From Berlin to Washington, all eyes are on Greece in elections whose result will be felt around the world
In the many years I have lived in Athens, I have often heard Greeks joke that theirs is a world inhabited only by them. What happens elsewhere is of little import. If there is a grain of truth in every joke, then there can be no denying that Greece is well and truly at the centre of world events. From Berlin to Washington, Brussels and Beijing, all eyes are on Athens.
What happens on 17 June when Greeks cast their ballots – in an election that has become one of the most significant on the continent of Europe since the second world war – will have an impact that will not be contained by the borders of their debt-choked country. The decision of nine million people will ripple far beyond the craggy tip of the Balkan peninsula that they inhabit. An entire union of nations could be affected; world markets could fall. “Greece will decide the future of Europe,” says CNN.
In the birthplace of democracy, almost no one can believe the events that have hurled tiny Greece onto the front page of practically every newspaper on the planet. Like passengers on a runaway train, we have careered at ever greater speed on a tumultuous journey that has now led us to a precipice. We don’t know what lies below because no one has ever gone there. Some say it resembles the valley of death. Everyone knows the choice – between excruciating austerity measures and euro exit – is little more than a choice between bad and worse.
Vote in favour of those parties peddling vehement anti-European, anti-austerity rhetoric and be under no illusion, the Greeks are told, that EU-IMF rescue loans will dry up and chaos result. Vote for those who see the punishing policies as the only way of keeping bankruptcy at bay, and you might have a chance of survival. Even the German edition of the Financial Times felt fit to convey the message in a blistering editorial that it carried in Greek on its front page on Friday.
In their descent to a place where no nation would want to go, Greeks have found that nothing is the same. Everything has changed as certainties have crumbled. Many of my friends feel bewildered and fearful: bewildered that it should come to this, fearful of the dislocation from assurances of things past.
In the topsy-turvy world that they now inhabit, almost all have decided that they will throw their political convictions to the winds. For the first time ever, they will vote conservative, casting their ballot in favour of New Democracy, the “pro-European” party led by Antonis Samaras in the hope – no matter how slight – that Greece can be saved. The world is watching. They are at the centre of it. But this time there is no disputing that they wish they weren’t.
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