“Youth – Voice On” is a follow up on Eteron’s “Gen Z – Voice On” project, in which we broaden the field of our research and initiatives to a wider age range of young people aged 17-34 years old.
The project’s aim is to outline the profile of the young generation by recording, analysing and discussing young people’s views on a range of political, value and ideological issues, such as: the institutions, democracy, the economy, immigration, gender issues and expectations for the future.
Through research, networking and participatory initiatives, our intention is to empower the voices of the younger generation and understand their characteristic traits, their perceptions as well as their feelings and attitudes towards political participation.
The project started in May 2023. Contact: email@example.com
Its waters remain uncharted, but less so than in the past. The painful Tempi context has brought the matter back to the forefront, but arguably this didn’t happen just because of the current conjuncture. Nowadays, in addition to an ever-growing rich dialogue, we also have an increased body of research data on what people that we call “youth” in Greece today are and what they may want – so, “youth” either in an overall, broader interpretation or in terms of specific generational profiles, such as millennials and gen Z.
The “Youth – Voice On” project widens the scope of the previously conducted “Gen Z – Voice On” research, by exploring stances and perceptions across a wider age range (17-34 years old), in a broader conceptualisation of “youth”. The fact that it almost coincided with the May elections gives it added value, as one can compare, for instance, the dominant feelings regarding the Tempi accident (outrage: 43.7%) with the actual voting behaviour of younger people -as captured in the exit polls at least.
Although this is not our focus here, let us make a preliminary observation that may better elucidate what we shall argue next. This outrage does not seem to have been automatically translated into an anti-government vote, since Nea Dimokratia maintained or even boosted its influence on young people (e.g. 17-24-year-olds), while SYRIZA suffered the heaviest losses, although said generations were considered, and quite rightly so, to be a friendly audience. In fact, almost all the rest of the Left/Centre-Left (from PASOK-KINAL and KKE to Mera25 and the more obscure Plefsi Eleftherias) seems to have recorded gains, and the same goes for Elliniki Lysi and Niki on the far right end of the political spectrum.
This electoral snapshot raises a broader issue. Granted, the emotions that a moral shock may evoke do not automatically translate into a political identity. One would argue that political mediation channels as well as some necessary and appropriate social conditions are needed in order to make this process possible. At the same time, however, there seems to be something else that is missing from the general picture. As Antonio Gramsci has explained long ago, the elections are a moment which nevertheless encapsulates and crystallises trends that have been developing and taking shape for years. So is it possible that long-term processes of identity forging might better explain what the “young generation” is and what it wants rather than specific incidents, however dramatic and charged they may be?
If we phrase the question in this way, and consider it beyond the electoral context, Eteron’s research presents us with some very useful data, or at least indications. To summarise it somewhat provocatively right from the start, we could say that the overall picture for young people aged 17-34 in Greece today suggests that youth has low expectations and major frustrations/ disappointments, but at the same time is more demanding than what its aspiring political spokespersons sometimes think. It may sound like a paradox, but it is not.
An extremely enlightening feature of this insight of the minds of young people, which exceeds the current electoral context, is the mapping of their ideological stances. From the unstable and still developing politicisation of the first post-pubescent age to the largely established identity of the thirty-year-olds, the Greek “youth” appears to be moving along a progressive rather than a conservative ideological trajectory.
Indeed, the dominant identifications with an ideological-political current are stronger in the case of social democracy (12.4%) and democratic socialism (14.7%) and much less so with neoliberalism (4.3%) or nationalism (5.6%), or with the more “hard-line” ideological categories of communism (5.1%) or anarchism (3.4%). This finding can be interpreted in conjunction with that of the previous “Gen Z-Voice On” research as well as other surveys on younger generations, in which we saw that Gen Z tends to position itself more to the left of the political centre than to its right, with the largest concentrations being in positions 4 (10.2%) and 5 (14.8%) of the Left-Right axis.
At this point, however, there is one more point that needs to be made. The identification with “liberalism” is significant (11.3%) and, more importantly, a large share, more than 1 in 5, declare that they identify with “no ideology, I believe in the individual”. Assuming that the former refers to a liberal tradition that emphasises on individual rights and that the latter points to an element of pronounced individualism, then we need to complete the picture. Greek youth today is not “individualistic”; but it is, just like young people in Europe and the Western world in general, strongly individualised, attaching particular value to the possibility – or the freedom – for each and every person to craft his/her individual biography, in a context where human and individual rights weigh heavily. Therefore, they are forming a progressive identity, with democracy and rights at the epicentre, against all authoritarianism.
The other side of the image described above is distance and suspicion towards institutions and organised political representation. It certainly comes as no surprise that 88.5% state that they do not trust political parties. This constant and entrenched foundation of distrust is also expressed in response to the Tempi tragedy: 72.7% said that the accident had affected their opinion of all the political parties that have governed the country. Perhaps here we can find a more satisfactory explanation why the tragic event did not have a major impact on the final choice of young people at the ballot box: none of the political actors interested in governing the country is “shielded” against young people’s suspicions. This is a long-standing and deeply rooted pattern, with clear political consequences.
What’s more, the Tempi accident revealed young people’s not temporary but rather more permanent frustration with the country’s governing system – a frustration that we can assume simply surfaced after the railway accident but has its roots at least in the events of the past decade. Eight out of 10 question the State’s credibility, and almost as many of them (77.3%) reported that their view regarding the country’s future has been affected, apparently for the worse. A smaller but still majoritarian percentage expressed a change of opinion regarding privatisations, a major public policy issue on which there has been a voluntary or forced consensus in the past few years (64.2%).
However, the fact that the opinion that the rail network should be re-nationalised is only strongly supported by the majority amongst the supporters of only one of the above key ideological attitudes (52% amongst those who identify with democratic socialism, but 42.6% amongst the supporters of social democracy, 26.5% amongst liberals and 29.7% amongst those who picked “no ideology, I believe in the individual”) may indicate a view that complex problems require complex solutions.
To summarise our main point: the key word is the frustration of young people’s expectations from the political system, the state (i.e. the mechanism which, according to our social contract, has undertaken to offer protection to its citizens and the possibility for them to develop their aspirations in an environment of freedom and rights), and the foreseeable future. This is why the answer to the question “what should we do?” lies overwhelmingly on the side of individualism: our lives can be improved primarily through individual efforts (66.2%) – but not through individualism, as the view that our lives can be changed through networking and useful contacts only appeals to 24.1%. At the same time, of course, the purely political dimension is not negligible, since voting (35.5%) and collective actions (33.2%) remain significant pathways towards improving one’s living conditions.
Alongside the obvious concept of frustration, however, there is the more implicit notion of demandingness. It would be a mistake to think of frustration (only) as resignation. It possibly has the opposite effect. This individualistic, liberal, largely progressive youth formed its identity within a context of constant crises (permacrisis) and a horizon of internationally low expectations for the future. The Greek situation, after the ravaging effects of the economic crisis (not just when it comes to material poverty but also in terms of institutional, labour and cultural conditions) and the uneven social consequences of geopolitical instability or the pandemic, exacerbates the disillusionment.
At the same time, however, a generation that highly values democracy, human rights and freedoms, the ability of each and every one to shape their individual path, is at the same time a demanding generation that expresses a demand for a serious and coherent political representation if it is to trust the political system again – and especially from the progressive forces that correspond to its ideological profile. Young people are demanding when it comes to their education and universities, their working environment, the cultural sphere (and even the quality of the pre-election Tik Tok videos, which may make them cringe, but are appreciated when they are nice and well crafted).
Their demands are clearly stated. We need to address: the climate crisis, gender identities, decent work, democracy rather than authoritarianism. Moreover, we shall invoke data from the Eurobarometer Flash 502 “Youth and democracy in the European Year of Youth”, conducted in 2022 amongst people aged 15-30, which addresses the national and at the same time the transnational/ European context of the whole debate. In the question “What do you expect from the EU to do for your generation?”, among the many available answers the top four for young people in Greece were peace and international cooperation (42% vs. 37% in the EU average), decent employment opportunities (45% vs. 33%), fighting social inequalities (46% vs. 33%) and climate change (34% vs. 31%).
The question, in the end, is how to establish relations of political representation for this progressive, liberal, “rights-oriented”, frustrated and yet demanding generation – especially by those political actors who are closer to it but who should stop taking it for granted. There is no easy answer, since the people asking the question, the demand that is, are more demanding than is often assumed. However, no one from now on can bypass this (not exclusively Greek) paradox.