Disillusioned and jobless Greek youth inclined to vote with their feet

Fri, Jun 15, 2012, 01:00

The young face a dilemma despite the election, writes DAMIAN MAC CON ULADH

AS GREEKS go to the polls on Sunday in the second general election in as many months, the country’s youth, plagued by joblessness, are facing the dilemma of deciding whether they should vote for a party or vote with their feet.

The latest quarterly youth unemployment figures, published yesterday, show that with just one in two (53 per cent) without a job, Greece’s under-25s are bearing the brunt of unemployment. It’s the highest rate in the European Union and has disillusioned and angered those affected, as well as their parents.

It has also fuelled support for the two biggest winners of Greece’s new political landscape. Research carried out after the May election found that leftist party Syriza, led by the youthful Alexis Tsipras (37), was the most popular among younger voters nationwide, with 16 per cent backing the anti-memorandum party, a share much higher in multi-seat urban constituencies.

In second place was neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which picked up 13 per cent of the youth vote, a point ahead of conservative New Democracy.

“Syriza wants to change the situation and it represents the most serious voice in the country,” says pharmacist Irini Agathopoulou, who at 27 was the youngest MP elected on May 6th.

In her native Kilkis, an industrial city in the north, youth unemployment is a big issue. As elsewhere in this country where extended family bonds are strong and parental responsibility for children extends beyond marriage, most third-level graduates return home to live with their parents while they search for that elusive job.

But the best they can hope for, Agathopoulou explains, is temporary, low-paid work. This lack of opportunity is driving them to big cities like Thessaloniki or Athens or emigration – with Sweden, Australia and Germany being popular choices.

“They now want to leave as they see no hope in this country. When they leave, they don’t talk about returning any time soon and most have no problem in finding work abroad,” she says.

In a country that functioned to a huge extent on clientelism and patronage, pre-crisis election campaigns were when parents clinched a civil service post or job in large private-owned industries or banks for their children.

As 32-year-old Christos Dimas, New Democracy’s youngest MP, has found on the campaign trail in his native Corinthia, many parents and even grandparents still think it works that way. But young voters are more realistic about what is possible in memorandum Greece. “Young people have understood the reality,” he says, describing his generation as the unluckiest since the second World War. “Since the war, each generation handed a better-off society the next. But ours is receiving something worse. We can no longer take anything for granted.”

Nadia Volaki, a 22-year-old communications graduate, is still undecided as to how she will vote. While she opted for Syriza last time round “to ensure it got into parliament”, she says she’s now sceptical of the leftist party’s and New Democracy’s promises.

In a campaign marked by the conservatives’ pledge to create 150,000 private-sector jobs next year and the Syriza promise to restore the minimum wage, Volaki says “they can’t promise stuff like that when there’s no money. When you’ve gone to university, you know that all this is not going to help us.”

Twitter allows young Greeks to challenge their politicians directly and facilitates easy contact with young people abroad, she adds.

“That makes us more realistic and better informed than our parents. It’s also why many of us see no alternative to emigration.”