Following the spectacular victory of OXI in Greece, a new very challenging week started this morning. Al Innes continues to explore the complexity of the Greek situation with a new piece of writing in his blog (http://alrants.tumblr.com/post/123373278418/greeks-choose-hard-road-but-tsipras-needs-to) , which we republish here.
The choice was far from simple. As I pointed out on this blog yesterday, the decision facing the Greek people was tied up in a narrative of false hope and forgotten history. The Ναί (Yes) campaigners in yesterday’ snap referendum though, had a clear message: vote Yes for Europe, vote ‘Οχι for oblivion. Greece, it seems, has voted for the latter. Now we wait to see how Europe will respond but what is clear is that Yes campaigners, from across the media-political complex, misunderstood that fundamentally the people of Greece were voting for European membership, not against. Now it’s up to the EC, IMF and Germany to decide what to do with that information.
It seems then that the ‘Οχι voters will be damned if they will hang for what they see as the mistakes of the elites. In a nutshell: years of austerity without a single banker, broker or politico facing jail can hardly have pushed sentiment toward the average Greek taking their medicine and shuffling quietly into ‘the second division’, to lend a phrase from JC Juncker. Can you blame them?
Make no mistakes, this was a landslide – and it came as a shock to most in the Yes camp. Even in Alexandroupoli, on the historically tense border between Thrace and European Turkey, there was a majority ‘Οχι vote. Fears that regions such as these would vote overwhelmingly in favour of the EU – espoused to me by Athenians over the weekend – for fear of Turkish aggression, seemed unfounded. So too, the middle-class liberal vote – the vote of the right-thinking moderate – failed to materialise. This too, took the pollsters by surprise.
The media broadcasters of Greece, against regulation I might add here, had been fully behind the Ναί camp. Call it propaganda if you will, I will leave that for others to decide, they were fully behind the Yes message, and it failed spectacularly. Every one of them was selling a story of disaster. Yes was the only option they said. Had they learned a lesson from the Scottish referendum – it seems parochial to suggest this but please indulge me – they might have learned that this tactic tends to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The average decent, hard working (and tax-paying) voter doesn’t respond well to threats. Not in the Web 2.0 age, with un-fettered access to plurality of opinion, statistics and community solidarity.
And what damning statistics they are too. Lets not forget that the situation in Greece is horrendous. Greece has not recovered nearly as fast as Italy and Spain have since the collapse of 2010 and the pain being felt there is far more acute. I talked yesterday about the painful past in Greece, and how far it needed to come to face up to those truths.
Consider though that some 45% of Greek pensioners live below the poverty line and you get some impression as to how the generations that lived through those terrible years of civil war now find themselves – is that an environment for honest reconciliation? Pensions, which by the way barely exceed €650 per month, have been cut 40-50% since 2010. The suicide rate has increased 35% during the worst excesses of the crisis in 2011 – Greece’s suicide rate was once the lowest in Europe I believe – feeling like addressing tax and land reform yet? Youth unemployment now sits on the 60% mark, in fact it is estimated that nearly 55% of the unemployed are under 35 – frank discussion about societal reform anyone? No, I didn’t think so. It’s hard to make hay when the sun has been blocked out the sky by a celestial body made up of Cyclopean horrors stretching back to the founding of your state.
These problems are faced by all Greeks, Ναί and ‘Οχι voters alike. As deep as these problems run though we can perhaps take some solace with the Greek youth coming of age within sight of the global stage. What Greece demonstrated in January was that their youth had reached its pain threshold. Coming a generation after the post-74 class of Tsipras, this is a generation raised on unemployment and iPhones – their world is not one of compromise. Indeed, why should it be when the shipping magnates, city traders and the yacht-owning retirees of the Dodecanese show no signs of it? They have been sold the prosperity and materialism of all the Western world, and now they are told Greece is special. Greece needs to pay her debts where others don’t. You can’t really blame them for flicking two fingers up at the troika. Using a smartphone to rally the masses for an anti-poverty rally may seem like hypocricy, but it is reality – and there is no more hypocricy there than cutting welfare while Amazon goes untaxed. This generation embraced neo-liberalism. The system has failed Greece, Greece has not failed the system.
But can they learn the lessons ignored by their forebears? If we look at what was at the heart of the Syriza victory in January, namely to renegotiate the terms of Greek debts with a promise to get 50% written off, it now actually may seem closer than ever. That is not something that the Yes vote could really have envisioned, with its language of capitulation. Or at least, perceived capitulation. With this result, the question has been asked – will you help us or not? Because the cross of austerity seems unbearable in a country without prosperity.
I sympathise greatly with those born in the 50’s (when Greece was writing off German debts, incidentally) and hoped desperately that Yes might bring some catharsis, some salvation. Certainly there are many liberal, anti-austerity Greeks out there who have voted Yes; because they feel that was the right thing to do. The best thing for everyone; the safest option. These people are not wrong, though their path seemed just as confused as the one facing those waking up in Greece this morning. I feel sympathy for those who swallowed their pride and voted Ναί but like those who voted against, they could know nothing full well – and the fervour that brought Syria to power six months ago had clearly not subsided.
Victory yesteday has achieved Syriza’s intended consequence of strengthening Tspiras’ hand. A strong hand is all well and good, provided you are allowed in the game. The fact that Varoufakis has now resigned might send a message of intended reconciliation to Greece’s creditors. That remains to be seen though. What is crucial it seems for the continuation of the Eurozone is that Greece remains inside. Even if this involved a scenario where the Drachma replaced the single currency domestically with international payments continuing to use the Euro – a sort of umbrella from major catastrophe – until such time as they re-entered the Eurozone. This could certainly suit the Germans, who seemingly now have to decide between conceding ground to Syriza or rolling the dice on the Euro (and by default the German economy) while plunging Greece into an inescapable economic labyrinth.
We know now that Greece has taken a gamble. They may, sadly, have gambled on the wrong man. However, what is certain is that the eyes of Europe and the eyes of the world are now looking to Tsipras to step back from his partisan rhetoric. Don’t get me wrong, I am deeply suspicious of Tsipras. He is a divisive figure and this referendum was his gamble; but it may still pay off. In order for that to work though Greece needs a statesman who can be humble in victory, and let the elites who have Greece’s economy in their hands feel confident enough to make the right choice. The choice that best suits not just the Greek people, but that best suits Europe and the future Europe wants to choose. In Tsipras, Greece has a leader who has the ear of their young, what lessons will he help them learn?