The Glasgow Guardian talks to a Greek UofG student after a tumultuous year – both politically and environmentally – has left the country devastated.
14 June 2023 saw one of the worst migrant boat disasters in the Mediterranean’s history, when a boat carrying at least 700 people capsized off the coast of Greece, leaving only 104 survivors. As a result, the Greek authorities were heavily scrutinised, and an investigation was carried out, which uncovered that the coast-guard was aware of the dire situation the boat was in “for at least 13 hours before it eventually sank.” This disaster, however, was not enough to influence the upcoming elections, which saw the re-election of New Democracy, Greece’s so-called centre-right party, for their second term.
Whilst New Democracy claims to have provided “economic growth and [the lowering of] unemployment” to the Greek economy, a UofG student I spoke to believes that New Democracy does not entirely represent the Greek people. “For a lot of [ordinary] people the party has been a catastrophe […] cutting pensions, education funding […] having a complete disregard for the environment”. However, they do believe that New Democracy represents the views of some Greeks “on topics like immigration and social conservatism”. Another reason they drew on was Greek citizens’ “desire for some stability”. This follows the election of SYRIZA in 2015 who, despite promising radical change, instead “went back on promises they made”. This is the reason why Greeks vote for New Democracy, the student suggested, “people are exhausted, mistrusting of politicians […] New Democracy is a familiar [choice].”
The ability of Greece’s government to act as a reliant figurehead has continuously been brought into question, even before their re-election in June 2023. In February 2023, Greece’s deadliest train collision took place, killing 57 people, a majority of which were students. The focus quickly moved onto the Greek government – it was believed the incident could have been avoided “had the nation’s rail network not been so neglected”. As a result, some 10,000 students, railway workers and left-wing groups took to the streets to express solidarity and demand better.
This seeming reluctance for the government to take accountability was seen again during the summer when one wildfire in Greece became “[the] largest […] ever recorded in the EU”. Many Greeks blamed the government’s lack of forethought, as not enough had been done to prevent the fires from spreading. The floods, which closely followed, emphasised again both the impact of the climate crisis within Greece, but also the systemic flaws within the government. This is not the first time natural disasters have devastated the country, and many trust that it won’t be the last, as the state continues to fail to provide sustainable solutions. The student I spoke to talked about the impact these disasters have had on their community. “[In Greece] family money will be in the form of a house or plot(s) of land. To lose the family home, or to have irreparable damage to land (and crops) is to lose absolutely everything’.
This callousness on the part of the government is notable. In a recent interview, the leader of New Democracy, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, told Bloomberg that “climate change is an opportunity for us to expand our tourism season”. This is an attitude that is sadly familiar to many in Greece, as many elites hope to profit off these disasters. A source, written by a local from Kranidi, a town in the Peloponnese region, states, “we put the profits of contractors above the oxygen we need to live […] burnt houses are also job-opportunities: to be rebuilt […] the fires are good for the economy. The state will borrow more money to subsidise reconstruction and as a society we will increase [our] debt.”
The future seems bleak for many in Greece, but the resilience and desire for change within its people is palpable. “Greece has been through a lot of political and financial turmoil”, the student I spoke to said. “Somehow there is still an air of resistance, of hope against hope in a better world”. It’s a tiring and difficult fight, but it’s one that young people have remained defiant in. Whilst New Democracy will remain in power for the foreseeable future, they can be sure they will be under close scrutiny from the people of Greece.