Freedom or death?

?I heard that many are thinking of not voting in the coming elections, in protest. I have spent my life with people who were ready to sacrifice their freedom, their life, for the right to vote,? said George Bizos, the lawyer who is a credit to all Greeks for his tireless devotion to the struggle for democracy in South Africa. ?I hope the Greeks follow their example,? he added, shaking his head slowly, visibly moved. He must have been thinking of his friend Nelson Mandela, whom he defended when he was being tried for his resistance to the apartheid regime that had stripped his people of their rights, and many others, living and dead, famous and anonymous. Mandela escaped the death sentence but spent 27 years in prison. After his release in the early 1990s, Mandela said, ?Greece is the mother of democracy and South Africa is her youngest daughter,? Bizos told a conference on ways to get Greece out of the crisis that was organized by Ellines.com last week.

This was the image that people had of Greece. We may have had our problems and allowed them to lead us to catastrophe, but the rest of the world remembered humanity’s debt to those few troubled but brilliant years in ancient Athens that gave the world the idea that free citizens, with equal rights, could be responsible for their own fate, for the way in which they are governed. Today, among all the ills that have befallen us, is the anger of many citizens who are thinking of staying away from the elections, or are thinking of casting a ?protest? vote. A Public Issue poll at the end of March found that one in five voters is thinking of abstaining (down from one in three a few months ago).

Apart from their justified anger at today’s situation, though, it is crucial that citizens see the issue beyond that of individual politicians. The way things have developed, we have to choose between the difficult road of remaining in the eurozone or the unknown venture of liberating ourselves from loans and debt and, consequently, from Europe and the international economy. Besides the apparent number of abstentions and the rise of extremist groups, the polls also show that a large majority of citizens want Greece to remain in the eurozone. This would suggest that increased backing of parties which agree only in their wish to forgo Greece’s obligations is to a great extent the result of anger and disappointment and not the conscious adoption of their positions.

In other words, some are thinking of abstaining while others will vote for something that they don’t want, blinded by their anger and in protest at the lack of options that they have in terms of policies and politicians. Abstention, though, is like suicide. Suicide is punishment, it is revenge, it is not a way out nor an example to be followed. It is only an attempt to flee problems, not to solve them. We cannot expect others to take the decisions that we want taken, while we wallow in anger and passivity.

Clearly, our political system cannot bear the weight of the past nor the difficult present. Those who have governed lack credibility, however hard they try to show that they have changed; if the polls are right and PASOK and New Democracy together get less than 50 percent in the elections, they will not have the legitimacy to carry out all the difficult policies demanded by our loan agreements. This will oblige the smaller parties to choose between contributing toward solving the country’s problems or denying reality and so making the country even less governable.

It is crucial that the true feelings of the voters are expressed in the coming elections, without abstentions and without frivolous decisions. Let’s learn where we stand and what we want, so that we can know how to go ahead. Our politics and our economy are bankrupt and need changing, but our citizens cannot be seen as failures. The question is whether the Greeks, who place their freedom above all other values, and the Resurrection above all other holidays, will stay stuck in their pursuit of dead ends or shoulder the responsibility of democracy.