How do you do, fellow kids? Greek politicians court TikTok generation

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ATHENS — The pissed-off youth have become the focus ahead of Greece’s national election.

As the country gets ready to go to the polls on Sunday, May 21, politicians from across the spectrum are racing to learn the language of Gen Z. The (mostly) middle-aged men in suits of Greek politics have been posting on TikTok, agreeing to interviews with YouTubers, and even planning gifts for young people in a bid to secure their votes.

That’s because more than 430,000 people, ranging in age from 16 to 21, will be eligible to cast ballots for the first time on Sunday.

A key moment in the politicization of many in that demographic was a train crash in February in which 57 people died and which raised questions about the government’s competence.

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“It was not only the severity of the accident, but also the fact that most of the victims were young students and the youth could easily see themselves, their friends or brothers in their position,” said Angelos Seriatos, head of scientific research at pollster Prorata.

“It confirmed in a very violent way that Greece is not yet at the stage that other European countries are and affected [young people’s] politicization.”

Anger and shame

The wave of public rage that followed the train crash led to the country’s biggest demonstrations since the financial crisis, with mainly young people taking to the streets across the country.

The rallies were reminiscent — albeit on a smaller scale — of the atmosphere in 2008 after a 15-year-old boy, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, was shot dead by a police officer. But demonstrations aren’t the only way in which young Greeks have been making their frustrations known: Greece has been losing its best and brightest young people to Western job markets, despite pledges to reverse the brain drain.

Put all this together and you have an angry section of the population.

“It was as if someone pulled away the tablecloth and displayed all the rottenness of the Greek system since the fall of the junta and the restoration of democracy, and in a way that the youth, who weren’t really paying attention, saw and realized,” said content creator Nefeli Meg, who recently interviewed Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on her podcast.

Meg said that her fans haven’t forgotten the train crash and have noticed that Kostas Karamanlis, who resigned as transport minister after the deadly collision, is back on the ballot for Mitsotakis’ center-right New Democracy.


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

“It is a mockery,” she added.

The dominant emotions felt by the younger generation after the train crash were rage, despair and shame, according to a recent survey for the Eteron Institute — a Greek think tank. Some 59.5 percent of those asked blamed the current government for the conditions that led to the crash, while 58.3 blamed all previous governments. Eight out of ten said they intend to vote on May 21, according to the same survey.

A big influx of new voters should benefit the main opposition left-wing Syriza, according to polls. But there’s a lot of support for smaller parties, such as the radical left MeRA25, the communist KKE party, as well as smaller parties on the far-right. One of the latter, the extreme-right National Party, was recently banned from running in national elections, but is able to generate an online buzz as leader Ilias Kasidiaris continues to post messages on social media from jail where he is serving a 13-year sentence for his role within the Golden Dawn party, which was declared a criminal organization in 2020.

Despite all of this, New Democracy maintains a relatively comfortable lead in the polls and appears to be on course to win the election. It might, however, need a second round of voting in the summer before being able to form a government, and even then might still need the support of smaller parties to govern.

Last-minute pledges

As the campaign entered the final two weeks — with the major parties having already published their programs for government — Mitsotakis announced some extra measures, including a Youth Pass, which will give 18 and 19-year-olds €150 to spend on culture, tourism or transport.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras hit back, saying that his first legislative act should it form a government would be to scrap the minimum exam-grade entry requirements for universities.

“I laugh at both” proposals, said Meg the TikTok star, while admitting she might think differently if she was 17 or 18.

Social media — and particularly TikTok — has become a key battleground to pass on political messages and gain popularity among the youth.

In recent weeks Mitsotakis’ TikTok account has been publishing “behind the scenes” videos from the election campaign, and Tsipras uses his own TikTok platform but in a more direct way, with the leftist leader speaking to followers.

“Traditional journalism in Greece is considered biased, so young people don’t trust the mainstream media,” said Zoe Pre, a social media star who did an interview with Tsipras.

Both Pre and Meg said their audiences wouldn’t watch an interview with political leaders conducted on TV by journalists.

“Politicians had to turn to social media, but not as influencers, rather as a means to pass on their message,” said Pre. “We should see a more informal human side, because these outlets demand it, but we don’t want them to turn cringe, start vlogging about their day.”