By Alexandra Rockwood
Over the past several years, European countries have struggled with mounting economic disparity and political unrest due to the 2008 global financial crisis. Since the crisis, Greece has faced the brunt of these severe economic issues in particular. Greece’s unemployment rate reached 22% and 1/3 of the population was living below the poverty line. In 2009, Greece calculated its debts to be roughly 300 billion euros. In response to this surprisingly high debt, Greece proposed several austerity measures in 2010 to aid the country’s economy. These proposals caused riots and strikes throughout Greece, which alerted the world to the seriousness of this international economic situation. The Eurozone responded with two bailouts, consisting of $110 billion-euro in May 2010 and $109 billion-euro in July 2011. As conditions continued to deteriorate, the biggest concern of the international community was the fear that Greece would be the first country forced out of the eurozone. In February 2012, Greece finally passed the previously unpopular austerity measures that were recommended by the European Union (EU) and it appeared that Greece could finally get back on track. However, on May 6th, 2012, in the general election, the majority voted for political parties that favored the rejection of the vital austerity measures. Therefore, a second election was held on June 17th, 2012 in the hopes that a more stable outcome would be reached.
During the two weeks leading up to the second election in Greece, I was studying abroad there. As part of the program, we visited Crete, Santorini, Meteora, Delphi, Olympia, Monemvasia, Mystras, Mycenae, and Athens. From the media coverage of Greece prior to the elections, many would think that the country was in political turmoil and that visitors, especially Americans, were unsafe there. However, this was not the case at all. Outside of Athens, there was little, if any sign that an election was even happening in the near future. As we visited several historical sites, shopping centers, restaurants, and beaches, there was no sign of political upheaval. Instead, we encountered thousands of happy and friendly Greeks. When we flew into Athens, the upcoming election was slightly more apparent due to the presence of political posters advertising rallies for each of the competing parties, but we never felt endangered in any way. It was extremely interesting to witness the atmosphere of a country, days before immense political change would happen. The city’s police force took obvious precautions by setting up riot guards near crowded tourist attractions, such as the Acropolis, but these measures simply seemed cautionary. The unrest from the previous months of uncertainty appeared to have subsided and a historical election was about to take place.
The second set of elections took place on the day that my study abroad group left Greece, which was June 17th, 2012. The two leading parties were the New Democracy and the Radical Left (Syriza). The New Democracy Party, led by Antonis Samaras, ran in favor of the bailout measures, established by the Eurozone and International Monetary Fund (IMF), after Greece’s financial crisis. In contrast, the Radical Left (Syriza), led by Alexis Tsiparis, ran in stark opposition to the bailout accord and planned on leaving the eurozone and reinstating the drachma if elected. Furthermore, Greece’s creditors claimed that if Greece stopped implementing the proposed reforms, as stated in the bailout accords, the cash flow aiding the country’s debt would end. By stopping aid, Greece would be forced to default and leave the eurozone. Obviously, a clear choice existed for Greece’s citizens, one that would greatly impact the future of the nation.
Thankfully, the New Democracy Party won with 29.66% of the vote and instated Samaras as their leader. Just days after the election, Samaras set up coalition talks with the leaders of the Radical Left, which won 26.89% of the vote, and the Socialist Party, which came in third place. Together, these three parties would have 162 of the parliament’s 300 seats thus giving this coalition considerable power. As of November 4th, 2012, this coalition is still stable and working to pass vital legislation that will continue Greece’s path to recovery. According to the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, this legislation includes “new austerity measures, labor reforms, and the 2013 budget.” If these measures are successfully implemented, Greece will be able to provide necessary aid to its citizens and free them from the fear and uncertainty that has plagued their lives for the past five years.