Thursday, 1 October 2009

Election Day blues

When I first arrived I Greece in 1989, I stepped off the boat into the noisy, passionate turmoil that marks the lead-up to a National Election. I have now lived through eight General Elections (not to mention countless local & Euro votes) - and we’re about to have No.9.

Even though my first experience of the pre-vote melee was not in the big city, but rather the island of Samos, it was a cacophonous affair. Day after day, the town square next to the office where I worked was packed with party faithful of different hues, yelling into megaphones, waving their flags, and generally making it hard for me to book excursions for the well-meaning tourists I was supposed to be there to serve.

Every Greek I met wore his or her political allegiance - like their heart - on the sleeve. Even though my grasp of the language was minimal at the time, it wasn’t hard for me to understand that politics was a serious – and very public - business. Even if they didn’t wear a party badge, their choice of daily newspaper shouted out their preference.

It was all a little overwhelming for a green 24-year-old freshly arrived from a country and culture where it was just “not good form” to talk about politics, religion or money.

The result of that first election I experienced in June ’89 was a hung Parliament - and another national vote just five months later. Since then, there have been more (many more) in 1990, 1993, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2007.

This Sunday, Greeks go to the polls again.
Much to my chagrin, I won’t be joining them.

Despite being a fully paid-up member of Greek society, paying taxes for more years than today’s first-time voters have been alive, I don’t have the right to cast a vote for my Parliamentary representative in Greece. As an EU citizen, I can vote in local & Euro-elections, but not the national ones. To do so, I would have to take Greek nationality and that would mean surrendering my British passport.

I COULD use my right to a postal vote in the UK, but it seems wrong somehow when I haven't lived there for more than two decades.

So much for "no taxation without representation".

Surely if we are supposed to have a united Europe, there's an argument for letting EU citizens vote, wherever in they the Union may be?

It’s all very frustrating. I’ve always been a political creature, and I follow Greek, British and world politics closely. Many’s the time I have become embroiled in a heated discussion (occasionally lubricated by the odd glass of plonk), and had to be dragged away by loyal friends who save me from the consequences of trying to convert to unconvertable.

I have a healthy disdain for most politicians, but I’m passionate about politics. And I don’t want that to change. Apathy is an anathema to me. In politics, apathy is a creeping danger which entices us to roll over, play dead and leave the way clear for the not-so-democratic power hungry to stroll in and take over.

The British have raised indifference to an art form. A frightening number of people in the UK respond to a politic debate with a wave of their hand and “Oh. I’m not interested in politics”, before they scramble to the phone to vote for their favourite on Big Brother, Britain’s Got Talent or Strictly Come Dancing.
(Shome mishtake, shurely?)

But what REALLY worries me if the fact that I am seeing more and more Greeks going the same way. Yes. Greeks. Noisy, shouting, passionate, snarly, banner-waving Greeks. Disillusionment has set in, and now that the vote is no longer compulsory (and the memory of a military dictatorship fades into the past), there seems to be a growing number who simply won't bother to make their trip to the polling station on Sunday.

I could be wrong. I HOPE I’m wrong.

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