If there’s one thing that has become evident after Sunday’s elections, it’s that Greece’s so-called elite is clearly out of touch with large parts of society. It is not just the failure to predict the results – for which polling firms are not exclusively to blame. It’s also that one side does not understand the other. For the person who voted “yes” at the bailout referendum in July, it is impossible to understand what goes on in the mind of the person who voted “no,” and the other way round of course.
One aspect has to do with class. That section of society which last December felt that the economy had started to pick up and who are still managing to make ends meet, if barely, is also isolated. We all have our own stories of middle-class people who lost their job or business, of unemployed youth and so on. But experiencing such hardship firsthand is a different story altogether. Unfortunately, many people are prone to misguided empirical observations, drawing conclusions from the fact that Kifissias Avenue has a lot of traffic, for example.
But there’s one more thing. The breakout of the crisis and the rise of the “indignant movement” forged a crisis of confidence between a large number of Greeks and the representatives of the country’s institutions. Every nation needs its leaders. We knocked them down, much like the Eastern European states did after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The way we learn about the news changed and so did people’s perception of the system. The crisis coincided with the growth of the Internet and social media. A portion of society no longer engages with traditional politicians or traditional media, and its members question everything. They now spend that time in front of their computer screens, in the occasionally dark world of the Internet.
All that reaction is to some extent justified. The old establishment had to go. It’s like opening the windows to let in some fresh air. The question is, is fresh air really what we got?
Alexis Tsipras and some genuinely or supposedly anti-systemic parties have found a way to reach out to the desperate section of society. Meanwhile, another – worn-down and defeated – part of society chose to abstain from Sunday’s vote.
The representatives of the traditional parties are faced with a double challenge. First, they need to uproot the rotten, systemic element from inside. This is a formidable task of course, as patron-client ties go many years back. Then they must reach out to that part of society which is moving under the radar. This is no easy task either. To be sure, blaming their woes on the “immature” public is an arrogant, elitist reaction that won’t help. Greek society did not change all of a sudden. We used to have a strong leadership that would pull the country forward – sometimes against its will. And that, now, is nowhere in sight.