Vocabulary of the Future in the Midst of the Greek Crisis

From the Series: Greece is Burning

Photo by murplejane, licensed under CC BY SA.

Hope was the pre-election motto of Syriza, the left-wing party that won the January 2015 elections in Greece. Hope is coming; we open the way to hope; a country with hope for everyone. For Alexis Tsipras and his fellow party members, hope translated into reducing the high unemployment caused by austerity measures, scrapping the Troika debt memoranda to which the then-governing right-wing party and its collaborators had fully surrendered, regaining the nation’s dignity, and undermining (if not subverting) the neoliberal politics of the European Union and the Eurozone. For the supporters of Syriza, who came from almost all political sides but especially from the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) founded by Andreas Papandreou in the early 1980s, hope translated more specifically into regaining jobs lost in the previous years, being able to find stable jobs instead of emigrating, having debts alleviated, and feeling like dignified citizens in their own country. Thus, while for Syriza’s members hope was primarily a call for liberation from (if not revolution against) the old national regime and the so-called German occupation of Europe, for its supporters hope was a call for a life of normalcy and stability: regaining the possibility of building a career, of being able to nurture one’s family or to get married and have a family, and overall, to live in a way acceptable to themselves and to others in the world within which they found themselves (Zigon 2009). The rhetoric of Syriza resonated with many political theorists’ view that hope, nowadays lost because of global capitalism’s hegemony, should be redefined as a “possibility of finding alternatives to capitalism . . . in the midst of capitalism” (Miyazaki 2003, 4). Perhaps it even involves emulating the hope of capitalists who, according to David Harvey (2000, 254), “have rarely lacked the courage of” their own minds.

No strangers to these theorists, people from both above and below the party started looking forward to experiencing a new, more democratic reality within the context of the EU and the Eurozone. Thus, on the very day that Syriza won the elections, the party reassured Greeks that hope had won and had returned to Europe. When the new government (an unexpected coalition of Syriza with the extreme right-wing Independent Greeks) began to renegotiate with the Eurogroup over the memoranda instead of tearing them up, its supporters realized that hope can also be defined as “that-which-is-not-yet-reachable,” that which includes the “waiting time of hope” and the unavoidable connection between hope and hopelessness (Crapanzano 2003, 5–15). For the next five months, Greeks learned how to “simply wait for something, anything, to happen” (Crapanzano 2003, 18). Unsupported by future-oriented slogans and humiliated by the Eurogroup’s ultimatum to either leave the Eurozone or sign a new memorandum, both proponents and opponents of Syriza kept oscillating between hope and hopelessness, longings and fears of losing everything. Hope came back full-fledged on Sunday, July 5, 2015, when 62% of Greeks voted “no” to the referendum asking them if they supported or rejected the EU’s proposal for new austerity policies. Alas, in the following days, it became clear that the Eurogroup’s blackmail of Greek negotiators would lead to a new memorandum. The No-voters’ joyful hope gave way to frustration and anger; the fervent proponents of Syriza felt what Walter Benjamin once called the melancholy of the Left; the Yes-voters felt relieved but perplexed. For a while, different kinds of hopelessness coupled with a little bit of hope were expressed by Greek and foreign analysts. Citing Giorgio Agamben’s statement that thought is the courage of hopelessness, Slavoj Žižek (2015) suggested to Greeks that to imagine an “alternative . . . prevents us thinking through to the end the deadlock of our predicament.” True courage, for Žižek, would be “to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlights of another train approaching us from the opposite direction.” Instead of “mobilizing large crowds with crowd-pleasing slogans,” we would do better to “face the greatest challenge of how to push things further after the first enthusiastic stage is over.”

By the end of August, in the midst of a paralyzing perplexity and hopelessness, Tsipras’s announcement of new elections on September 20 led political parties to adopt new future-oriented mottos. Despite its attempt to reverse a melancholic sense of self-defeat, Syriza left hope behind. Hope only reappeared in occasional articles written by journalists and intellectuals, or in TV and radio conversations with those who left Syriza and founded a new party (Popular Unity). The two principal adversaries, Syriza on the left and New Democracy on the right, chose slogans that downplayed the waiting—and hence passive—dimension of hope and instead stressed its active, forward-looking temporality. “Only forward,” said Syriza; “Greece forward,” countered New Democracy. To these crowd-pleasing slogans, Syriza added “we get rid of the old, we win the tomorrow” and “tomorrow has a name.” Meanwhile, New Democracy promised to “bring back joy [kefi] and creativity” to “melancholic” Greeks. When European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker and company made it clear that Greek parties should establish large multiparty coalitions so that, regardless of who won, the new government could guarantee the implementation of the new memorandum, the leader of PASOK expressed her hope of participating in the new government with the slogan “Stop listening to the two gladiators, because hope demands collaborations.” Syriza won the September 20 elections and chose to collaborate with the right-wing Independent Greeks exclusively. In the days that followed, foreign journalists kept informing their publics that Greece’s political culture does not include the ethos of collaboration or of coalition-building.

Today, the pressure exercised by the EU upon the Syriza–Independent Greeks government to coalesce with the rest of the democratic parties is stronger than ever. The small parties oscillate between negating and hoping or even yearning for such a coalition, while a large number of Greeks seem to find some hope in it. Is coalition, then, a redefinition of hope as a “possibility of finding alternatives to capitalism . . . in the midst of capitalism,” as Hirokazu Miyazaki would have it? Or is it Žižek’s neoliberal alternative that “prevents us thinking through to the end the deadlock of our predicament”?


Crapanzano, Vincent. 2003. “Reflections on Hope as a Category of Social and Psychological Analysis.” Cultural Anthropology 18, no. 1: 3–32.

Harvey, David. 2000. Spaces of Hope. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Miyazaki, Hirokazu. 2003. “Economy of Dreams: The Production of Hope in Anthropology and Finance.” Working Paper no. 15. Center for the Study of Economy and Society, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

Zigon, Jarrett. 2009. “Hope Dies Last: Two Aspects of Hope in Contemporary Moscow.” Anthropological Theory 9, no. 3: 253–71.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2015. “Slavoj Žižek on Greece: The Courage of Hopelessness.” New Statesman, July 20.