We asked somebody who voted NO in the Greek referendum to explain us his reasoning:

Opinion by Panayiotis Demopoulos*

After the July 5 referendum the Greek people find themselves at an historical crossroads yet again. A lot of positive ground has been covered since 1980, when the country first joined the European Union, with dramatic improvements in everyday life and an overall booming living standard; challenging the European consensus would have seemed unthinkable as recently as seven years ago. Why then, Greeks voted No on the July 5 vote rejecting a bailout deal, possibly putting at stake their future within the EU? 

The question can only be answered once the bigger picture is understood: Europe is not the Union it was in 1980. Or 2001, for that matter. The notion that economic policy is the central, all-encompassing political subject matter which forms the basis for European integration dominates our lives now in a way it never did. Governments used to (or at least appeared to) tell their banks what to do in order to serve their people, but this hierarchy has now clearly turned on its head; nothing new there – the same political condition was true of medieval, feudal Europe.

The Euro, with all its unifying powers, may in fact prove to be the tombstone of Europe unless something changes soon. In Greece, a hothouse for political debate since time immemorial, everyone is vocal; the diversity of opinion is deafening, but there is a new axiom that seems to be accepted by almost everyone: Europe is wrong on this one and has mutated into a non-Europe.

The small city of Kozani in Northern Greece is a case in point. Built in the 16th century by Greek refugees in the mountain ranges of the northwest of the country, it grew rapidly as a commercial and cultural centre in the multinational circuit of Ottoman and central European routes. In 1912 its union with Greece was welcomed but meant its financial demise. Over the following century, it became an industrial coal mining town. Throw in a couple of wars and living standards have always been sub-par in recent memory.

Since 1980 however, a growing sense of prosperity, modernisation and financial prospects gave the townspeople an air of optimism. Up until recently that is. The European ‘dream’ has collapsed in a few dozen months of austerity, shock economic policy and the domination of neoliberal politics across Europe. The historical library of the city which hosts manuscripts from the 11th century and boasts thousands of old prints and maps had been scheduled to move to a new €10m purpose-built library and become the centrepiece structure of the municipality. All work ceased last week, and funding for the completion and operation of the new library is now rapidly becoming the stuff of science fiction. If the country leaves the Euro violently in a display of Berlin’s might after the referendum, that exit will actually manifest itself physically, in a city which is currently running the construction of more than ten major EU-funded public sites.

But this is only the surface of it. The town is already suffering from an unemployment rate that finds roughly one in two out of work. Society is fragile. Many are now questioning the artificial prosperity that the EU brought with it and some are even accusing its policies of having been premeditated and deceitful. The dozens of BMWs one finds parked along the unkempt streets of a decaying city, used to be symbols of European integration and well-being, now they are reminders of an economic arrangement that turned the Greeks into both investors and debtors simultaneously, dependent on European funds and restricted from sustaining their own industrial and agricultural production. Unsurprisingly, realising the effects of this peculiar financial scheme of give-and-give makes people bitter.

And yet loyalties remain, in spite of German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble and the likes confirming all alleged duplicity this past week by way of extreme and inexplicable schadenfraude.

Before the referendum, surveys were suggesting that people were divided resulting in heated debates. Many compared the situation with 1944-46 and the beginnings of the Greek civil war whose tragedy still resonates strongly.

The Yes camp often considered No-voters to be childish and impulsive, spoiled even, unaware of act and reaction, sequence and consequence. The No camp generally thought of Yes-voters as spineless and self-serving, uninterested in the common good, traitors to their own people and the people of Europe at large. Harsh words were exchanged, accusations were made in public addresses, coffee-shop debates and television arguments. The privately-owned media offered ample opportunity for the Yes camp to lash out and predict the most apocalyptic end of the world imaginable as a result of government incompetence in a display of propaganda that may in fact have had an opposite effect to that which was desired. On the other hand state-owned media were restrained in its bias, but not completely innocent of mild propaganda either.

And then there was the government which asked for the referendum in the first place, knowing full well its divisive side-effects. This government has the sympathy of many more now than those who actually voted for it. Most think its intentions are genuine for a change. More people than not think that a pretty decent job of voicing the people’s concerns is being done. Pretty much everyone realises that the odds are and will continue to be stacked against it and that it may not be able to pull off a negotiation ‘victory’ which would improve things for Greece. But this has always appealed to the Greeks: they fight their best as an underdog, defending in despair. It’s a tradition that goes back to the Persian wars, lives through centuries of overcoming odds and ends in defeated glory with the 1940s resistance to the German-Italian-Bulgarian axis. Ironically, this patriotic rhetoric has resurfaced strongly in the ‘socialist’ government’s own expression, creating a wave of defiance that unites ideologically incompatible elements of the right and left wing. This emotionally-charged unity gave the momentum to the No camp as we approached the referendum. With no realistic plans beyond Sunday, needless to say.

People were aware that the referendum vote is not about the agreement documents, or Greece leaving the Euro. Voting No in the referendum was a message to the other nations of the Union: “we don’t want Europe operating like this and neither should you, or soon you’ll be in our place.” Unfortunately, the political personnel of the government are not up to scratch for either parliamentary procedure or international affairs – this is pretty obvious; and yet they seem to annoy the public far less than the seasoned veterans who roamed the corridors of power and European affluence for decades. They also seem to annoy the corporate media far more – and this, in 2015 Greece is a ‘miracle-weapon’ in politics.

In third grade I had to memorize a phrase that made perfect sense to me then and still does today: ‘All virtue is to be found in Justice’. There is no justice or virtue whatsoever in any of the announcements of the Eurogroup, the IMF or the ECB from what I can read and understand. All I can detect in the frowning ramblings of the Troika is power politics, fear-mongering, absolutism and bureaucratic self-importance. My blackmailed government had to ask me to choose between two mistakes just to prove a moral point.

When, on Sunday, I found myself with what may be the only referendum ballot of my life in my hands, the fortunes of my two young daughters cleared in sight, I marked it thinking of Europe, virtue and justice – not the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, the ECB’s emergency liquidity assistance, or a long ATM queue. I am certainly not alone.

*Panayiotis Demopoulos was elected to the city council of Kozani in 2015, and is the president of the board of the Koventareios Historical Library of Kozani. 

(Via Novara Media Wire)


7 COMMENTS

  1. First off, lets look at some facts:

    Greece joined the Euro by massively lying about its finances. GREEK people not paying taxes but MANY have jobs from “the state” – how do you think those were paid for!

    Greece received 18 Billion in development grants EVERY year from the EU.

    GDP increased by over 300% since Greece joined the Euro, while the 27% reduction touted by the No campaign includes the financial crisis that hit all of us. Maybe the Greeks are stupid enough to fall for Tsipras rhetoric, but we aren’t.

    In 2010 Greece was bancrupt. The EU saved Greece by pouring in over 505 BILLION which gave Greece time to tackle reforms and reduce their overbloated and unpayable public sector.

    Which Greece DID NOT DO.

    In 2012 there was a haircut which saw 70% of the Greek debt written off and a restructuring of the remaining debt which accounted to another 50% off, so the total was 85% off!

    There are other countries in the EU that are worse off than Greece. The average Greek is better off than the average German if you include property owned.

    Do you really expect us all to keep subsidizing Greece? You really think you can just forget about all the sacrifices OTHERS have made for Greece, insult them, and ask for more money?

    I’m told the Greeks have pride. The more important question: do they have SHAME?

    Tsipras once said he doesn’t want more money from the Germans, that they already paid enough. I agree with him.

    So follow your leader and STOP ASKING FOR MORE MONEY AND “SOLIDARITY” when it is the Greek people who show solidarity to neither the other nations nor their own people.

    STOP BLAMING OTHERS for your own shortcomings and learn to TAKE RESPOSIBILITY.

    And those in Greece too poor to buy food or medicines? Easy: START collecting the tax from the known tax evaders – the Greek government had the CD from Switzerland for THREE YEARS now. Why has it not acted???

  2. HAHAHAHAHA!

    The “new plan” of Tsipras is near identical to the one the Greek people said NO to in the referendum.

    Unbelievable.

    This just shows that what Tsipras is doing is theatre, not serious negotiations.

    Btw why are some of my comments being removed?

  3. Words exist to define things. What out assigning labels dialog becomes incoherent. You can claim not to be left but the policies you support are left.

    Again, I support a polician that is currently the best one in Greece. Before criticizing me explain who was better? Our current Marxist leader? Or third place fascists? People that don’t pass moral judgements only allow evil to grow unrestricted. This is why we have so many communists and fascists in Greece today. How many deaths were communists and fascists responsible for in the 20th century? 100 million? 150 million?

  4. I’m Greek and you don’t support me. What you really support is the Marxists currently running our country. Do you support communists in your country?

  5. You present one problem as another. Smoothly running government do collect taxes and distribute the money of those taxes usually into social activities. Social activities include (but not limited to) pensions, health-care, employment, education and etc. If you don’t pay taxes, you don’t get this things.
    On the other hand what bailing out does is denying all social privileges. Why? Because the government gives money that should go to pensions or health-care to the banks, because the banks made a mistake. I have never said it is not your money in the bank. But you have no word in how the bank operate your money. And when they make a mistake, the government pays for it. Now you pay taxes for health-care, but you cannot get any health-care, because the government uses all its (not yours anymore) money to support the banks. And that is just plain wrong. That’s why I’m against bailing out.
    What you should understand is giving someone a credit and be returned with an interest rate is gaining a money for the bank. Those money are paid against a certain risk, it means it is possible for some people to be unable to return its credit. The risk is calculable and can be controlled, so on average the bank not losing its money. What banks do lately in all EU is giving credit without any control of the risk. The reason is bailing out – it means no risk for the bank, because government’s money (that is taxes paid by people) will ensure no money is lost. And controlling the bank this way and saying “that’s the people’s money” is just abusing. The banks should be allowed to fail and yes, deposits will be lost, but that is not the end of the world. Instead existing banks will start to control its risk again.

  6. You are against bailing out the banks. The same banks that lend the Greek people (“state”) money from German/French/Spanish/ etc tax payers to pay pensions and health-care and roads because it did not have enough money because Greek people think paying taxes is stupid.

    Fine. Let the banks fail then, and our taxes as well as all savings of the Greek be lost. All credits given to run businesses and build houses are due immediately. Great idea. That will help Greece a lot.

    Just don’t expect the rest of Europe to continue to pay for you.

    Yes, banks made mistakes (financial crises 2008), but that is not the root of the greek problem. The banks are just a nice scapegoat for the Greeks. The problems have of course nothing to do with them not paying taxes. Or the bloated public sector (“easy jobs for everyone”). Or the ridiculously large army. No, it is all the banks’ fault.

    So NO need to change.

    Greeks can remain a PROUD people.

    And where are the 29 BILLION Tsipras just requested from the EU?

    Because you want your money.

    NOW!

  7. Bailing out is injustice and that’s not a problem in Greece government. The problem here is tight coupling between government and the local banks of every country. If the banks are so stupid to give money to anyone, disregarding their ability to pay, the bank will eventually bankrupt, which is OK. Bailing out (for whatever reason), is interpreted by the bank “I didn’t make a mistake” and it is interpreted by the government and society “The bank made a mistake, we MUST pay for it”. Donations are OK, while voluntary. Taxes are not voluntary.
    Instead separate the banks and the government and deny the bailing out by the government. The banks will return their old policy of risk assessment when they lend money. The greek’s government will be high risk and loans to it denied. However this will not affect the greek’s banks since they are under control of ECB, which don’t have loses, because they don’t lend money to a risky customers. And even if there are some loses, they can be restored by interest rates, because they’ll happen rarely.
    To summarize two things requires change:
    1. The governments separate from the banks – the banks have no special status and then the government do not bail out and spend the budget on the banks.
    2. The banks separate from the governments – lending money to a government is no different to lending money to regular customer, passing risk assessment, modify interest rate for certain areas, limit the upper boundary of the credit.
    With those two changes, every institution will be responsible for itself. And if one institution fails, it’ll not drag down any other institution.

    Government failure is always temporarily, because if government is denied from loans and has no money, it’ll be unable to pay state goods. In democracy private sector is usually larger than state-controlled sector. Private sector pays a taxes, which are the main sources of money to the government. If government failure does not affect the banks, the private sector may continue to operate on the same level, paying same amount of taxes. This’ll allow regular people access to their money and the only thing that’ll be denied are the state goods (pensions, free health-care). Since taxes are paid by the same amount and private sector is running unaffected, this will highly reduce the recovery time of the government.

    On its own, bank failure will be destructive for private sector. But we are not separating ECB from the local banks, we are separating governments from banks. ECB may close the bank and bail out deposits of banks customer. Since banks failure is a closure to a bank institution, it cannot happen repeatedly, it means that the government can one-time bail out if it wishes to do so, to keep the private sector running. In current EU status bank failure is less likely than government failure anyway.