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Young Greeks Hope a Syriza Victory in Sunday's Election Will Save Their Lost Generation

The populist leftist party Syriza plans to end austerity, cut taxes, and increase social spending in a bid to tackle what its leaders have labeled a "humanitarian crisis" in Greece.
Photo via Flickr

Eleni Vougioklaki is originally from Athens but has lived in New York for the past two years. She emigrated because she found it impossible to find a job in Greece — a circumstance familiar with many of the country's young citizens. In 2013, youth unemployment in the country hit 64 percent. It is still incredibly high, at 50.6 percent as of last October.

"This is a generation that invested a lot of time and money to study," Vougioklaki, who is 30 years old, told VICE News.


Over the past decade, as the country careeredfurther into debt, that generation's hopes for their future were steadily dashed.

"You feel useless — you cannot take care of yourself, you have to rely on your parents," she said. "You cannot get a house and live by yourself, and then there is also the fact that a lot of laws have passed saying employers can employ young people with a lower wage and with very bad working conditions."

Young people are obliged to take these jobs due to the high percentage of youth unemployment, she added. "They know that if they don't, the employer will find someone else."

In photos: Four years of Greece's great depression. Read more here.

This experience and Greece's painful economic austerity is the backdrop of the country's general election this Sunday, the result of which could precipitate a Greek exit from the eurozone, throwing the European Union into unprecedented and potentially shaky territory. With far-left populist party Syriza leading the polls, European leaders will be watching with baited breath to see what the election returns will mean for the future of the eurozone and the othercountries that were granted bailouts — Ireland, Portugal, and Cyprus.

Syriza plans to end austerity, cut taxes, and increase social spending in a bid to tackle what its leaders have labeled a "humanitarian crisis" in Greece. Such policies could precipitate a default on Greek debt and the country's exit — or "Grexit" — from the eurozone, though on Tuesday International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said that this would not be "allowed," adding that she believed "it would be devastating for Greece."


Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has also come out strongly against Syriza's proposals, saying that, in his opinion, the country could face economic devastation if the party wins.

Athens celebrated its new bailout payment with a riot. Read more here.

Preparations for the vote have been rushed. The government was forced to call snap elections after failing to elect a president on December 29. This means that 100,000 Greek citizens who have recently turned 18 won't have enough time to register to vote and have a say in the decision.

But a Syriza victory seems relatively clear, whether the party governs by majority or in a coalition. Recent polls show the party leading it's opposition by between 4.8 andsixpoints.

Speaking at the party's final election rally in Omonia Square, Athens, 40-year-old Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras rousingly declared that his party intends to put an end to"national humiliation."

"We will finish with orders from abroad," he professed to a boisterous crowd. "Our answer is: the bailout is over. Blackmail is over. Subservience is over."

Tsipras disagrees that Syriza's victory would devastate its EU membership. Writing in the Irish Times on Friday, he said that the party would need time to change Greece, but he felt that it could manage that while still balancing the budget.

"Balancing the government's budget does not automatically require austerity," he wrote, adding that Syriza would respect Greece's obligations as a eurozone member to continue balancing its budget while committing to "quantitative targets."


The party argues that the harsh and restrictive budgets imposed on Greek citizens haven't helped the country recover. This view is shared by 35 prominent economists who published a letter earlier this week in the Guardian calling on the EU, the IMF, and the European Central Bank to negotiate with the Greek government to cancel much of its debt and help it abandon austerity measures.

"Historical evidence demonstrates the futility and dangers of imposing unsustainable debt and repayment conditions on debtor countries," the letter said.

Greece's Young Anarchists. Watch the VICE News documentary here.

Other commentators have noted that abandoning austerity could bring greater problems in the long-term, particularly if the new government can't find alternative sources of funding.

Earlier this week, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi announced that the bank would inject at least €1.1 trillion ($1.2 trillion) into the ailing eurozone economy — a move that will hopefully spur banks to lend and businesses and consumers to spend more.

For the first time in years, Vougioklaki is optimistic about the effect of a Syriza victory on her country's prospects.

"Austerity doesn't work," she said. "Instead of things getting better for Greece, as they told us, it's just getting worse and worse for the majority of the people. The quality of life is getting worse, wages are getting lower, and so is employment."

Vougioklaki helped launch an online campaign aiming to raise funds for emigrants who wish to have a say in Greece's future. Because Greek citizens must be present in their home country to cast a ballot, the "Flight for Democracy" campaign has raised nearly €13,000 ($14,500) in donations, and will be funding trips home for at least 70 people. The organizers believe that the young and educated are more likely to vote for Syriza.

"Older people find it hard to change because Syriza has never been in government before, so they are more reluctant to vote for a party that has never been in charge," Vougioklaki said.

But once Syriza gains power, she will consider the possibility of returning home.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd Photo via Flickr