2023 Greek Elections: The Triumph of TINA
From the Social and Political Psychology Lab
Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, Greece
The recent Greek election results exhibited an almost unprecedented – and quite unforeseen – winner’s margin of victory, one reaching over 20%, and representing the second largest difference of votes between the first and the second party in Greece since the 1974 elections (held during the country’s regime change after a 7-year long military dictatorship). The Greek electorate’s recent voting behavior left many, both laypeople and experts, in awe, considering the profound burden that has been placed upon the middle and lower social strata by a decade-long omni-crisis, as well as the subsequent swift change in relations of political representation, manifesting in centre-left SYRIZA’s ascend to power in 2015.
At first sight, SYRIZA’s dramatic drop of percentage and New Democracy’s domination could be attributed to a widely-shared public perception of SYRIZA’s– and its leader’s, Tsipras – incompetence. SYRIZA and Tsipras failed to live up to expectations regarding both their parliamentary and societal duties as the country’s main opposition party over the past four years. Examining the whys and how’s of this electoral quasi-earthquake yields several theoretical pathways that may prove significant for understanding this election’s result, in a nuanced, social psychologically driven, and eventually more comprehensive manner. Specifically, we contend that social identities and meaning-making processes that intertwine individual and collective behaviours with everyday issues, are indispensable to interpretations of political participation today.
Back to the past: From 1974 to 2003
Since the mid ‘70s, Greece’s political life was yet another example of a two-party system competing for power roughly every four years. Preceded by 4 years of youth uprisings, increasing rates of unemployment, and upgraded political corruption practices coming to light, the imminent financial bankruptcy of 2010, avoided by means of severe austerity measures, shook Greece’s social and political structures to their core. The bail-out programs gave rise to sweeping social struggles, materializing not only in contentious, vast social movements, but also to new, conflicting representations of the social and the political as such. At the same time, the systemic support of these socially brutal, labour market deregulating, and upper-classes protective programs by the traditional major parties constituting Greece’s two-party system, created a gap of political representation “for the many”. But in politics, a gap never remains unfilled.
Enter Syriza: 2015
In 2012, SYRIZA, a minor leftist, democratic-socialist coalition, supported mostly by socially progressive and educated social groups, cultural communities, and old Eurocommunist ideologists, came forth articulating “a new hope”: To put an end once and for all to all measures deriving from the Troika, the body in charge of implementing the aforementioned bail-outs. The “hope” was a short-lived one, as SYRIZA failed to achieve its main goal and was also forced to implement yet another bailout program. This new memorandum from the Troika came after a 2015 referendum that they proposed and won by a substantial margin, disappointing those who felt that they could exit the compulsory EU governance. Their top-down perception of politics and apparent lack of willingness and preparation to follow through on their promises hailed the beginning of the end for what the people saw as probably the last left-wing political alternative. Since SYRIZA’s symbolic capitulation to the Troika, the “old political system”, Greece’s dominant political force, saw their power returning day by day. In 2019 SYRIZA lost the elections, paying for their failed promises and the Prespes agreement that concluded a long dispute over the name of North Macedonia. This sensitive national issue was presented as a betrayal by the opposition, who organized massive rallies before elections but did not change the agreement after.
Since then, consecutive, overlapping crises (from the COVID-19 pandemic to the pervasive world-supply chain and energy crises, coupled with Greece’s record-breaking inflation) have brought Greek society to its knees. At the same time, collective identities that were forged during the aforementioned struggles have started unravelling once again due to a lack of political figures to represent them as well as the oppressive, crypto-police state implemented by the Mitsotakis regime. The TINA dogma was once again gaining momentum.
Greek society traditionally adheres to a culture of audiatur et altera pars, with voters investing both (consciously or not) in the mainstream neoliberal promise of systemic, tokenistic politics, but also feeling betrayed due to the circumstances of unyielding dysfunction at all levels of society. During the first period of the financial crisis these people turned their anger against politicians and politics in general and found consolation in the violent alternative of extreme right-wing parties that sought to enter parliament and eject the corrupt and ineffectual elite.
In the last elections, the parties that saw the greatest gains in terms of voting percentage (aside from New Democracy) were extreme right-wing voices; Niki in particular, a first-time, religious and anti-vac party is close to passing the 3% threshold and entering parliament. These “betrayed believers” of the core values of the system, suffering from the continuous crisis, turned their backs on left-wing alternatives and embraced views that would sustain a more authoritarian social and moral order. Simply put, since left-wing progressive alternatives were defeated, many voters instead turned to seeking security and stability by endorsing authoritative solutions and restoring a ‘Law and Order’ sense of things. The revamping of some traditional Greek anti-immigration sentiment arose as a plausible “way out” for many Greeks, who chose to focus on dealing with an ever-growing array of “everyday life” obstacles. People do not seek to break with a system they feel is excessively powerful; instead, they want to delegate their political decision-making, and pursue their own individual struggles for personal well-being. The sense that There is no Alternative has prevailed. This process, along with a neo-liberal consensus between the main parliamentary parties, could mark a halt in the ideological cleavage between left and right that was traditional in Greece given its history.
2023: Flawed Democracy and Public Legitimization
New Democracy, despite four years of excessive corruption accusations, call monitoring of opponents and ministers, social and labour rights suppression, and direct media influence, managed to deliver the “only” plausible solution. Mitsotakis’ administration, which took advantage of the European Recovery Fund and the end of Greece’s fiscal adjustment programs, capitalized on Greece’s economic growth. This growth was in some senses inevitable; after all, hitting rock bottom means that the only way left to go is up.
On top of everything, the war on Ukraine stood as an always ready great excuse for everything. Mitsotakis himself managed to embody two important, somehow contradictory issues of Greek society: the quest for meritocracy and social mobility, and the importance of family ties. Ideas of justice and equality that were proposed by SYRIZA, of a collective struggle for an alternative world, failed to convince.
People preoccupied with feelings of broad uncertainty and the constant struggle for survival amidst prices that were rising by the hour, found some solace in what could only be described as a “pocket money” benefit scheme. They believe in a magical economic growth produced by technocrats. However, a top-down technocratic and ‘realistic’ perception of politics may turn into political cynicism within laypeople, who just want to get the job done. The persistent sense of anomie and distrust, do not allow us to conclude that disaffection with the system and its perceived representatives has gone away. Election results are more likely to be more a raincheck for future developments, as the electorate waits on further changes.
In conclusion, the dogma of TINA has prevailed. This election marks the closing of a cycle, one that started back in 2012 and perhaps before. Still, Greek society is far from being out of the woods and the 2024 comeback of the EU’s stability agreement signals for new austerity. This may give rise to new social and political developments. Looking through the lens of social psychology, political engagement is a dynamic, ever-evolving process, especially during periods of economic instability and unsustainability. If a change is of immediate need, we know that a new minority must now bear a new message. But history warns us: minority influence does not necessarily equal progress.