The onset of the economic crisis and the austerity measures outlined in the EU\IMF bailout were followed by a series of large-scale protests in Greece. The continuous mobilization, for several weeks, of the Indignant Citizens was a distinct part of the overall events during this period. In this article, we focus on the mass mobilization of protesters who occupied Syntagma Square in May–June 2011. For our analysis, we conducted semi-structured interviews with the protesters involved in the mobilization. Focusing on their political attitudes, the article approaches their perspectives on democracy. Our results suggest that the Indignants’ acceptance of an idealized form of democracy on the one hand, and the distrust of parliamentary practices, actors, and performance on the other, signify a demand for a new politics beyond the framework of representative democracy. Disappointment with representative politics and the glorification of direct democracy constitute the most important facets of this mobilization which left its mark on the Greek political scene.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
On October 15, 2011, a series of mobilizations took place on a global scale in 951 cities in 82 countries (Castells 2012, pp. 3–4).
In Greece, soon after the implementation of the harsh austerity measures in 2011, which were part of the bailout agreement, the government had to face up to its social implications (Matsaganis 2013; Mitsopoulos and Pelagidis 2011). Although protests against austerity measures occurred immediately after the bailout agreement (Kousis 2014), they reached their peak in late May 2011 before the Greek Parliament ratified, by a thin majority, the Medium-term Fiscal Strategy program in June 2011. By that time, what it is now known in Greece as the “Indignant Citizens Movement” had been formed (Kostopoulos 2013).
For further details on the composition of the sample, see the Appendix.
In qualitative research, there is a distinction between respondent and informant; initialized by ethnographic research, participants in in-depth interviews are approached as informants and not as simple respondents (Dicicco-Bloom and Crabtree 2006). “Informants provide the study investigator with insights into a matter but also can suggest sources for corroboratory or contrary evidence” (Yin 2002, p. 90).
However, in recent comparative research, Greece appears to have a legitimacy crisis because of the alarming decline in diffuse support for democracy; short-term factors like the government’s performance can affect support for democracy but the disturbing rise of the extreme-right is an alarming point, indicating that specific support can also undermine the diffuse support for the democratic regime (Pequito Teixeira et al. 2014).
This very negative opinion among actors and institutions of representative democracy in Greece has deep roots: dissatisfaction with democracy and low confidence in political authorities and institutions already showed worrying trends in the late 1990s (see Eurobarometer Opinion Poll, 47.1, 1997). The situation did not improve in the following decade according to surveys on political confidence carried out by the opinion polling company Public Issue (http://www.publicissue.gr/1378/institutions-analysis-2009/).
Data from a recent survey in Greece show that almost 60% of respondents support the establishment of referenda at citizens’ behest (http://www.publicissue.gr/13108/varometro-jun-2016-refo/). Meanwhile, the recent constitutional amendment proposals, initiated by the Greek Government, strengthen direct democracy by allowing for the direct election of the President of the Greek Republic and referenda by popular demand (Grigoriadis 2016).
Amnesty International. (2012). Police violence in Greece. Not just “isolated incidents”. London: Amnesty International Index number: EUR 25/005/2012.
Ancelovici, M. (2016). Occupy Montreal and the politics of horizontalism. In P. Dufour, H. Nez, & M. Ancelovici (Eds.), Street politics in the age of austerity: from the indignados to occupy. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Aslanidis, P. (2016). Populist social movements of the great recession. Mobilization: An International Quarterly, 21(3), 301–32.
Aslanidis, P., & Kaltwasser, C. R. (2016). Dealing with populists in government: the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition in Greece. Democratization, 23(6), 1077–1091.
Aslanidis, P., & Marantzidis, N. (2016). The impact of the Greek Indignados on Greek politics. Southeastern Europe, 40(2), 125–157.
Barr, R. R. (2009). Populists, outsiders and anti-establishment politics. Party Politics, 15(1), 29–48.
Bennett, W. L., & Segerberg, A. (2012). The logic of connective action. Information, Communication & Society, 15(5), 739–768.
Blee, K. M., & Taylor, V. (2002). Semi-structured interviewing in social movement research. In B. Klandermans & S. Staggenborg (Eds.), Methods of social movement research. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Blokker, P. (2012). A political sociology of European “anti-politics” and dissent (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 2168323). Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network.
Carty, V. (2015). The Indignados and Occupy Wall street social movements: global opposition to the Neoliberalization of society as enabled by digital technology. Tamara: Journal for Critical Organization Inquiry, 13(3).
Castells, M. (2012). Networks of outrage and hope: social movements in the internet age (1st ed.). Cambridge: Polity.
Colaguori, C. (2010). Symbolic violence and the violation of human rights: continuing the sociological critique of domination. International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory, 3(2), 388–400.
Cossarini, P. (2014). Protests, emotions and democracy: theoretical insights from the Indignados movement. Global Discourse, 4(2–3), 291–304.
Dahl, R. A. (2006). On political equality. New Haven: Yale University Press.
della Porta, D., & Andretta, M. (2002). Social movements and public administration: spontaneous citizens’ committees in Florence. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 26(2), 244–265.
Demertzis, N. (2013). Introduction: theorizing the emotions-politics nexus. In N. Demertzis (Ed.), Emotions in politics (pp. 1–16). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dicicco-Bloom, B., & Crabtree, B. F. (2006). The qualitative research interview. Medical Education, 40(4), 314–321.
Douzinas, C. (2011). Introduction. Retrieved June 22, 2011, from http://backdoorbroadcasting.net/2011/06/the-rise-of-the-indignant-spain-greece-europe/
Fuster Morell, M. (2012). The free culture and 15M movements in Spain: composition, social networks and synergies. Social Movement Studies, 11(3–4), 386–392.
Georgiadou, V., & Kafe, A. (2017). The indignados movement as a trigger event for far right-wing radicalization in Greece. Presented at the SEESOX Workshop for “Right-wing and left-wing radicalization in contemporary European democracies: cross-theoretical and empirical perspectives”, Oxford, June 1st.
Gould-Wartofsky, M. A. (2015). The occupiers: the making of the 99 percent movement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Graham, G. (1983). What is special about democracy? Mind, 92(365), 94–102.
Green, J. E. (2010). The eyes of the people: democracy in an age of spectatorship. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Grigoriadis, I. (2016). The Greece constitutional reform process: towards direct democracy and secularism? Retrieved August 28, 2016, from http://www.constitutionnet.org/news/greece-constitutional-reform-process-towards-direct-democracy-and-secularism
Hsieh, H.-F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277–1288.
Hughes, N. (2011). “Young people took to the streets and all of a sudden all of the political parties got old”: the 15M movement in Spain. Social Movement Studies, 10(4), 407–413.
Hurl-Eamon, J. (2005). Gender and petty violence in London, 1680–1720. Ohio State University Press.
Jasper, J. M. (2006). Emotion and motivation. In Oxford handbook of contextual political studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jasper, J. M., & Duyvendak, J. W. (2015). Players and arenas: the interactive dynamics of protest. Amsterdam University Press.
Juris, J. S. (2012). Reflections on #occupy everywhere: social media, public space, and emerging logics of aggregation. American Ethnologist, 39(2), 259–279.
Kaika, M., & Karaliotas, L. (2014). The spatialization of democratic politics: insights from Indignant Squares. European Urban and Regional Studies, 1–15.
Kaldor, M., Selchow, S., Sean, D., & Tamsin, M.-L. (2012). The “bubbling up” of subterranean politics in Europe. London: Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit, LSE.
Karamichas, J. (2009). The December 2008 riots in Greece. Social Movement Studies, 8(3), 289–293.
Karamichas, J. (2012). Square politics. Key characteristics of the indignant mobilizations in Greece. In 62nd PSA Annual International Conference. Belfast.
Karyotis, G., & Rüdig, W. (2017). The three waves of anti-austerity protest in Greece, 2010–2015. Political Studies Review. https://doi.org/10.1177/1478929916685728.
Katsambekis, G. (2014). The multitudinous moment(s) of the people: democratic agency disrupting established binarisms. In G. Katsambekis & A. Kioupkiolis (Eds.), Radical democracy and collective movements today: the biopolitics of the multitude versus the hegemony of the people. Fanham: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd..
Klandermans, B. (2004). The demand and supply of participation: social-psychological correlates of participation in social movements. In D. A. Snow, S. A. Soule, & H. Kriesi (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to social movements (pp. 360–379). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Klandermans, B. (2015). Motivations to action. In D. della Porta & M. Diani (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of social movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Klandermans, B., & Staggenborg, S. (2002). Methods of social movement research. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Kornetis, K. (2013). Children of the dictatorship: student resistance, cultural politics and the “long 1960s” in Greece. New York: Berghahn Books.
Kostopoulos, C. (2013). Framing the Indignant Citizens Movement. Retrieved July 18, 2016, from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/eurocrisispress/2013/12/20/framing-the-indignant-citizens-movement/
Kousis, M. (2014). The transnational dimension of the Greek protest campaign against troika memoranda and austerity policies, 2010−2012. In D. Della Porta & A. Mattoni (Eds.), Spreading protest: social movements in times of crisis. Colchester: ECPR Press.
Kouvelakis, S. (2011). The Greek cauldron. New Left Review, 72, 17–32.
Kriesi, H. (2016). Mobilization of protest in the age of austerity. In M. Ancelovici, P. Dufour, & H. Nez (Eds.), Street politics in the age of austerity: from the indignados to occupy. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Kuzel, A. J. (1992). Sampling in qualitative inquiry. In B. F. Crabtree & W. L. Miller (Eds.), Doing qualitative research (pp. 31–44). Newbury Park: SAGE.
Lyman, P. (2004). The domestication of anger the use and abuse of anger in politics. European Journal of Social Theory, 7(2), 133–147.
Macpherson, R., & Smith, D. A. (2013). Occupy as a world anti-systemic movement. Peace Review, 25(3), 367–375.
Marcus, G. E. (2000). Emotions in politics. Annual Review of Political Science, 3(1), 221–250.
Matsaganis, M. (2013). The Greek crisis: social impact and policy responses. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
Mayring, P. (2000). Qualitative content analysis. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 1(2).
Meyer, D. S., & Minkoff, D. C. (2004). Conceptualizing political opportunity. Social Forces, 82(4), 1457–1492.
Mitsopoulos, M., & Pelagidis, T. (2011). Understanding the Greek crisis. World Economics, 12(1), 177–192.
Oikonomakis, L., & Roos, J. E. (2013). “Que No Nos Representan” The crisis of representation and the resonance of the real democracy movement from the Indignados to occupy. Presented at the Street Politics in the Age of Austerity: From the Indignados to Occupy, University of Mondreal.
Opp, K.-D. (2009). Theories of political protest and social movements: a multidisciplinary introduction, critique, and synthesis. London: Routledge.
Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
Pequito Teixeira, C., Tsatsanis, E., & Belchior, A. M. (2014). Support for democracy in times of crisis: diffuse and specific regime support in Portugal and Greece. South European Society and Politics, 19(4), 501–518.
Petropoulos, N. (2014). A sociopolitical profile and the political impact of the Greek Indignados. An explanatory study. In N. Petropoulos & G. Tsobanoglou (Eds.), The debt crisis in the Eurozone. Social impacts. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Ritchie, J. (2003). In J. Lewis (Ed.), Qualitative research practice: a guide for social science students and researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.
Rosenthal, N., & Schwartz, M. (1989). Spontaneity and democracy in social protest. International Social Movement Research, 2, 33–59.
Rüdig, W., & Karyotis, G. (2013). Beyond the usual suspects? New participants in anti-austerity protests in Greece. Mobilization: an International Quarterly, 18(3), 313–330.
Rüdig, W., & Karyotis, G. (2014). Who protests in Greece? Mass opposition to austerity. British Journal of Political Science, 44(3), 487–513.
Rushkoff, D. (2013). Permanent revolution: occupying democracy. The Sociological Quarterly, 54(2), 164–173.
Sartori, G. (1976). Parties and party systems: Volume 1: a framework for analysis. Cambridge: CUP Archive.
Schreier, M. (2012). Qualitative content analysis in practice. London: SAGE.
Simiti, M. (2016). Rage and protest: the case of the Greek indignant movement. Contention: The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest, 3(2), 33–50.
Smucker, J. M. (2013). Occupy: a name fixed to a flashpoint. The Sociological Quarterly, 54(2), 219–225.
Sotirakopoulos, N., & Sotiropoulos, G. (2013). “Direct democracy now!”: the Greek indignados and the present cycle of struggles. Current Sociology, 61(4), 443–456.
Tausch, N., Becker, J. C., Spears, R., Christ, O., Saab, R., Singh, P., & Siddiqui, R. N. (2011). Explaining radical group behavior: developing emotion and efficacy routes to normative and nonnormative collective action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(1), 129–148.
The Economist. (2011). Europe’s most earnest protesters. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/18959259
Theocharis, Y., Lowe, W., van Deth, J. W., & Garcia-Albacete, G. (2013). Using twitter to mobilise protest action: transnational online mobilisation patterns and action repertoires in the occupy Wall Street, indignados and aganaktismenoi. Movements (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 2221824). Rochester: Social Science Research Network.
Tormey, S. (2012). Occupy Wall Street: from representation to post-representation—Open Access Library. Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, 5, 132–137.
Tormey, S. (2015). The end of representative politics. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Urbinati, N. (2006). Representative democracy: principles and genealogy. University of Chicago Press.
Van Aelst, P., & Walgrave, S. (2001). Who is that (wo)man in the street? From the normalisation of protest to the normalisation of the protester. European Journal of Political Research, 39(4), 461–486.
Van Stekelenburg, J., & Klandermans, B. (2013). The social psychology of protest. Current Sociology, 61(5–6), 886–905.
Van Troost, D., Van Stekelenburg, J., & Klandermans, B. (2013). Emotions of protest. In N. Demertzis (Ed.), Emotions in politics (pp. 186–203). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Yin, R. K. (2002). Case study research. Design and methods. Thousand Oaks: SAGE.
The authors would like to express our very great appreciation to all the anonymous participants in the indignants’ protest that were willing to share their opinions and beliefs. We are also grateful to the attendants of the Dissemination Conference of the CAICG Project “Collective Action of Indignant Citizens in Greece: causes, content, agency, and implications for policy makers” (Thessaloniki, October 30th, 2015), where previous version of this paper was presented, for their comments and suggestions. We wish to acknowledge the help provided by Zoi Lefkofridi and Vera Tika in data analysis process and finally, we would like to thank the Editor and the blind reviewers for their very thoughtful critiques on the previous draft of this article.
This study was funded by CAICG project: Collective Action of Indignant Citizens in Greece: causes, content, agency, and implications for policy makers—EU Framework Program “Aristeia II.”
Conflict of Interest
Author Vasiliki Georgiadou declares that she has no conflict of interest.
Author Anastasia Kafe declares that she has no conflict of interest.
Author Spyridoula Nezi declares that she has no conflict of interest.
Author Costis Pieridis declares that he has no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
About this article
Cite this article
Georgiadou, V., Kafe, A., Nezi, S. et al. Plebiscitarian Spirit in the Square. Key Characteristics of the Greek Indignants. Int J Polit Cult Soc 32, 43–59 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-017-9272-8