We Asked People from Unstable European Countries For Advice on How to Deal with Our Political Mess
For most of Europe, political stability seems like a strange, quaint little thing of the past.
We can all agree that British politics has gone to shit. We're used to knowing what our future holds. We smugly watch the news from elsewhere and think that, whatever problems we have, that kind of shitshow could never happen here. Well, it is happening. The collapse of effective parliamentary democracy – what is this? Italy? Our economy tanking because of a referendum – have I woken up in Greece? It's natural that we're panicking a little, and keeping up with current affairs can feel about as comfortable as the dentists' chair scene in A Clockwork Orange.
In these confusing times, it's important to look further than our own navel, and see how other countries deal with political chaos. We asked our friends from VICE offices in countries that are traditionally less stable than the UK for advice and perspective on how to deal with constantly being afraid for and of your country at the same time.
We know exactly how you feel. In the last six years we have lived through: One bankruptcy; four parliamentary elections; seven prime ministers – one of them a technocrat chosen by the EU; one referendum, the result of which the Prime Minister ignored; two interim governments; neo-Nazis being elected in parliament; threats of a Grexit; harsh austerity measures; 11,000 protests in central Athens; closed banks and capital controls; managing the largest refugee crisis since World War II; our friends leaving for other countries and our parents losing their jobs. Oh, and we're working for 300 euro a month.
But even if it goes the same way for you as it did for us – which is highly unlikely – I can promise you that life goes on. You'll spend the first few months dealing with the shock by talking about Brexit with every chance you get, then you'll turn to the streets and in the end you'll become apathetic. You'll still have your life, so cut back a little on fancy holidays, do cheaper drugs and, at some point, things will change. Likely for the worse.
– Melpomeni Maragkidou, VICE Greece
In Serbia, we've seen it all. We've had almost four years of international sanctions imposed on us in the 1990s because of Serbia's role in the bloody Balkan Wars. That led to hyperinflation and raging unemployment. So we learned to live with nothing – least of all any prospects – and yet, we are back on our feet. Sort of.
How do you cope? First of all, I know Brits love queuing, but when your country really goes to shit, you'll need to learn to do some next-level queuing – for food, for cigarettes, for everything. Secondly, if you want to hold on to your smoking habit but don't have money for food, know that you have options: what worked for us was going to markets in rural Serbia where you can buy very cheap tobacco by the pound, and then roll that tobacco in baking paper. That kind of cigarette lasts forever. There's a lot of fun in distilling your own alcohol too – a skill which you'll want to learn soon. It's also wise to learn how to make other basic necessities yourself, like bread. Once you know how to bake bread, you'll know how to make "popara", which is bread cooked in water with a pinch of salt. I'm pretty sure that the DIY lifestyle was invented on the Balkans in the 1990s. You guys now have the chance to completely reinvent it. Fun!
- Aleksandra Niksic, VICE Serbia
Since our big revolution of 1789, France has been through wars, riots and even more revolutions. According to famed French historian Michel Winock, all those rebellions and counter-rebellions are the only reason France even evolved.
Indeed, our economic and political situation is never stable, and that seems to suit everyone in our country. The terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice were extremely traumatic events that could have brought the French people and our leaders closer together, but lol. A recent poll conducted by Le Figaro showed that 67 percent of French people have no faith that their president and his government will effectively fight terrorism. That scepticism was obvious last Monday when people booed Prime Minister Manuel Valls at a memorial service for the victims of the attack in Nice.
So, Brits, don't be worried about Brexit or your politicians going off the rails. These are confusing times but your relationship with the EU has always been confusing and your politicians aren't shittier than they were before – you just care enough to look now. Just relax and remember that you'll never have to bitch about Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and Martin Schulz again. You can now take it all out on Theresa May.
- Romain Gonzales, VICE France
So you just had your first taste of political instability – savour it, we've had to stomach years of this shit. We've had three horrible Prime Ministers since 2008. The first, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, told us to buy houses in America during the recession because housing prices were low in the US and he didn't expect our own country to fall into recession. Then Emil Boc cut half of the salaries by a quarter because the IMF told him to take completely crippling austerity measures. The third, Victor Ponta, tried his hardest to impeach our president. We brought that last PM down with a march so having wildly irresponsible politicians at least brings the people together.
That same president called a national referendum on the same day as the national elections, to ask people if they wanted a smaller Parliament. Romania overwhelmingly voted for less idiots in Parliament in the referendum but we're still waiting for something to be done on that front. So in our experience: just never bring up Brexit again and you'll be fine.
- Gabriel Bejan, VICE Romania
When it comes to chaos and instability, you Brits have a lot to learn from Italy. Since the end of World War II we've had a failed attempt at a coup d'état, years of internal political terrorism known as the Years of Lead, five different mafia groups perpetually involved in a dick-measuring competition, an entire corrupted political class wiped out overnight by a judicial investigation, three different stints of Berlusconi being our Prime Minister and an economic crisis that brought us close to bankruptcy. We haven't had a say in who our Prime Minister was for the last four years. Monti was installed after Berlusconi resigned and Letta and Renzi were both asked by the President to form a majority coalition when parties that narrowly won the elections failed to get that majority.
And yet, we live. How? Firstly, our expectations are hilariously low – nothing can really hurt or surprise us. Secondly, we love complaining to each other about how messed up everything is. We remind friends and strangers constantly of how unstable, poor and sad our country is. That doesn't change anything, but it's therapeutic – especially when it takes place between an aperitivo and a plate of pasta.
- Flavia Guidi, VICE Italy
Over the last few centuries, Poland has been divided by its neighbours Russia, Austria and Prussia, taken over by Napoleon and dealt with the World Wars, Stalinism, communist anti-Semitic campaigns and a period of martial law in the early 1980s. As the Polish saying goes, it was such a long time ago it might as well have never have happened.
The last 27 years of capitalism and democracy haven't been any less adventurous. In 1998, the chief of police was shot in the head in broad delight and while the shady conclusion of the investigation was that it was a simple carjacking, that investigation is still being criticised today. Two politicians involved in corruption scandals committed questionable suicides – the former Construction Minister Barbara Blida shot herself in the heart in 2007 and the former Minister of Agriculture Andrzej Lepper hanged himself in his party's office four years later. Some former anti-communist allies accused each other of staging a plane crash that killed 96 people in 2010 – including our then-President Lech Kaczynski. Oh, and our neighbours had a part of their country annexed by Vladimir Putin.
It's a miracle that despite politicians from all sides of the ideological spectrum screwing things up, Poland is still a safe and rather tolerable place to live. The key is to take for granted that the ruling elite is shit, and focus on the things that matter instead of on the things you have no power over. Like vodka.
- Maciek Piasecki, VICE Poland
When you have it all, it's hard to see everything you hold dear descend into chaos. When I was younger, a war broke out in my country as well as our neighbouring countries. Although the war in Slovenia only lasted from June 27th to July 7th 1991, I could hear artillery shells firing kilometres away in a much bloodier neighbouring Croatian war at the age of seven. My parents kept taking us on holiday to the seaside in Croatia because holidaying in a war-torn country is much cheaper than in a peaceful one. There were a lot of refugees at my school and the country was in shambles, as we lost most of our trade in the former Yugoslavia.
When we got through that, there was a brief period of prosperity where we all had shitloads of money. Seriously, I earned more as a waiter in 2008 than I ever did again. That same year, the Slovenian economy had the highest drop in GDP of all the Euro countries, so for six years it was impossible to get by if you were in your twenties and didn't already have a stable long term job. Unemployment was rampant, the standard of living fell quicker than the pound, and when in the second part of 2015 almost half a million refugees passed through Slovenia we all had flashbacks to the 90s.
But we made it through, and it's getting better. The most important thing is to not despair. Things change, don't linger in the life you were comfortable with. Personally, I always feel I'll be fine as long as I am not being shot at.
– Daniel Fazlic, VICE Slovenia
In Spain, we had a general election in December 2015, and another one six months later – in June 2016. We're heading for a third one within the year, since our politicians don't want to work together in a coalition government. Political stability seems like a strange, quaint little thing of the past. You'd say that a country without a government would descend into chaos, but we actually haven't noticed any change in our day-to-day lives – we still go out to bars and beaches, or whatever it was we were doing when we did have a government.
So this summer, why don't you all just come down here to forget about your own crisis and enjoy the perks of ours.
– Gonzalo Herrera, VICE Spain
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