To hell with it – or why I will vote no in the #Greferendum

These last few days must be the worst I have had the misfortune to live through since I came into this world forty-one years ago, and that’s not because Greece is heading towards total economic collapse. It’s because the small modicum of democracy we had in this country since six months after I was born has collapsed, with no hope of revival in the immediate future.

There’s a tragic irony to the fact that the nail in the coffin of democracy came from what should have been the ultimate democratic act: a call for a referendum. Of course, a referendum announced at nine days’ notice about an offer that doesn’t stand is a farce in and of itself, and when the deputy prime minister states on public television that the announcement was merely a negotiating tool, it only adds insult to injury. But in the wider context, this is only one aspect of the political tragedy Greece is living through. Every pretence at respecting the role of institutions in this country has flown out of the window since Friday night, both on the ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ side of the argument. The best example of this is obviously Greece’s oligarch-owned media, that have unleashed an unprecedented campaign of fear and hammer their audience with images of angry citizens forming lines at ATMs while ‘yes’ politicians are given a tribune to repeat ad nauseam how the government is seeking to take us out of the Euro and back to the Middle Ages. Meanwhile, in a feeble attempt at countering what can only be described as shameless propaganda from Greece’s socio-economic elites, the government have set up a website to inform the people about the referendum, and that website conveniently ignores any argument in favour of voting ‘yes’. What makes it particularly bitter for me is that I voted for SYRIZA in the belief that they would seek to restore a functioning democracy. Clearly, I was wrong.

And as if this weren’t bad enough, it seems that everyone, inside Greece and abroad, cares solely about who is to blame for all this, and not one little bit about what will actually happen to Greece and its people. And I am not talking about what will happen when the economy collapses – for all practical purposes, it had already collapsed way before the capital controls were put in place. I’m talking about what will happen now that the question put to the Greeks has become, very simply, do you want a quick and violent death, or a slow and painful one. These are the choices the referendum has to offer, these are the choices democracy in Greece in 2015 has to offer. How does a country, a people, a society recover from that? How do you recover, not from the answer, but from the question itself?

To those who are seeking to apportion blame, I have one thing to say: you’re either too early or too late.

You’re too early because, let’s be frank, no one can claim to know with certainty what the real consequences of a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote will be. Whatever the result, the least that can be said is that the relationship between Greece and the European Union has been reshaped in ways that will take years to understand. Maybe ‘no’ means a Greek exit from the Eurozone, or maybe it doesn’t; maybe a return to the drachma is a bad thing, or maybe it’s not. At the same time, maybe ‘yes’ means more austerity of the kind we were subjected to for the past five years already, or maybe it means a new brand of austerity; maybe this new brand will be harsher, or maybe it will be more lenient – one can always hope. But if you claim to have straight answers to these questions, one thing is certain: you’re lying. This is uncharted territory, so please show a little humility. You don’t know, and neither do I.

Alternatively, if you’re apportioning blame with regard to the process that led us too this mess, you’re late, far too late. You’re late because this process has been going on for years, and a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that it’s a process gone wrong. A ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the Greek economy and the political system propping it up were rotten, a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the bailout programmes were a failure, a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the current, SYRIZA-led government was not speaking the same language as its negotiation counterparts, and, most importantly, a ten-year-old with half a brain could have told you that the shit would hit the fan at some point. Since 2010 we’ve been witnessing a slow-motion train wreck. You’re terribly, terribly late if you start apportioning blame the moment the locomotive gathers full speed.

So where does this leave us? What should we vote? Are there good reasons to vote ‘yes’? Are there good reasons to vote ‘no’? Are there even good reasons to vote at all? Here’s the thing: there are no good or bad reasons when you can only choose between bad options. What there is are real reasons, and here’s mine.

There’s a Greek expression I’ve used a lot these past few months: “είναι κακοί, στραβοί, ανάποδοι, αλλά…” which means “they’re evil, crooked, irksome, but…” This is what I have to say about the current Greek government. They may be evil, crooked and irksome, they may have failed spectacularly on the financial/economic as well as the political front, they may be the worst government we ever had, for all it matters – but they’re our government, and in the end they will be accountable to us.

For the past several years, far too many decisions that have affected our lives in dramatic ways were taken by people who are sitting in Brussels, in Frankfurt, in Berlin and in Washington – far too many, because this robs us of our sense of agency as people and as citizens. These people will never be accountable to us because they are so far out of our reach. Well, let someone else deal with them. We can deal with those who are here.

So I want out. I want out of the Eurozone and I want out of the European Union. I’ll be voting ‘no’ because anything that can possibly, maybe, hopefully take us one step closer to Euro-exit is good enough for me under the current circumstances. I’ve had enough of these unnamed high-ranking European officials who tell the Financial Times how they’re taking decisions for me and how they want ‘regime change’ in Greece. At least, if all I have to deal with is my own government, I can take decisions for them too.

If you ever met me, or if you even only read other bits and pieces I’ve posted on this blog or on Twitter, you’ll know that by my standards, this is an intellectual short-circuit. It is. It’s not a good reason to vote no, but I don’t care. To hell with it. That’s my reason. What’s yours?


Strange bedfellows

The final results of the Greek elections came in early this morning. SYRIZA garnered 149 seats in parliament, two short of a majority, and is entering a coalition with Independent Greeks to form a government. SYRIZA is a more-or-less radical left-wing party, while Independent Greeks is a nationalist-populist right-wing party whose leader, Panos Kammenos, espouses racist, homophobic, antisemitic and occasionally outright lunatic views (such as plane exhaust trails in the sky being unspecified chemical spraying.) This is as if Podemos were forming a coalition with UKIP. How can that happen and what can we expect to happen next? Here’s my two drachmas.  Continue reading

Greek elections 2015: a quick rundown of the electoral system

The Greek parliament has 300 members. 12 of those are elected on a nationwide ballot and 288 in electoral districts. The electoral districts match the administrative division of nomoi, except for the two largest nomoi, Attica and Thessaloniki, which are broken down into smaller electoral districts (five and two respectively).  This means that each party submits a list of 12 nationwide candidates, plus any number of local candidates in each district. Nationwide candidates are elected in order of priority, while voters get to tick the names of local candidates they want to see elected.

Another important specificity of the Greek electoral law is that 250 MPs are elected on the basis of a strictly proportional ballot, but the remaining 50 seats are given as a bonus to the party that garners the largest number of valid votes. 

For voters, this means that the ballot they cast contributes to three things:

  • By casting a ballot for a specific party, voters contribute to the percentage of the vote garnered by that party and therefore to the possibility that this party gets the 50-seat bonus.
  • By casting a ballot for a specific party, voters contribute to electing one or more of the 12 nationwide candidates put forward by that party in the order of priority they were listed.
  • By ticking the names of 1, 2, 3 or 4 local candidates (depending on the size of the electoral district), voters contribute to making the specific candidate(s) more likely to be elected. Voters can choose not to tick any names at all, in which case their vote will still count towards the first two items above.

Abstention, blank and null votes are not taken in consideration, so the distribution of parliament seats is based exclusively on the number of valid votes garnered by each party.

The last important specificity of the Greek electoral system is that parties are required to garner 3% or more of the vote in order to enter parliament. This is extremely important because, the larger the number of votes for parties that do not reach this 3% threshold, the lowest the number of votes required for the first party to secure an absolute majority (151 seats) in parliament.

Therefore, to determine the percentage of nationwide votes needed to secure a majority, you should deduct from 100% the percentage of valid votes obtained by parties that did not reach the 3% threshold and multiply the percentage left by 0.404.


In the 06 May 2012 elections, parties that did not reach the 3% threshold obtained 19.03% of votes. This means that a party with as little as 32.71% of votes could secure a majority in parliament. In these elections, New Democracy garnered the largest number of votes at 18.85%, meaning only 108 seats, thus the repeat elections of June 2012.

In June 2012, only 5.99% of the valid votes went to parties that did not reach the 3% threshold. This means that New Democracy, with 29.66% of the vote, got 129 parliament seats, and was able to form a coalition with PASOK (12.28%, 33 seats) and DIMAR (6.25%, 17 seats.) These three parties garnered among themselves only 48.19% of the vote, but they had a 179-seat majority in parliament. Conversely, SYRIZA had then garnered 26.89% of the vote but had only 71 seats.

There is no system of proxy voting, early voting or postal voting in Greece, meaning that Greeks living abroad or living away from the place where they are registered as voters have no option but to travel to their electoral district to vote. Travel will be undertaken at the voter’s expense, unless political parties choose to subsidize travel for their voters.
It must also be noted that the 50-seat bonus for the first party is designed in a way that puts coalitions of parties at a disadvantage. The average percentage of votes garnered by coalition members must be higher than the percentage of votes garnered by the first single party (the average being calculated as the total percentage of votes garnered by the coalition divided by the number of parties constituting the coalition).
If a coalition of 5 parties earns 50% of the vote while the single largest party earns 20% of the vote, the average percentage of votes garnered by the coalition will be 10%. The 50-seat bonus will therefore go to the single largest party.

#rbnews international show 20 July 2013 – Health in the time of the crisis

This week on #rbnews international, radiobubble contributor @Jaquoutopie and I discussed the Greek health system in the time of the crisis: the chronic issues, the cutbacks, and their impact on the population. Deep down, we wondered if the Greek health system is still serving its purpose of providing care but also protection for patients.

You can listen to the podcast below.

Part 1: News bulletin (download)

Part 2: Health in the time of the crisis (download)

#rbnews international show 13 July 2013: reactions to the case of Kostas Sakkas

For this week’s #rbnews international show, we asked netizens from Greece and abroad to send in their reactions to the case of Kostas Sakkas, who was released on Thursday 11 June after 951 days in prison without a trial and 38 days of hunger strike.Many thanks to all those who sent in a short sound clip, and apologies to those whose clips we couldn’t broadcast due to a lack of time.You can listen to the podcast, as usual, after the jump. Continue reading

Why I’m taking it personally

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been going to bed at night and waking up in the morning thinking of a person I have never met and will likely never meet. I hardly know anything about the man himself. I only know that his name is Kostas Sakkas, that he’s 29 years old and that he was a university student until December 2010. That’s a lot less than what I knew about all the people I wrote letters for when I was a campaigner for Amnesty International.

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#rbnews weekly show 06 July 2013 – The failure(s) of democracy in Greece

This week on the #rbnews international show, we asked lawyer Crystali Bourcha from the Movement for the Liberties and Democratic Rights of our Times (Greek acronym KEDDE) and journalist Mariniki Alevizopoulou from Unfollow Magazine to comment on the items that we included in our news bulletin of the week, which all seem to point towards the failure of democracy in Greece.You can listen to the podcast and read the news bulletin after the jump.The interviews were taken by phone. We apologize for the poor quality of the sound, especially in the case of our interview with Crystali Bourcha. For some unexplainable reason, the recording device was particularly intent to add parasites to her speech. 

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#rbnews international show 29 June 2013: Culture in the time of the crisis, part 4 – The ERT musical ensembles

This week on #rbnews international, we continued our series about culture in the time of the crisis with a show dedicated to the musical ensembles of Greece’s public broadcaster ERT. The government’s  sudden decision to shut down ERT on 11 June 2013 caused a public outcry in Greece and internationally. Much attention has however been focusing on issues pertaining to freedom of the press, and little to ERT’s contribution to Greek cultural life at large. The ERT musical ensembles include a symphony orchestra, a contemporary music orchestra and a chorus, and are widely considered to be among the best in the country. A petition to save these musical ensembles can be found on Avaaz.

The show is based on interviews with conductor Michalis Economou (Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, Athens Municipality Orchestra, guest conductor at the ERT symphony orchestra), contrabassist Theo Lazarou (ERT symphony orchestra) and tenor Loukas Panourgias (ERT chorus).

The pieces of music included in this podcast (Elgar’s Nimrod, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Verdi’s Dies Irae, and the overture of Mozart’s Magic Flute) were performed during the solidarity concert organized at ERT on 14 June 2013, with participation from all the major orchestras of the greater Athens area. You can watch a partial video of this concert here.

And of course, you can listen to the podcast, as usual, after the jump.

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