The sad fate of Pedion Areos and the dual Greek crises

Despite Syriza's victory, there will be no respite for Alexis Tsipras as he faces the task of pushing for more reforms.


    There's a park opposite the hotel where I've been staying in Athens. When I was here in August it had become an impromptu refugee camp.

    Some 500 Afghans were living in tents or sleeping under the trees, surviving on food and water from local people and charities.

    On the eve of the September 20th election, I walked through the park again, to discover that the Afghans had been moved.

    I gather they're being held in a camp on the western edge of the city. They've been replaced by junkies and alcoholics, clustered in the shade of trees or slumped on park benches.

    They are gaunt and filthy. Some fight and squabble among themselves, other sit in abject silence and stare vacantly ahead.

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    There's no sign that anyone is trying to help them. The air stinks of urine and excrement. This park, Pedion Areos, one of a handful of green spaces in the concrete jungle of Athens, is now a no-go area, abandoned by most citizens and the state.

    Pedion Areos' sad fate shows how Greece is struggling to cope with dual crises; the extraordinary influx of refugees, and the social fallout of a prolonged economic collapse.

    As the election drew near, I found friends in Athens to be deeply disillusioned. Everyone I spoke to, regardless of political persuasion, was struggling to work out who to vote for, and even the purpose of voting at all.

    On the one hand this is the result of fatigue. This is the third national vote (two elections and one referendum) this year alone, and the 5th since 2012.

    Understandably, Greeks are tired of politics. But the really damning question my friends ask is this: 'Given that any new government will be obliged to stick with the terms of the bailout agreement with Greece's creditors, what difference does it make whom we choose?'

    In the end, as we know, the result was surprisingly good for Alexis Tsipras and Syriza.

    Low voter turnout

    Despite all the turmoil of recent months, including a spectacular U-turn in negotiations with Europe, the closure of banks, a confusing and divisive referendum and a major party rebellion, Syriza ended up with an almost identical share of the vote to that which it enjoyed in January.

    In central Athens, hundreds of supporters danced in the streets until the early hours.

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    "We've shown all of Europe a different way. We hope that where we lead, other countries will follow us by turning to the left," said one woman.

    An analysis of the historically low voter turnout, however, paints a sobering picture.

    In absolute terms, almost every single Greek party lost votes, and Syriza most of all. For a breakdown of this, please see the useful analysis of Theodora Oikonomides, AKA IrateGreek.

    While Tsipras triumphed, it seems safe to assume that hundreds of thousands of his own previous supporters chose not to vote at all. 

    The coming weeks will be crucial. There will be no respite for Tsipras.

    According to the terms of the bailout agreement, he must now push through further pension reforms, privatisation of public assets and increase taxes on special interest groups such as farmers.

    He needs to make progress in these areas to win concessions on debt relief, and so that the creditors help finance the recapitalisation of Greece's struggling banks.

    Capital controls are still in place, and the Greek economy is projected to contract once again in 2015.

    Many of the proposed reforms are anathema to Tsipras and his own party, although he should be able to rely on the opposition to push much of this legislation through parliament.

    Does all of this sound horribly familiar? If so, apologies, and spare a thought for the poor Greeks. It could be another long, hard winter in Athens.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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