Children of a Lesser God

Blog post @ Volume 3, published 23 January 2015

This weekend marks the beginning of what I will be calling Joana’s Southern Elections Series (hashtag that!). The start of three electoral events that could change the course of European history.

On Sunday, after the collapse of yet another neoliberal, technocratic government, Europe will stand still as the Greek elections unfold. Greece – being a country with a history of military regimes, communist antifascist resistance, and a rickety economic growth – has been battered but survived the last six years of barbaric austerity. Under the auspices of anticapitalist leftwing medley Syriza and its 40 year-old leader Alexis Tsipras, the Greeks seem to have found a new belief in better things to come. But whilst electoral victory is as well as certain, the success of a Syriza government is yet to be determined.

The outcome of the Greek elections, and the triumph of Syriza’s political agenda, could result in an authentic paradigmatic shift in both the Portuguese and the Spanish political and economic fortunes. This because, the Iberian Peninsula will go to the polls later in the year as well. Portugal in October, Spain in December. All three countries fare high in Europe’s weakest economies, unemployment and sovereign debt ranks. All three have been plagued by “budget deficit controlling” policies which virtually destroyed their welfare structures and put millions below the poverty line.

In this “series” of mine I will be covering the elections in all three countries – running across southern Europe taking particular attention to what really matters: dreams and aspirations, desires and fears, sadness, joy, ambition, affliction and boredom. In sum, people’s ordinary yet all-consuming, world-turning lives.

By the time I land in Athens on Friday, Syriza will already have hosted its last big electoral rally. It will have made its last promises, it will have shown its last card to the mandarins of Europe. Mr Tsipras will have shared the stage with no other than the figurehead of Spanish firebrand party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, in a show of strength and solidarity between austerity afflicted nations. Signaling to ever-displeased Euro-powerhouse Germany that the “little people” are uniting and ready to fight back.

By 2pm, when I expect to be arriving in Syntagma Square, Syriza’s demands for 50% default of the Greek debt and plans for a slower paced, less painful economic recovery will have been reiterated with assurances that “h elpida erxetai” (hope is coming) – one of the party’s most resonating slogans. All of Angela Merkel’s seemingly unshakable “noes” might have been uttered. And we should all by then know wether the European Central Bank is ready to implement a strategy of quantitative easing in the Eurozone – thus forcing the future Hellenic premier into choosing between austerity or Grexit.

We will also have a better idea of where the rest of the European left stands on the matter. Though, all things considered, it is already expected that a good chunk of European parties will be coming out in support of Syriza and its anti-austerity crusade. Official and unofficial delegations of all flavours of socialist parties have been arriving in the Hellenic capital for the last few days and many more are expected until Sunday. In Barcelona the first Southern European Forum will be taking place on Saturday, with green and left parties such as Spain’s Izquierda Unida, Italy’s Sinistra Ecologia Libertà, the French Greens and Portugal’s Left Bloc joining others in support of Mr Tsipras prospective government.

And here is where the cookie crumbles. Because regardless of the games Germany and Greece might play, regardless of political rhetoric and double bluff, if the people of the Euro’s most impoverished countries unite – and realize the bargaining power they have when they do – then all experts’ prognoses go through the window. This does not mean that chaos will ensue, not much might happen at all, but that the fear of Europe-wide uprisings will be enough to change the tune of most of the austerity-obsessed entities, of that I am certain.

“If there is something we have been taught by this crisis is that the right has taken over the European project so to apply its austerity programme”, tells me Filipe dos Santos Henriques the representative of the Portuguese moderate left party LIVRE in Barcelona.

“We either defeat austerity on the European level or we lose to it in each one of our countries.”

“That’s why the Barcelona Forum is extremely important. By uniting the left and green parties, which defend a European Union solution to our common problems, we are building a constructive and pro-EU Paneuropean force, which will remove the duopoly of status quo austerity and the extreme destructiveness of exiting the European Union.”

Last summer I spent a few days with some young Portuguese workers in Britain. I got to chat at length about their precarious, low paid jobs, their ambitions and motivations and, above all, about why they packed their things and moved here. Most of them – despite undergraduate degrees and masters honours – were now waiters, bartenders and shop assistants. Some left serious office jobs back at home to do nominally better paid work in Manchester or London. But, more often than not, the reasons for traveling over 1000 miles transcended pay – better career prospects, better work-life balance and the opportunity to live independently (when some 30 year-olds in Portugal are made to sleep in their parents’ beds!) were the most common answers.
These are the children of austerity Europe, grown in a Erasmus-enthusiastic world, told to travel across borders as far as the Euro dream can reach. Yet half remain in their country of origin enduring the tribulations of inflation, recession, underemployment, overqualification and stagnation. The others move north, to Germany and Britain, Sweden and Belgium, certain in their right to make a life elsewhere, anywhere within the 28-states confinement. The consequences of the European economic crisis and its inevitable aggravation is an ever bigger divide between the so-called central EU countries and the “periphery”. Is an ever growing wave of youths roaming north rather than around the Eurozone. Is the ultimate, unavoidable demise of the Union or, as sole alternative, the rise of a geopolitical version of Upstairs, Downstairs. To all those options a young – not exclusively southern-European – population will, in all likeliness, say no to. Whether they will be finally given the right to govern a Europe that is theirs or if they will have to reclaim it by force is what remains to be seen. Either way, 2015 will be the year of reckoning.
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