Outis at the ballot box


One of the great characters Greeks love to identify with is Odysseus – possibly because they believe themselves to be as resourceful as Homer’s epic hero – but also with his alter ego Outis, or Nobody.

It comes as little surprise, therefore, that we find nothing odd in the glaring presence of Nobody in the national elections or in the period between elections, a time that is inevitably laden with pre-election characteristics. It is possible that during this period, political parties stick to observing public sentiment rather than stirring it up themselves, as there are plenty of voters who vow even before the new government completes its first hundred days never to vote for that party again.

Nobody appears in different forms at the polls: abstinence, the white ballot and the null ballot, but also in the selection of a fringe group, “just for the hell of it.” Each of these forms has its own voice and ideological background, yet all agree on the main point: They deny the status quo and, at the same time, cannot or will not recommend an alternative. Theirs is a blanket rejection of everyone and everything, dictated by the unfair and ultimately dangerous belief that every political party and politician is the same: “They’re all broken, liars and cheats.”

Where this rejectionist understanding of politics leads – in which populism stems from a significant and nihilistic section of the populace and not from its usual flatterers – is already apparent almost all over Europe today, as well as in the USA.

Nobody lets loose in the period between elections, able to express themself succinctly even in the predictions of pollsters and the “Nobody” answers they provide on their questionnaires.

At times when political developments are rapid and considerable, as in this long-drawn-out memorandum phase for Greece, people may struggle to maintain some of their ideas unaffected, but their feelings are ever-changing and they always change in one direction: from a sense of hope to one of disappointment, from moderate expectations to despair.

The adverse economic environment, which is shaped by the fact that Greece remains under foreign supervision – its Parliament appears restricted to rubber-stamping plans coming from outside rather than forming its own – is a more effective opposition to governments than a typical opposition party could ever be. It forms the perfect conditions in which blanket rejectionism flourishes so that it can no longer be swayed – not by Nobody or anything. It becomes a millstone that the usual tactics cannot shed, not even elections, as we have already seen.