Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!

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Athens, 26 January 2015


“The world’s great age begins anew,

The golden years return,

The earth doth like a snake renew

Her winter weeds outworn:

Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam

Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.


A brighter Hellas rears its mountains

 From waves serener far;

A new Peneus rolls his fountains

Against the morning star.

Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep

Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.


Another Athens shall arise,

And to remoter time

Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,

 The splendour of its prime;

And leave, if nought so bright may live,

All earth can take or Heaven can give.”

The above are threes stanzas from a chorus in the lyric drama “Hellas” composed by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) with a view to raising money for the Greek War of Independence (1821-1827). The work was inspired by the play “Persae” by the classical Athenian dramatist Aeschylus (525-456 BC) who fought for the Greeks in their victorious battle against the Achaemenid Persians at Marathon in 490 BC.

Taking a break from the ballyhoo of the hustings, we were sitting quietly last night in stillness of the mild mid-winter air on the outside roof-terrace of the Grande Bretagne Hotel in central Athens, switching our attention from the spotlit Acropolis to the right, the peach-coloured neo-Classical Parliament building (the Bouli) to the left and far below us a rapidly emptying Syntagma Square, the political centre of the Greek world, as rival party-political groupies took down their marquees, folded up their banners and made off into the night, some to celebrate likely victory, others to lament probable defeat after a long hard day in which the voters of Greece went to the polls to elect a new parliament.

The exit polls had just predicted a landslide victory for the left-leaning Syriza party and a crushing defeat for its main rival, the incumbent government party New Democracy.

Awakening us from our musings, the door from the restaurant to the terrace suddenly opened and a small wiry man in his late forties shot out, took a quick digital photo of the Acropolis and then went back in.

But not before he had turned to us, a demented gleam in his eye, and said in an accent that showed he could only have hailed from across the pond: “I wanted to take a photo of it while it was still standing.”

And then he was gone. But not for long. The door to the restaurant popped up again a few seconds later and out he shot again, his nose twitching, his eyes still a-glare. He had further intelligence to off-load.

“I just got back from Ukraine,” he said. “Let these guys here find out what 50 years of socialism will do.”

And with that he was gone, vanished, volatilized. Who he was, what he was doing here, why he picked on us, we shall never know.

In fact, the only thing we can say for certain about this dude is that he was not best pleased with the way the Greek election was turning out.

However, a little earlier in the evening we had a concrete example of why the left was on a roll that night.

Come evening, journalists, TV crews, photographers, party-political cadres and assorted hangers-on were camped out outside the Syriza HQ in Koumoundhourou Square in the inner-city Psyrri district not far from the Thiseio Temple waiting for the party leader Alexis Tsipras to appear and claim victory.

Meanwhile, in a darkened part of the square, only 20 metres from the entrance to the Syriza block, a sick-looking grey-haired poorly-dressed man in his mid-sixties was rummaging around in a municipal rubbish container looking desperately for something to salvage – half-empty fast food cartons, rotten half-eaten fruit, half-empty drink cans, who knows what.

There are hundreds of thousands of such unfortunates barely keeping body and soul together in today’s Greece. They are the result of six years of merciless austerity (the equivalent of “fiscal waterboarding” according to Syriza) imposed on the Greek people, with the connivance of the New Democracy government, by the hated triad of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for grudgingly conceded loans to bail out – not the people of Greece – but the Greek Banks and their international creditors.

Even a worm will turn. By yesterday the man and woman on the Greek omnibus had had enough – or at least enough of them had. Casting fear aside, the fear of the unknown that had kept them loyal for the past six years to the self-serving euro-lickspittles of the government party and its yes-man ally, the pseudo-socialist party PASOK, unprecedented numbers of Greek citizens voted for change. Merkel’s Junker, Jean-Claude Juncker , the big kahuna of the Brussels bunker, said he wanted the Greeks to return the “old familiar faces” to power. Much good did it do him. The Greeks voted for new blood and for hope. They took to heart Syriza’s campaign slogan: Soon you’ll be able to hope again (“Η ελπίδα έρχεται”).


The results of yesterday’s ballot for the Greece’s 300-seat unicameral legislature – subject only to possible minor adjustment – are as follows:

Syriza (149 seats, composed of the 99 seats it actually won plus a free bonus of 50 extra seats) 36.38 % of votes cast; New Democracy (76 seats) 27.81 %; the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party(17 seats) 6.29 %; the centrist To Potami (The River) party (17 seats) 6.04 %; the KKE Communist party (15 seats) 5.50 % ; the right-leaning ANEL (Independent Greeks) party (13 seats) 4.73%; and the nominally socialist PASOK (13 seats) 4.66 %.

Other parties fell short of the three per cent threshold needed to enter parliament.

The percentage of the electorate that turned out to vote was 63.9 %.

While Syriza was far and away the biggest winner of the day, it should be noted that New Democracy’s vote held up reasonably well, with only a limited decline in both its share of the vote and the number of seats it won – leaving aside the 50 free votes, which now went to Syriza – by comparison with the previous election in June 2012 (see the 2012 figures below).

Mirroring the rise of right-wing anti-immigrant parties throughout Europe in recent years, Golden Dawn is now the third most popular party in Greece, although its share of the vote slipped slightly and it lost one MP compared with the last election. Extraordinarily, Golden Dawn MPs in the outgoing parliament, including its leader Nikos Michaloliakis, are on remand in Korydallos Prison in Piraeus awaiting criminal charges related to the party’s activities.

The johnny-come-lately policy-lite centrist party To Potami (“The River”), led by TV presenter Stavros Theodorakis, did well to gain fourth place in terms of the percentage of votes gained, having come from nowhere. Formed in February 2014, it did not stand (or perhaps we should say “flow”) in the last election.

The KKE Communist Party gained 3 seats and increased its percentage of the vote.

The big loser of the day was the pseudo-socialist party PASOK, led by Evangelos Venizelos of the historic Venizelos political dynasty, whose vote crumbled in terms of both percentage and seats. It was not helped by the fact that the pseudo-socialist vote was split. The scion of a rival PASOK dynasty, George Papandreou, who was Prime Minister of Greece from 2009 to 2011, left PASOK this month to form his own party, the Movement of Democratic Socialists. This fledgling party failed to breach the 3% threshold for eligibility to sit in parliament.

Another big loser in terms of both percentage and seats was the right-leaning ANEL (Independent Greeks) party. Paradoxically, it is with this party that the left-leaning Syriza has opted to go into coalition. Like Syriza, ANEL is said to be opposed to further austerity.


The following, for comparison with yesterday’s results, is an extract from our coverage of the last Greek parliamentary election on 17 June 2012 in our blog Death of Pericles: Sparta defeats Athens . The excerpt also includes an explanation of the extraordinary “50 free bonus seats” given to the party winning the highest percentage of the vote.

With almost all the votes counted in the 17 June 2012 ballot for the country’s 300-seat parliament, the result is as follows: New Democracy (129 seats, composed of the 79 seats it actually won plus a free bonus of 50 extra seats) 29.66 % of votes cast; the radical socialist party Syriza (71 seats) 26.89 %; the nominally socialist party Pasok (33 seats) 12. 28 %; the right-leaning ANEL (Independent Greeks) party (20 seats) 7.51%;  the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party(18 seats) 6.92 %; the Dimar (Democratic Left) party (17 seats) 6.25 %; and the KKE (Communist) party (12 seats) 4.50 %.

Other parties fell well short of the three per cent threshold needed to enter parliament.

The proportion of the electorate that turned out to vote was 62.47 %.

According to Greek election rules, an extra 50 seats are granted to the party winning the largest percentage of the vote. What can possibly justify this negation of democracy that makes a mockery of the ballot?

The system of voting used in Greek is, on the surface, proportional representation, that is to say, parliamentary seats are allocated on the basis of the percentage of votes cast.

So why give an extra 50 seats to the party with the highest percentage of the vote? According to Le Monde, the idea is to “stabilise the result of the proportional ballot”.

In fact, the idea is to shut out from government the smaller parties. The aim is to give the largest party – for free – enough votes to form a parliamentary majority by itself or in coalition with the next largest party. In plain language, the object is to ensure that the two big traditional parties, New Democracy and PASOK, continue to exercise a stranglehold over the government 0f Greece.

The result, moreover, is to make the ballot non-proportional.


What happens now?

In yesterday’s election Syriza won 149 seats – just south of the 151 seats needed to gain an absolute majority of 151 seats in the 300-seat parliament.

Today 26 January 2015, in order to make good this narrow shortfall, the leftist party agreed to form an anti-austerity coalition with the rightist Independent Greeks (“Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες”) of ANEL, led by Panos Kammenos, a disgruntled former New Democracy MP. ANEL has 13 seats in the new parliament. On the basis of this agreement, President Karolos Papoulias, the titular head of state, asked Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras to form a new government.

Fun and games assured!

These are still early days.

It is unclear:

  • how well the left-leaning Syriza and the right-wing ANEL will work together over time;
  • to what extent the hard-left factions within Syriza will accept any move towards centrist ground;
  • to what extent the European and US political and financial elites will grudgingly accept the democratic decision of the Greek people;
  • to what extent, alternatively, the European and US political and financial elites will surreptiously do all they can to thwart the new Greek government, not least out of fear that populist contagion might spread to other European states badly hit by externally imposed austerity (such as Spain, Portugal and Ireland, Italy and France not being immune to popular unrest either).

For some indications as to the problems that lie ahead, readers who have not done so might care to check out the blog we posted on the eve of yesterday’s election: Soon you’ll be able to hope again(“Η ελπίδα έρχεται”).

In that blog we were concerned that Alexis Tsipras might be another Felipe González. Another comparison we might have made is with French Socialist leader François Mitterand (1916-1996), who, as President of France from 1981 to 1995, jettisoned his initial socialist commitments for the status quo of the free market. The former firebrand trade unionist Lula da Silva, who was President of Brazil from 2003 to 2011, is another example of a politician who turned moderate once in power.

However, we need not have gone so far afield to find a political figure that incarnated our concerns. A Mitterand contemporary, Andreas Papandreou (1919-1996) – father of George Papandreou (he of the Movement of Democratic Socialists that went belly up in yesterday’s election) – who was Prime Minister of Greece from 1981 to 1989 and from 1993 to 1996, followed the same political trajectory from left to right.

The jury is still out as far as Tsipras is concerned.


[A poem by the English poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) composed in 1805 and published in 1809]

 “Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!

For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood

Upon our side, we who were strong in love!

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,

But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,

In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways

Of custom, law, and statute, took at once

The attraction of a country in romance!

When Reason seemed the most to assert her rights,

When most intent on making of herself

A prime Enchantress—to assist the work

Which then was going forward in her name!

Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth,

The beauty wore of promise, that which sets

(As at some moment might not be unfelt

Among the bowers of paradise itself )

The budding rose above the rose full blown.

What temper at the prospect did not wake

To happiness unthought of? The inert

Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!

They who had fed their childhood upon dreams,

The playfellows of fancy, who had made

All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength

Their ministers,—who in lordly wise had stirred

Among the grandest objects of the sense,

And dealt with whatsoever they found there

As if they had within some lurking right

To wield it;—they, too, who, of gentle mood,

Had watched all gentle motions, and to these

Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more wild,

And in the region of their peaceful selves;—

Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty

Did both find, helpers to their heart’s desire,

And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish;

Were called upon to exercise their skill,

Not in Utopia, subterranean fields,

Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!

But in the very world, which is the world

Of all of us,—the place where in the end

We find our happiness, or not at all!”


 Bliss was it indeed – the doubts born of experience being temporarily cast aside – to be alive in Athens at dawn today on the sun-kissed morning of 26 January 2015 – the sky a cerulean blue, the Mediterranean at Piraeus a subway ride away, the temperature heading for a warm sun at noon, lemons and oranges on every branch, palm-trees here, yukkas there and now and again a prickly cactus – a mere twelve hours after the Greek people had revolted against their own Ancien Régime.

As the new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in his victory speech last night outside Athens University: “Today the Greece of the oligarchs, of the elite, of the cover-ups was defeated. Victory was for the Greece that strives, that hopes.”

Fingers crossed!

Watch this space!


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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