A latest opinion poll in Greece gives the left wing SYRIZA party a lead of 4.3 percent over its conservative rival New Democracy. The survey conducted on January 19 and 20 puts the radical left group on 31.2 percent, with New Democracy on 27 percent.
There have been warnings that some 100,000 Greek teenagers who have just turned 18 may not be able to vote in the weekend’s elections because there has not been enough time to register them.
Young people who are eligible could play a key role in the outcome.
The youth unemployment rate in Greece stood at 50.6 per cent in the autumn. For many the economic crisis has dominated their whole adult lives.
Giota Vamvaka walks hurriedly across the square. She was caught up at drama rehearsals at college and is late for work.
The 28-year-old has a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and is now doing a second degree in drama studies. But the job she is late for is not related to either, it is in a cafe in downtown Athens where she works part time as a waitress.
Vamvaka has tried repeatedly over the past years to find a job in the sociology field but this has proven impossible. The jobs are few and the unemployment rate in Greece is nearly 26 percent, one of the highest among the eurozone countries. So now she is studying something new.
“The only job I have ever managed to find, both before and during my first degree, and even now that I am in my second degree, is as a waitress, nothing else. Making coffee, serving, behind the bar, the usual part-time survival jobs,” she said.
Vamvaka’s parents were hit by the debt crisis after her father, who is on a disability pension after having his arm amputated, had his pension cut to 450 euros a month from 700 euros. Her mother supplements the family income by working as a cleaning lady, and her younger sister, who is studying to become a veterinarian, also works part-time jobs to cover her tuition fees and living costs.
Vamvaka is critical of the current government and says she is not pleased with the way it managed the crisis. She says the austerity measures in combination with tax increases and wage cuts made every day life a constant struggle for survival.
Despite signs of an economic recovery, like many of her peers Vamwaka has thought of leaving Greece to look for work abroad.
“Obviously, I am not happy. When every day I see wages dropping to poverty levels, when I realise that especially the young can barely get a salary below 500 euros when the rent is 300 euros, how can you be pleased?” said Vamvaka.
“I have thought about leaving abroad and I looked into it, especially when I was looking for post-graduate studies and scholarships. But the fact that my parents and my friends are here, the social life that I built with small steps since my childhood, well, it’s not that easy to abandon these. However that doesn’t mean I have dismissed it altogether. If the situation continues to be the same I cannot say that I will not leave.”
The aspiring actress said the upcoming elections on January 25 bring hope that things might improve. She will vote for one of the left wing parties in the hopes that it will increase support for more social policies, but does not know if Greece, traditionally socialist or conservative, is ready for a major move to the left.
“I think that a political choice towards the left might bring hope or at least open the way for a change in society. I don’t think we are ready enough yet for that now but what else can we do than give it a try?” Vamvaka said.
Thalis Politis is a fellow student at the same drama college as Vamvaka. They are preparing a dance routine for one of their courses.
Drama is also 25-year-old Politis’ second degree. He previously studied graphic arts but failed to find a job as a graphic artist.
He has currently managed to land an acting job in a small theatrical production, but gets paid only 10 euros for each performance.
“If you even manage to enter the workforce you will mainly face exhausting working hours without the appropriate pay, on many occasions no pay at all or minimum pay. And of course there is the insecurity,” he said.
Politis, like Vamvaka, has thought about leaving the debt-ridden country several times, and if a good opportunity arises he would consider it.
“I have thought about leaving but I am still in a phase that I am looking to see what I can do here, to exhaust all the opportunities and possibilities available. If an opportunity, or something of interest arises that will take me forward, I will think about leaving abroad, but not for good.”
The young graphic designer and actor says it is important for young people in Greece not to lose hope but fight instead to improve their lives. Even though he is wary whether the snap January elections will bring change, he says it is the moral duty of the country’s youth to participate in the elections. He did not say who he would vote for but signaled it would not be a party in the current government.
“Of course I will vote and I think it’s our duty to vote because we are young and it’s from us that things will change, if we don’t take matters in our own hands nothing will happen,” he said.