Days before this Sunday’s election in Greece, three young women with piercings and ironic T-shirts who sat outside a hipster coffee shop in an Athens neighborhood best known as a hub of anarchist fervor said they wanted stability.
“Money is important — you can’t live without money,” said Mara Katsitou, 22, a student who grew up during the country’s disastrous financial crisis and one day hoped to open a pharmacy. “There’s nothing that matters to someone more than the economy.”
As a result, she said, she would cast her vote for Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 55, the square, conservative prime minister who graduated from Harvard, who is fond of riding his bike and who, polls suggest, will win convincingly on Sunday in a second national election. With Mr. Mitsotakis — who is also the son of a former prime minister — Ms. Katsitou said, she had “definitely a better chance.” About a third of young voters like her feel the same, polls indicate.
After spending impressionable years amid so much panic, desperation and humiliation during the decade-long financial crisis that erupted in 2010 — and which collapsed the Greek economy — many of Greece’s depression-era children have grown up to say they have no interest in ever turning back.
In many quarters, youthful radicalism has given way to unexpected pragmatism, a yearning for prosperity and a steady hand, and an inclination to overlook or at least mute outrage over any number of scandals that have dogged Mr. Mitsotakis.
In recent days, a shipwreck that killed possibly more than 600 migrants has raised new questions about the Mitsotakis government’s hard-line measures to curb arrivals of migrants. The wiretapping of an opposition leader by the state’s intelligence service and Mr. Mitsotakis’s consolidation of Greek media has prompted concerns about the erosion of democratic norms. A train crash that killed 57 people in February revealed the shabby state of key Greek infrastructure, for which he apologized.
But for Greeks, including an increasing number of younger Greeks, polls show that all of those issues pale in comparison to the country’s economic stability and fortunes.
Mr. Mitsotakis’s government has spurred growth at twice the eurozone average by cutting taxes and debt, and by increasing digitization, minimum wages and pensions. Big multinational corporations are investing in the country. Tourism is skyrocketing. The country is paying back creditors ahead of schedule, increasing the chances of rating agencies lifting Greece’s bonds out of junk status.
“It’s all about jobs, about, you know, raising disposable income and bringing in a lot of investment and about growing the economy much faster,” Mr. Mitsotakis said in a recent interview. “This was always my bet, and I think that we delivered, if you look at the numbers.”
Greece’s 2010 debt crisis was a searing national catastrophe. Humiliating bailouts connected to seemingly endless austerity measures slashed household incomes by a third and sent unemployment skyrocketing as hundreds of thousands of businesses collapsed.
At the peak of the crisis, in 2013, nearly one in three Greeks were jobless, and many were disheartened after years of violent protests, in which demonstrators clashed with the police in the streets of Athens and other cities in clouds of tear gas. Scenes of the most desperate people trawling through bins for food — once unheard-of — shocked the majority of Greeks who struggled to make ends meet.
“We still have a deep sort of legacy of 10 years of a crisis,” Mr. Mitsotakis acknowledged in the interview. “Not many people appreciated how painful the crisis was — we lost 25 percent of our” gross domestic product.
Mr. Mitsotakis, the standard-bearer for the New Democracy party, has won over a sizable share of the generation that grew up in that time, increasing his support among voters aged 17 to 24 by three points, to 33 percent.
Just as telling, support among young voters for his leftist opponent, former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza party, has collapsed, falling to 24 percent from 38 percent since the 2019 elections, when Mr. Mitsotakis defeated him.
In an initial election in May, Mr. Mitsotakis’s party thrashed Syriza by 20 points, but it was not enough of a majority to lead a one-party government. Instead of cobbling together a coalition, Mr. Mitsotakis opted for another election. With a new, more favorable election law that gives a bonus of seats to the leading vote-getter, he now hopes to win a landslide victory that will allow him to govern alone.
Overall, Mr. Tsipras is trailing Mr. Mitsotakis by more than 20 points.
That is despite his efforts to depict Mr. Mitsotakis as an undemocratic, arrogant and unaccountable strongman who he says has overseen a “massive redistribution of wealth from the many to the few” in his four years in power.
Not all young voters, of course, are behind Mr. Mitsotakis. Many complain that the prosperity that is supposed to kick-start their lives is making things so costly that they cannot move out of their homes.
Not all of the economic indicators are good, either. Greece still has the European Union’s highest national debt, and it is the second-poorest nation in the European Union, after Bulgaria. Tax evasion is still common.
Mr. Tsipras has tried to convince young voters that, in fact, he, not Mr. Mitsotakis, is not only the true agent of change, but also of stability. He has promised financial relief, including better health benefits, though it remains unclear how those would be funded.
“We’ll fight so that hope for justice and prosperity for all is not lost in this country, for a fair society and prosperity for everyone,” Mr. Tsipras said this week at a campaign event in the western city of Patra.
Some voters, suffering under rising prices and exponentially increasing rents, support him.
“The crisis isn’t over; it’s still here,” said Grigoris Varsamis, 46, who said his record shop’s electric bills were through the roof and that he would vote for Mr. Tsipras.
But there is little doubt that Mr. Tsipras, a former Communist firebrand who governed in the latter years of the financial crisis, has been tainted by a lasting association with the pain of that era.
In 2015, under his leadership, Greeks voted to reject Europe’s draconian aid package, and Greece was nearly ejected from the eurozone. Social unrest returned and talk of “Grexit,” referring to Greece exiting the eurozone, mounted. Many young Greeks who grew up during that time feel scarred by the Syriza experience.
Grigoris Kikis, 26, an award-winning chef at the restaurant Upon in Athens, remembers that the financial crisis coincided with his trying to break into the world of restaurants as a 13-year-old volunteering in kitchens after school.
As restaurants closed and his father fretted about paying his workers, the chefs around him worried about the budgets for produce, meat, plates and glasses. When they wanted to try out a new dish, they could afford to test it only once.
Today, Mr. Kikis runs a popular bistro in Athens with a 300-label wine list, in-house coffee-roasting machines and an eclectic menu with plates tried 25 times before they make the cut.
“The restaurant is full every day,” he said, explaining that he would vote for Mr. Mitsotakis to keep it that way. “Many people my age care most about the economy. They say there is more opportunity and higher salaries, and maybe people will come from abroad and want to work in Greece because things changed for the better.”
The same is true for Nikos Therapos, 29, a sustainability consultant. When he was 16, he said, the drastic cutting of the public budgets cost his mother, a kindergarten teacher, her job. His father’s company, in the hard-hit construction industry, shrank, too.
“I remember very clearly about not being so optimistic about my professional career,” he said.
In 2015, when he was studying business in Brussels, Greece was embroiled in intense political and social upheaval, and, Mr. Therapos recalled, his fellow students shunned him in working groups.
“I was regarded as the lazy Greek, even though they didn’t know anything about me,” he said. “It was really unfair for me and my generation.”
But in the past four years, Mr. Therapos said, there had been a change.
“I cannot say we are back to normality for the simple reason that I have never known normality,” he said. But for the first time, he said, he felt “confident in our future.”
Many of his more leftist friends had also shifted to Mr. Mitsotakis, Mr. Therapos said, because they want a “stable and sustainable economic system.”
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Mitsotakis agreed.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “Greece is no longer a problem for the eurozone. I think this offers a lot of people relief.”