Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Strawberry Statement

Today is election day in Greece, and by far the most impressive thing about it is the fact that in the short span of a month, early elections were called, Parliament was dissolved, campaigning took place, and at 7pm today it will be all over. Meanwhile, Americans are having to deal with the Longest Presidential Election Campaign Ever, and I have to say I am a little bit jealous that the Greeks can get things done so lickety split.

Greek elections are still a bit of a novelty to me. It is amazing to see SIX parties all vying for parliamentary seats (of course, there are still two main parties that seem to get most of the votes, and there are several more smaller parties in play all over the country). It would be nice to have a real choice of who to vote for in America, instead of choosing between two parties who oftentimes straddle the middle line. Sure, I don’t know that of the six parties here in Greece there is one I’d really want to vote for, but at least there are options. Talking with my mother-in-law about it today, I learned that she feels satisfied that she can vote for someone who actually speaks for her, and I don’t think I ever felt that in a U.S. election.

The other novelty about Greek politics is the presence of the Communist party. See, I grew up in Cold War America, and it was ingrained into my head at an early age that Communism is evil and all Communists are Very Bad People. I don’t really know how or when I was brainwashed to such an extent, because my parents are the least judgmental people I know, but I’m guessing somehow between my education and the media I learned to regard Communists the same way Buffy regards vampires, only without the slaying.

Once the Cold War was over, I didn’t give much thought to Communism. As I got older and learned more about it, I knew it wasn’t a belief system I could support, but there are a lot of political beliefs I disapprove of, so that doesn’t mean much. Sure, I suppose I regard Communism with much more distaste than say, Republicanism, but I certainly didn’t think my Cold War-era brainwashing was still an issue, that is, until I moved to Greece, and started meeting bona fide Communists that looked just like normal people. Even so, I lacked enthusiasm when shaking their hands, and spent my time in their company eyeing them quizzically.

It just so happens that one of the Communist headquarters in Thessaloniki is in our neighborhood, and I regard it with open-mouthed incredulity. A red curtain always shields the inside from the peering eyes of onlookers, which I find suspicious and tempting at the same time. It is as if the possibility existed that the grand figure of Oz might lurk behind that curtain, or perhaps the dark image of Beelzebub. It wasn’t until early elections were called and activity mounted there that the full extent of my anti-Communist brainwashing sunk in.

I was coming up the street the Communist headquarters was on with my shopping. A flock of people, presumably Communists, were out on the sidewalk in front of the office, spilling out of the door. As I walked up the street my instinct told me to cross to the other side of the street to avoid the throng of Communists, at which point reason kicked in, and I realized it was ridiculous not to proceed on course. I even managed a faltering smile at the people as I passed, which was returned amiably. My initial instinct surprised me though, because I have never, in my entire life, thought to cross the street to avoid people because of who or what they were. My parents raised me to be without prejudice and here I was, subconsciously, regarding a group of Communists with extreme prejudice. It seems the American “machine” had done a fine job with their brainwashing, and I was horrified with myself. It is one thing to not agree with Communism and not subscribe to it, but it is another thing altogether to purposefully avoid Communists on the street because you don’t want close contact with them.

At least now I am aware of my problem, and instead of being derisive towards my Communist friends and relatives here in Greece, I can simply argue politics with them. I don’t know if I will ever get over the novelty factor of having Communists all around me, but at least I can learn to tolerate them.


Joanne said...

Elections may be the only event in Greece that moves lickety-split...all else that I've experienced moves achingly s-l-o-w!

Yeah - when I first moved to Greece back in the 90s, my first exposure to the KKE - Communist party was bizarre. I thought that they were rebels and anarchists who took pleasure in terrorizing civilians with Molotov cocktails and destructive rallying in the streets. Then I met a woman who eventually became a good friend and who was a proud supporter of the Communist party. She invited me over to her place for drinks the night of the election outcome and along with a group of her friends we sat in front of the t.v. to watch the a clueless, non-politically minded Canadian and 3 KKE Communist party supporters. It was no more painful that having a casual tea party ;)

Kevin Whited said...

I'm not sure what part of your "Cold War" brainwashing you are wanting to toss aside.

Revolutionary Communism as practiced in the 20th century proved to be one of the most deadly "isms" ever (especially to the millions buried in the killing fields of the Soviet Union and Red China). And the dissidents jailed in Cuba probably aren't too fond of its endurance there.

But that said, it is true that most "Communist" parties in industrialized nations these days are little more than hard left/labor parties, and thankfully aren't taken seriously enough to be any sort of deadly threat to anyone. Heck, some of them probably are even nice people!

Διαγόρας said...

Excellent article. Very well said.

There is a little fact which is virtually unknown among U.S. citizens but common knowledge among "foreign students" in the USA: Applicants for a U.S. visa have to explicitly state that they are not members of, or affiliated with, any communist party in order to obtain their visa. Outrageous or what?

This was the case for students (such as myself) coming from Greece at least up until the early nineties. In recent years the applications have been changed to mention terrorism instead of communism, (but of course,) but if you dig hard you can still come across some of the old forms, like this one, still hosted at a U.S. Government web site:

I mean, look, I am not a communist, but puh-leez, this is awful!

Anonymous said...

Greek elections show mounting discontent, a victory for Communist Party of Greece (KKE)
by Laura Petricola, People's Weekly World Newspaper, 09/20/07

ATHENS, Greece — The Sept. 16 parliamentary elections here handed the conservative New Democracy Party a 4-percentage-point re-election victory over the liberal opposition PASOK party.

New Democracy won 42 percent of the vote and PASOK got 38 percent. Greece's "unreconstructed" communist party, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) won 8.2 percent, an increase of 2.3 percentage points over 2004, and Siriza, a left-wing coalition party, got 5 percent of the national vote.

LAOS, a populist, religious-oriented right-wing party, got into Parliament for the first time with 3.8 percent.

Only 74 percent of the nearly 1 million registered voters cast ballots. The lower turnout reflects a steadily increasing trend towards abstention by Greek voters, which polls have linked to disillusionment with the two-party system.

The KKE nearly doubled the number of deputies it will have in Parliament, to 22. In large city centers, the vote for the KKE was 10-12 percent, reaching as high as 18-19 percent in some working-class neighborhoods. The KKE vote was highest among working people in the private sector and among youth, the unemployed, the self-employed and small farmers.

In the countryside, in villages that put up strong resistance to the Nazi occupation during World War II, the Communist vote was particularly impressive. Along the same lines, islands that were used to exile Communists by the postwar, right-wing dictatorship also posted high vote tallies for the KKE. The former exile island of Ikaria (Dodecanese), for example, handed the KKE a first place showing with 36 percent of the vote.

The election results represent a victory for KKE, which has been slowly but steadily increasing its political power in the post-1991 era, having doubled its percentage of the vote since that time. The party said its vote tally reflects support for the actions and struggles it has led over a period of years, combined with a widening radicalism in Greece, with many voters casting a ballot for the KKE for the first time.

While the ruling-class parties, New Democracy and PASOK, still command the lion’s share of the electorate’s support, they lost significant votes to KKE and to the other alternative parties.

Young voters particularly, age 18-24, turned their backs on the two-party system. This reflects the shift in voter consciousness, as working people increasingly turn away from center-right and center-left positions.

Both New Democracy and PASOK push the neoliberal agenda of “free trade” and privatization that is dictated by the European Union. These policies are steadily forcing the vast majority of working families here into economic ruin and, as one KKE election poster warned, the worst may be yet to come.

The incumbent New Democracy Party also came under criticism during the election for its mishandling of the fight against widespread wildfires last month.

What is clear is that the high vote for the two dominant parties does not correspond to the level of strong popular discontent.

As a result, the KKE calls for “organized and intensive action in cooperation with radical forces that are developing to build a strong popular front against the anti-people measures New Democracy will promote.”

It said that through mass action, “forces that are still entrapped in the two-party logic” can be won to more left-wing positions.


Other sources:
Site of KKE english russian french

Daily newspaper of KKE