Can Europe Make It?

No, sweet no

The astounding NO vote that swept every part of Greece will take time to digest and understand and its meaning also depends on how the Europeans respond. But here are some immediate reactions.

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
6 July 2015

NO victory celebrations in Syntagma Square. Photo supplied by author.The astounding NO vote that swept every part of Greece will take time to digest and understand and its meaning also depends on how the Europeans respond. But here are some immediate reactions.

The scale of the majority surprised everyone I have spoken to here in Athens as it bust the polls. Its definite, unarguable nature is a relief. This was no close-run majority that the other side could claim is illegitimate. Nor was it a mere party vote as many more supported NO than have backed Syriza.

The spine of the NO vote was the young, not pensioners. This is very important as the young are the most naturally pro-European, the most fluent in foreign languages, the most travelled, of the Greeks. If European leaders want the new generation to believe in them this is a huge wake up alert; an expression of generational sentiment that crosses the continent and is not confined to dependents or pensioners of a small state. Europe’s precariat has said NO.

Why did the Greeks do it? I was surprised by the taxi driver who took me into Athens from the Airport yesterday evening. He is not doing badly, tourists provide business, he is paid in cash (I got an electronic receipt). He found the decision difficult, “My head said YES, my heart said NO”. How did he finally vote, I asked. “I went with my heart”. Why? Because, he said, he wanted Greece to pay its debts but he wanted to know for how long, for ten years, for twenty, for a hundred even but he wanted to know when it would end. His English was faltering, he did not speak of debt restructuring, but he had got the point that the now no longer Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis made so clearly (see my article) that a sustainable – a believable - way out of the crisis had to be found.

Courage. This is what I felt most of all. What the European elite see as foolhardiness and the anti-Europeans see as a desire to leave the Euro, is a simple but intelligent judgement: to stand up and pay whatever the price.

Intimidation. What is exceptional about this courage is that the banks have been closed for a week, than which few things could be more threatening; the media has been relentless in its warning of catastrophe, fear has been encouraged, panics created out of thin air. It has not worked.

Democracy. A good Greek friend who supported a YES vote said, while watching the results come in on the television, "Everyone who is 'anyone' said vote YES". Indeed.  But almost everybody who IS everybody said NO! 

In part it has not worked because catastrophe has already been delivered: incomes savaged, pensions shredded, unemployment especially of the young, skyrocketing. You can’t threaten a prisoner with loss of freedom and you can’t threaten the Greeks with things getting worse. They could get a lot, lot worse, of course. They know this. But it is now so bad here that the threat has worn off.

The European leaders failure to recognize this was fatal. Their indifference to the price Greece has already paid, the idea that they are always asking for more and never changing, utterly undermined their case. Juncker, the President of the EU no less, told the Greeks not to “commit suicide because you are afraid of death”, while the suicide rate has risen by over a third since the crisis. Does he not know? Who is he to talk about how ‘hurt’ he is by the Greek Prime Minister calling a referendum?

The European leaders are now looking at democracy. Viva Greece!

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