Like this article? Chip in to keep stories like these coming.


It’s official. Greece has become the first developed nation to default on its IMF imposed debt payments. It is a historical default, in terms of reshaping the Europe Union (EU) relations, the subsequent fate of the Union and overall its legitimacy as a political (and economical) project. It is also a historical moment as in showing that standing up against austerity is a real possibility within our current neoliberal contexts.

I landed in Athens yesterday. Flying in from Belgrade. I was late to check-in online and barely managed to reserve a somewhat front of the row seat. Once fastened to my chair, I started thinking that all the seats that showed up in grey as occupied (online) seemed to be now available (in person). Perhaps some people cancelled, I thought to myself. Quite a common reaction I suppose, given the tumultuous political circumstances. Most passengers seemed to be Greek. Eye exchanges were passing from one to another. Everybody was thinking about the same thing, myself included. What is going to happen now with Greece? There was heaviness in the air, that’s how I would describe it. Once landed, the All Passports line was at least four times longer than the EU line. It took me almost an hour to get through customs, while I usually fly through it in about 10 minutes or less. I did not expect to see so many tourists to be honest. Or perhaps this was merely coincidental. All the flights coming in the same time or some other thing like this, I thought. I also did not expect to see military personnel. There were quite a few army people passing through.

Purchased my metro ticket next. Got me thinking about the Greek practice of skipping subway tabs. There is a whole anarchist cultural practice in Athens of not paying for public transport while trying to avoid subsequent fines. Some have even written about this as a form of political résistance. Of course I could never do it. I am way too Canadianized for that. Yet I bought a discounted ticket in lieu. Scamming half way. Or resisting half way. Depending on perspective.

My subway ride to Piraeus was quiet for the most part. Had to change trains in Monastiraki, probably the busiest metro station in Athens after Syntagma. Somewhat I managed to get a seat, while usually I am getting squeezed standing up. Greeks are gregarious. Talking, laughing, smiling, arguing. Yet everyone was soundless this time around. Not a single word, nor a single smile. I have felt the same heaviness again. One Romanian beggar entered the cart playing some traditional inspired song at the accordion. He put his instrument down, sat on it and started staring. A non-purposive gaze.

The newspapers are full of articles about the detrimental effects of the potential Greek exit on the Greek people. And so they should. It is a big deal. But is hard for me to not wonder what will happen with the migrants. Although Greece is in a terrible economic and financial situation, it is still (ironically I know) in a better position than most other Balkan states. Migrants from Albania, Bulgaria and Romania are here in large numbers, either underemployed or also unemployed. Let alone what will happen with the migrants from Somalia, Siria and Afghanistan. Risking their lives to get to the Greek coast and then what? Not being able to transverse to Europe or perhaps not even having ‘access’ to become precariously employed?

I have finally got to the port. Purchased a boat ticket to some of the calmer areas of Greece. ”Cash only,” the teller said. ”No credit cards anymore.” Luckily I have managed to get to Greece with 300 euros I took out in Belgrade. Not that this was easy to do but at least I am one of the privileged few that has some 300 euros sitting around. It was interesting to me that Serbian banks do not give out euros. Unsure if this is part of some anti western practice or either related to some financial rationale — not that financials are not ideologically grounded — yet ”it is impossible,” I have been told.

”You need to get dinars from an ATM and exchange them at a foreign currency store.” Anyway, I managed to do so after hopping several exchange offices. Rewinding to the port of Piraeus, a lot more military here as well. I have talked with an Athenian friend of mine the night before my flight. ”The army is already preparing itself for disaster in Athens,” she said. ”They already set up.” It’s true; I could totally see Exarchia burning (i.e. Exarchia is Athens’ anarchist or so called ‘revolutionary’ neighbourhood). Cars are burning in Exarchia on a regular basis. They will certainly burn even more if the Greeks are to vote YES on Sunday.

And so I sailed away from Athens. Thinking that by no means this is a disastrous moment but rather one of hope. In an interview conducted in 2013 with the Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat, Syriza’s Prime Minister, Alex Tsipras, stated that: ”Europe will either be democratic and social or either it will no longer exist.” Paralleling Derrida’s notion of ”la démocratie à venir,” Horvat argues that the emancipatory future of Europe (l’avenir) will counter the expected and predicted future (avenir) of austerity and neoliberalism.

Due to semantics, this distinction is somewhat difficult to grasp in English. Future, in English, means future. The time that will come after the present. In French, however, the distinction between avenir and l’avenir leaves more room for conceptual experimentations. Avenir refers to the future (i.e. the prescriptive future if you like, the anticipated one, expectedly resulting from the current present). L’avenir in turn, refers to the future about to come, but which is unexpected, or as Derrida described it, which is not anticipated or predicted by the present. The future of Europe, Horvat states, rests in the choice between avenir and l’avenir. And the Greek referendum has the real possibility of moving us to the realm of l’avenir. Democracy is finally coming. And we are lucky enough to witness it.

Raluca Bejan

Raluca Bejan is an assistant professor of social work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. She has a PhD and a MSW from the University of Toronto, and a BA in political sciences from Lucian Blaga...