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Plebiscitarian Spirit in the Square. Key Characteristics of the Greek Indignants

Abstract

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.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    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).

  2. 2.

    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).

  3. 3.

    For further details on the composition of the sample, see the Appendix.

  4. 4.

    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).

  5. 5.

    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).

  6. 6.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/RealDemocracyGr

  7. 7.

    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/).

  8. 8.

    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).

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Acknowledgements

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.

Funding

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.”

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Correspondence to Vasiliki Georgiadou.

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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.

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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.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 1 Socio-demographic characteristics of the sample

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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

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Keywords

  • Indignants
  • Greece
  • Protest
  • Democracy
  • Anti-systemness
  • Violence