the lines of wired speakers betrayed, since they stretched to beyond the area its supporters eventually covered.
ND leader Antonis Samaras appeared unfazed. After all, six weeks earlier he had addressed a clearly smaller rally at nearby Zappeio Mansion, instead.
At the same time across the city center, at the Pedio tou Areos square in the area of Patissia, KKE general secretary Aleka Papariga delivered her own keynote speech in front of significantly more supporters than those at the ND rally. You got the feeling that this solid rally was indeed reminiscent of the past, though it was far smaller than older KKE gatherings in Athens.
The big difference between the two rallies was optimism in ND supporters’ faces against the subdued Communist voters. You wouldn’t have known it, though, if you just heard the rallies’ noise, if you didn’t look at supporters’ faces. That’s because the KKE rally adhered to the old style of party events, with chants and shouts, whereas ND fans were far more quiet.
The latter is hardly surprising, given that apart from ND party members -- who attend party rallies not just in election time but also on other occasions -- voters are more used to listening and not to being proactive. Television politics has probably played its role in that.
The noise was there, yes, but only through air horns and clapping. The obligatory flares at the start and in the end served to remind everyone of past passionate gatherings of the conservative party and to rekindle some much-needed enthusiasm. “We will lift our heads up again,” promised Samaras.
It was very different at the KKE rally. There was far better organization, with chants starting from the back of the rally and flag-waving sweeping all of the crowd across Alexandras Avenue, stretching to at least two streets up.
Unlike in the ND rally, KKE supporters were very vocal, making one wonder whether they actually listened to what Papariga was saying.
“We shall not bend. We know those parties well, we know they will not change,” said the Communist leader to those who listened.
Over at Syntagma, a tired Samaras who has criss-crossed the country on whistle-stop tours twice in the past two months, thanked his supporters for their participation.
“What a grand rally, thank you for that. The young people have spoken tonight,” he said. “The rally is covering all of Syntagma and the streets around it, everywhere.”
Not really. Unlike in the KKE rally, you could easily walk from one end to the other, and they were not too far from one another.
Just a few meters away, on pedestrianized Voukourestiou Street, the kiosk of rival right-wing party Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) was open for business with party members sitting pretty, undisturbed by the rally taking place nearby. That would simply not have happened until two and a half years ago.
The time when the central election rallies were a sure sign of the parties’ strength and their likely performance in the elections is gone. Still, traditional campaigning is hanging on there, but for how long more?