PROJECT: Youth – Voice On

PROJECT: Youth – Voice On

Project: Youth – Voice On
Young people’s participation in mobilisations

Young people’s participation in mobilisations: A brief exploration

There is a deeply rooted perception that younger people participate in social movements and protest mobilisations in greater numbers and with more intensity than the middle and/or older age groups. However, this perception is based more on certain stereotypes than on factual data. Eteron’s recent research “Youth – Voice On” that focuses on the stances of young people aged between 17 and 34 on a range of political, value and ideological issues, is a significant input as it contributes precisely to the creation of a reliable database that can be used for more empirically accurate analyses.

When it comes to the participation of young people in mobilisations, which is the focus point of the present note, Eteron’s research helps us understand what is the current situation and how did young people react after the Tempi train accident and the mobilisations that followed. This data could be used to carry out comparative analyses with the corresponding stances of young people after major protest events in the past, and/or more generally with other empirical research that has been conducted on the attitudes and political behaviour of younger age groups.

Young people are expected to be more involved in protest movements than those belonging to older age groups, not so much because of some idealised and rather romanticised notion of the supposedly inherent radicalism of youth, but mainly because of the comparatively greater resources, mainly in terms of time, that in modern societies younger people have available. Indeed, in the decades following the Second World War, the expansion of the policy regarding compulsory education and the increase of people who decided to go into higher education, contributed to the fact that large segments of the population were excluded from the labour market for a number of years and this usually led to a delay in undertaking family responsibilities.

As a result, the amount of available time for possible participation in collective action projects was increased. Also, the pupil or student status can indeed create collective identities, but this does not mean that they automatically result in the kind of collective identities found in social movements. Movement collective identities are much more about the development of political self-consciousness, joint participation and the dynamics that are generated in it than about any exogenous characteristics.

The very concept of youth is socially constructed and its specific content varies from one period to the next. Many of the main protagonists of the French Revolution would by today’s standards be considered absurdly young to undertake such a far-reaching task, but in their time, people around the age of 30 were not considered to be all that young. Going back to the current conditions and conceptualisations, we shall attempt, through a brief, and therefore de facto incomplete, historical overview of some important mobilisations in the Greek social formation of the past few decades, in order to explore the contribution of youth participation and its connection to the overall political orientation of each time period.

From the very beginning of the Third Hellenic Republic, the student uprisings at the Law Faculty and the National Technical University (known in Greece as the Polytechnic school) in 1973, which in the wider context of the anti-dictatorship movement did not merely mark the onset of the independent political intervention of the youth movement, but also produced catalytic political results, were of crucial importance. The student movement in the years following the regime change (i.e. the era called Metapolitefsi that started after the fall of the dictatorship in 1974) and up until the early 1980s was massive and contributed decisively to the consolidation and deepening of the young democracy.

Young people at that time participated by the tens of thousands in the political youth wings of both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary parties of the Left, while youth participation in the various anarchist collectives was also strong. The progressive demands and claims of the student movement are in tandem with those of the workers’ movement, in which young people are also actively involved. The mass political mobilisation of Greek civil society, with the always decisive contribution of young people, also led to the revival of the feminist movement, the re-emergence of the peace movement, the emergence for the first time in Greece of an ecological movement, and the emergence on a smaller scale of movements against compulsory conscription and in favour of the rights of LGBTQI individuals.

In this period of political turmoil, a large and very visible percentage of young people are mobilising collectively and becoming involved in all kinds of social and political change initiatives that envision the socialist transformation of Greek society.

When PASOK (the Panhellenic Socialist Movement) rose to power, the goal of political change and some of the social movements’ demands and claims started to be met and/or integrated in State policies. The partial integration of some demands is accompanied by the incorporation of several young activists either into State mechanisms and institutions and/or by the assumption of family responsibilities. In the 1980s, the radicalism of the previous decade has subsided, while a withdrawal from the public sphere, political cynicism and the values of individualism are steadily gaining ground both in society in general and among young people in particular.

The political youth and student factions affiliated to left-wing parties still attract mass participation from students, but it is clear that the visionary element has now receded. Political participation is rather passive and is more about integration and acceptance of bureaucratic structures and mechanisms. Besides, the hegemony of the Left amongst students, in all its aspects, which was absolute until that time, is not only being challenged but eventually ended up being overturned. For the first time ever, DAP, the student wing of Nea Dimokratia (the right-wing party New Democracy), won the student elections of 1987.

From then on and to this day, DAP dominates in Greek universities. The conservative orientation of the Greek youth is in line with the general conservative orientation in Greece and abroad. The 1980s close with two significant events that mark the profound political defeat of the Left: in 1989 the actually existing socialist regimes collapse one after the other worldwide, while in Greece the unified coalition of the parliamentary parties of the Left (Synaspismos or SYN) forms a coalition government with Kostas Mitsotakis’ Nea Dimokratia (ND). A direct consequence of the ND-SYN coalition government was the division and, essentially, the dissolution of the political youth branches of the parties that made up Synaspismos.

The beginning of the new decade is marked by the dominance of the free market and the ideology of the so-called “end of history”. Private TV channels and mass-circulation lifestyle magazines unabatedly promote a mix of neoliberal and conservative values that is favourably received by a large part of the public and young people at the time. A first resounding response to this ideological and political dominance of the Right comes rather unexpectedly from the student movement of 1990-91.

High school students at the time, react to the authoritarian provisions that the Ministry of Education’s bill attempted to reinstate by occupying schools all over the country and, along with other members of the educational community (teachers and university students), created a massive resistance movement that forced the ND government to back down and withdraw the controversial bill. However, this movement, despite its forcefulness and mass participation rates, proved to be more of a flash in the pan than a turning point towards the Left. The following year, many of those same young people participate in the nationalist rallies over the “Macedonian issue” organised by the ND government with the support of the opposition parties [with the exception of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), which has since left Synaspismos].

Furthermore, the occasional mass mobilisations of the workers’ movement at the time against attempted privatisations, were mainly rearguard battles of a defensive nature. When PASOK returned to power in 1993, the organised trade union movement unwittingly came to terms with the policy of partial privatisations implemented by the new government. The youth of the time once again goes along with the broader political arrangements and ideologies that prevail in Greek society. A noteworthy development in the students’ sphere is the creation of the EAAK students party by extra-parliamentary left organisations and many individuals who were not affiliated with any political party. In a period of conservatisation, EAAK didn’t just manage to keep student radicalism alive, even if only in minority terms, but also experimented with anti-hierarchical and horizontal forms of organisation. It was only towards the end of the 1990s that the Greek Communist Youth (KNE) began to re-establish a relatively massive presence, mainly through the KKE’s strong involvement in the protests against NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia.

At the same time, away from the universities, in local neighbourhood hangouts, a small number of young people joined the anti-authoritarian and anarchist scene. As it turned out during the demonstrations against globalisation that took place at the turn of the century, the two hundred “known-unknowns” (meaning the unnamed usual suspects) as they were called in news aphorisms were probably a few thousand spread accross the country.

In the first decade of the new century, even though the political correlations and ideological premises have not changed substantially, a share of the youth reacted when they felt that their expectations of participation had been dashed and that they were unable to follow the dominant consumption norms. In the all-levels education movement of 2006-07, and even more so in the December 2008 uprising, the young people involved reject government policies and state repression without putting forward a vision for the future or adopting innovative organisational forms.

It is rather indicative that through these mobilisations the youth branch of Synaspismos manages to acquire a significant number of members for the first time ever, but still the bureaucratic organisation and logic was never challenged. When the capitalist crisis breaks out and the Greek economy collapses, the role of the youth and the student movement in the mobilisations against the austerity measures and the Memoranda that follow is of minor significance.

In the mobilisations of 2010-2012, which were the most numerous in the whole Third Hellenic Republic era in terms of participation, the trade unions and the parties of the Left were at the forefront. Even in the concurrent occasion of the anti-memoranda movement of the Indignados (“Aganaktismeni” in Greek) in 2011, the leading voice is that of activists who were young in the previous decades. Young people are once again following and keeping up with the existing general currents and trends in society. They participate, as do older people, in the various social economy and solidarity projects that emerge at the time, some joining the far right while others strengthen the ranks of the anti-fascist movement.

Even after 2015, when the main political exponent of the opposition against the Memoranda forms a government coalition with a nationalist party and soon joins actually existing neoliberalism, young people do not react much, but opt, just like the older generations have done in the past, for either integration or withdrawal.

In the current decade of multiple crises and the almost absolute political dominance of the Greek Right, young people are indeed leading some major mobilisation protests (after the Nea Smyrni events or the Tempi train accident) and actively participate in a number of issue-based movements (LGBTQ+, anti-racist, environmental).

Therefore, there seems to be a shift in the pattern as young people seem to be on a different track from the rest of society. Of course, one could argue that once again, as in the 1990s, this is just a small minority of young people whose political footprint is being magnified due to the political bankruptcy of the ruling Left and cite the results of the recent parliamentary elections which show that young people also voted mainly for conservative and far-right parties. The difference, however, is that the contradictions caused by the successive crises are of such magnitude that they render the ideological dominance and political coherence of the ruling power bloc very weak, while today’s children, unlike all the previous generations after the Metapolitefsi regime change, have known nothing but crises, with all the unpredictable consequences that this may entail for the evolution of their political behaviour.

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