Allagi Vassilis Vamvakas
The first half of the1980s in Greece was predominantly characterized by one word: allagi—translated in English as “change”—was the stable signifier for a period of political, social, and cultural transformation. Phrases like the “government of allagi,” the “victory of allagi,” the “era of allagi,” and the “children of allagi” became political slogans used repeatedly by the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (better known as PASOK) both before the 1981 elections against the right-wing New Democracy government and afterward as the symbolic principle according to which Andreas Papandreou and his allies established their longstanding ideological hegemony. The gradual degradation of allagi to a rhetorical cliché was the main reason why it eventually became a satirical target for popular Greek caricaturists and variety shows. Still, allagi retained its centrality as a slogan throughout the 1980s, and even expanded its powerful connotations to advertising (for diapers, travel agencies, etc). At the time, there was change in both the private and public sphere, in both serious and trivial aspects of everyday life in Greece. Political and non-political messages were constantly being mixed during the amazing growth of the Greek mass media.
The authorship of the slogan is subject to controversy, as the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) also used the term. Nevertheless, the full potential of allagi was elaborated in PASOK’s manifestos, programmatic brochures, and street posters during the 1981 political campaign. In them, allagi stood for a change in political power; 1981 elections were to symbolize the historic moment which would terminate the postwar monopoly of right-wing parties in government (one influential poster showed a calendar entry reading “October 18: Appointment with History”). The central campaign motto—“The people want change; PASOK can bring it about”—expressed the two basic prerequisites for the end of the right’s political domination: a collective will to overcome the constraints of the past (anticommunism) and an important umbrella party capable of synthesizing and articulating it. In this sense, PASOK’s victory in 1981 was regarded as the culmination of the metapolitefsi (a Greek word that describes the transition period after the fall of the dictatorship in 1974) and the definite end to any real ultraright influence in Greece.
PASOK’s 1981 political campaign included an effort to clarify and specify the political meaning of allagi, linking the slogan to income redistribution, the reduction of bureaucracy, tackling high prices, and young people—through educational reform, rural renewal, gender equality, and national independence. In allagi, the symbolic mixture of socialism, modernism, and patriotic paternalism in PASOK’s campaign found a catchword that encompassed tasks and demands which were difficult to harmonize (and sometimes contradictory). The crucial factor that made allagi so effective was not PASOK’s attempts to define it in campaign texts, but the unprecedented celebratory atmosphere created at the political rallies organized nationwide in support of its leader’s speeches. Andreas Papandreou’s charismatic communications from the “political balcony” to the assembled crowds made the 1981 elections an extraordinary event extending beyond political orientation and touching on all dimensions of the society and its culture. Also crucial to PASOK’s success was the aid of a friendly press, which used eloquent descriptions and rousing headlines to underscore the impression that a spectacular collective transformation was underway.
In its 1981 campaign posters and brochures, KKE also declared that both a “substantial allagi” and a “guarantor of allagi” were needed, expressing an anti-right-wing stance and underlining the need for a strong communist party in parliament to play the role of regulator in the upcoming governmental change. PASOK’s response to the indirect accusation that it was not a real agent of allagi was that its government would pursue a “peaceful democratic and free socialist future,” in contrast with KKE, which persistently believed in the Soviet model of power.
In office, PASOK abandoned much of the extreme rhetoric of the 1981 campaign (withdrawal from NATO, a reconsideration of Greece’s membership in the European Economic Community) and followed a more realistic political line. Papandreou’s government carried out promising reforms in social policy (by expanding the National Health System’s coverage, promoting state-subsidized tourism for low-income families, and founding social facilities for the elderly) as well as in the administration and curriculum of the educational system, through a radical democratization (allowing university students to participate in the election of their professors and deans and abolishing tenure). In addition, the “government of allagi” made important symbolic changes with left-wing and liberal connotations, such as acknowledging the importance of the National Resistance during the war and making civil marriage possible over conservative and religious objections. Finally, PASOK managed to usher in a new group of political and administrative operatives, ending the exclusivity the “old families” of the traditional Greek right had had in the management of state affairs.
The accomplishments of the first PASOK government were strongly disputed during the 1984 European parliamentary elections, in which New Democracy proposed a referendum for the termination of allagi (the slogan used was apallagi, which means “dispensation” or “exemption”). During the 1985 national elections allagi remained a central issue in the political campaign, although this time direct references to the term abated in PASOK’s rhetoric in favor of a more iconographic clarification. They chose to personify allagi, using a young smiling girl (since allagi is a feminine noun in Greek) as the protagonist in most of the party’s posters and as a constant escort for Andreas Papandreou at his most important political rallies. Thus the slogan “Yes to the joy of allagi” was embodied in the young girl, who became famous as Allagitsa (meaning “young-small change”). This clever incarnation of allagi, which took advantage of its metaphoric associations of optimism, innocence, and vulnerability, garnered sentimental support for PASOK’s government. The growing adoration of childhood in postjunta Greece was skillfully linked with PASOK’s first years in power, implicitly attributing any mistakes the party had made or promises it had left unfulfilled to its immaturity.
The steady amplification of allagi during the 1980s in Greek political discourse indicated the advent of an era in which slogans were a basic factor behind ideological orientation and political commitment. It provided the minimum possible ground for a consensus including the anti-right-wing block of power which emerged during the postdictatorship period. It developed into a catch-all proposition denoting the opening of the state apparatus to unprivileged social strata during the postwar period of “cachectic” or guided democracy in Greece. This resulted in a demystification of rhetoric through partisan politics, scandals, and populist arbitrariness; nonetheless, in a strange way it continued to bring back memories of egalitarianism and reformism in various social fields. Allagi entrenched the Greek political system in ideological ambiguity and, at the same time, made radicalism an intrinsic element of the middle class imagination by freeing it of its exclusively socialist or communist connotations. This hazy radicalism proved to be a particularly useful vehicle for people facing the daunting challenges of a new era of prosperity, mass media, individualism, and new cultural identities. Allagi was the political translation of the transformations in people’s beliefs and attitudes that were to come in Greece during the 1970s and 1980s, even for those who had trouble identifying with both traditional left-wing discourse and PASOK’s political program.
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