By Theodoros Rakopoulos
I am sipping salepi (salep), a popular hot beverage, in Thessaloniki’s Aristotle square, at the evening of the 25th of January, after the exit polls for what is hailed as a historical election are out. Lefties are gathered around me, chatting, chanting and even dancing: SYRIZA has won by a landslide. The salepi seller is a Greek from the Xanthi area, ethnically Turk, and stemming from what is conventionally, if unproblematically, called ‘a Muslim background’. He belongs to one of the most marginalized and oppressed groups in Greece; his job is extremely precarious. He explains to me that he got a bus early that morning to visit Xanthi and ‘vote for that kid’; that kid being Alexis Tsipras, the 40-year old maverick leader of SYRIZA. Then he adds a phrase that elucidates the profound class immobility of the country: “I don’t care; whoever wins, I shall still be on the streets, selling salepi; but I do care about the country, and the kid is the only moral person out there”.
Can elections produce embodied knowledge and collective sentiment? And most importantly, can they produce breach? The classic mantra ‘if elections were to change anything, they would be illegal’, falsely attributed to Emma Goldman, comes to mind. Part of the radical suspicion towards elections might be rooted in that the idea of individualist egalitarianism is intrinsic in contemporary election systems, rituals and processes. The adult citizen walks into a voting booth, to cast a personal opinion-cum-decision, which collectively produces, in the sum of its equal siblings across a sovereign territory, a governing administration for the coming years. This collective individualism as the normative method of voting, however, is coupled by the ritualized collective gatherings to celebrate a welcoming event, most often a shift in public decision and a breach in an administrative continuum.