Yesterday the Greek people voted by an unexpectedly large margin of 6l.31% against the austerity programs insisted upon by the European creditors–despite threats from the creditors that Greece would be expelled from the European Union. This was a victory for democracy and for the 99% against the 1%. The blog I wrote on the eve of the referendum explains the situation.
Here in Greece, we are in a state of suspended animation and have been for the past 5 ½ months, since the new government of Alexis Tsipras began to negotiate with the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, popularly known as the Troika, regarding the Greek national debt. Each week we have heard: “a few days more and the crisis will be resolved.” We hold our breath and wait. Holding your breath for that long takes a toll on your health. Right now our banks are closed, and no one knows what the future will be.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Minister of Finance Yiannis Varoufakis have been negotiating on the assumption that representatives of the Troika are rational and moral actors—or can be convinced to be.
Tsipras and Varoufakis assumed that they could make the rational case that the austerity program imposed to resolve Greece’s debt crisis has not worked. The austerity program has involved cutting pensions and salaries of public workers, instituting property taxes, laying off public employees, raising sales tax, and other programs that were supposed to raise revenue and improve the Greek economy. The country now suffers more than 25% umemployment with youth unemployment at 50% or more; small businesses are closing; pensioners are unable to make ends meet; and the country’s educated youth and professionals are re-locating permanently to other countries.
As Paul Krugman and many others have stated, the austerity program cannot work, because when people lose jobs, wages, and pensions, people have less money to spend, and the economy contracts further, rather than as austerity economics claims, becoming stronger. This makes it even less likely that the government will have the funds to repay its debt. Tsipras and Varoufakis assumed that if they explained this to the Troika, the Troika would stop insisting that the Greek people pay for bailout funds with increased austerity programs.
When an individual cannot pay off a debt, bankruptcy is declared, the banks write off the debt, and the individual is given a chance to make a fresh start. If the Greek government were being treated as an individual, most of its debt would be written off, and Greece would be given a chance to start again. Instead, Greece has been given bail-out funds in exchange for austerity measures. Most people assume the bailout funds have gone to the Greek people, but in fact 90% of them have been used to pay interest to the banks that hold the Greek notes, not even to paying down the debt.
This is why Krugman and many others–and now the IMF–have declared the Greek debt unsustainable. There simply is no way to pay it off. A large portion of it must be forgiven. Yet in refusing to consider renegotiating the debt, the Troika is failing to assign responsibility to the banks for making loans they should have known could not be repaid. In the Greek case, the Troika is standing firm: insisting that the only party at fault is Greece. Moreover, the Troika sees nothing wrong with punishing the Greek people for the sins of its now disgraced public officials.
Tsipras and Varoufakis also assumed that they could make a moral case concerning the Greek debt. They believed that they could convince their European partners that because “the system is rigged” in favor of the 1%, the rules should be changed to take account of the interests of the 99%.
If Tsipras succeeds, he will be recognized as a leader of a peaceful people’s revolution in Europe against the 1%. Some are suggesting that the real reason for the intransigence of the Troika is their desire to stave off a Europe-wide revolution against the 1%.
It is sobering, but not surprising, to recognize that the 1% have been unwilling to be persuaded by rational or moral arguments to renegotiate the Greek debt and to give up their commitment to failed austerity programs. Forced into a corner when the negotiators insisted that he accept further austerity measures days before a large debt repayment came due, Tsipras called a referendum for July 5: asking the Greek people to vote “yes” or “no” on the most recent proposals of the Troika. He hoped that a “no” vote would give him the power to convince the Troika to change its stance.
As I write on the night before the referendum, the Greek people are scared, exhausted, fed up, depressed, and angry. We had hoped that Tsipras could relieve the austerity measures that are destroying the middle class and impoverishing the most vulnerable. So far they have not been able to accomplish this.
Tsipras hopes that a strong majority will vote “no” against further imposed austerity. But the waters have been muddied with threats that Greece will be expelled from the monetary union known as Euro-zone or even from the political entity know as the European Union. Many believe that exiting the Euro-zone means exiting European Union—despite the fact that Sweden and the United Kingdom are not in the Euro-zone, but are members in good standing in the European Union.
Polls say that the country is divided in half: a little over 40% favor “yes,” an equal number poised to vote “no,” with the rest undecided.
There is a real danger that if Tsipras loses big, his SYRIZA government will collapse. Some in the Troika have already expressed the hope that this will happen, as they think they would much rather negotiate anyone other than Tsipras. But if new elections are called, there is every possibility that the right-wing, nationalist, xenophobic, fascist party Golden Dawn, whose leaders are on trial for criminal activity, could be the real winners. People who are scared, exhausted, fed, up, depressed, and angry are not always rational actors. Instead they may turn to those who feed their fear and offer them an outlet for their rage.
I will be voting “no” tomorrow because I understand that the system is rigged in favor of the 1% and in the hope that a peaceful revolution in favor of the 99% can still be achieved. It is unlikely that a peaceful revolution in favor of the 99% will be achieved today or tomorrow. We must be in this for the long haul.
Update: The people have spoken more clearly than anyone expected them to do. They have not been bullied into accepting continued austerity. Tsipras has been vindicated by the Greek people. The ball is now in the court of the European Union. Tsipras and SYRIZA are here to stay. Will the Troika wake up and negotiate a fair deal for the 99%? Or will it continue to try to destroy the Greek economy, the Greek people, and Greece’s democratically elected government?
Note: The Green Party Greece had an anti-austerity platform in the 2012 elections and supported SYRIZA in the 2015 elections. I have been following Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman’s analyses of the Greek crisis since 2012. His earlier pieces on the Greek situation can be found here.
Carol P. Christ leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter). Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and forthcoming next year, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Explore Carol’s writing. Carol is a member of the Green Party Greece and ran for office in the 2012 national elections.
15 thoughts on “Referendum in Greece: One Small Victory for the 99% by Carol P. Christ”
Thank you, Carol, for your timely & incisive report.
It’s a historic moment for Greece. Ordinary people here feel so proud of their country and their government after the success of the ‘NO’ vote and want only to find a sustainable solution for the future. The price of austerity – which made absolutely everything worse, including the debt itself – was really too high.
Four out of ten children (and a third of all Greeks) now live in poverty, infant mortality has risen by 43%, unemployment is at 27%, youth unemployment is over 50%, suicides have skyrocketed, and all for nothing, since the debt problem has gotten worse, not better. Yet even knowing all this, Greece’s creditors insist on even harsher austerity!
At some point we have to draw a moral line and say, we understand that the world financial system places profit above all, but the human cost of these bank profits is too high. There has to be another way.
Today’s Guardian editorial asserts that the best option now for Greece’s creditors is to back down on austerity. Let’s hope Europe and the IMF are listening.
I know that most people see Europe, and especially Germany, as central to the recalcitrance of Greece’s creditors, but it’s important to realise that the US has the most votes in the IMF. A few days ago Bernie Sanders had this to say about the excessive austerity measures and the US needing to use its influence to avoid catastrophe:
if you want to add your voice to the call for social justice, there’s a MoveOn petition to Congress to oppose the IMF assault of Greek democracy:
And an Avaaz petition in both English & German:
Please, everyone, if you can, may I ask you to light a candle, meditate to Greek music or dance a Greek dance in solidarity with this little country. As Carol points out, ‘It is unlikely that a peaceful revolution in favor of the 99% will be achieved today or tomorrow. We must be in this for the long haul.’
With love and blessings from the cradle of democracy,
thank you carol!!!
Heart with you, Greece, and the 99% everywhere! Thanks for the succinct report.
Thank you Carol and Laura, for helping me better understand what is happening in Greece. It’s interesting that Laura mentions the USA influence. Puerto Rico, I found out yesterday, is in a similar situation, but the “debt” is held by the US rather than the EU.
It seems to me that the Military and Corporate Powers, the 1%, have taken over governments who have abandoned their responsibility to citizens and have become corrupt beyond belief. People who say “No” to this system are saying “No” to being enslaved. It is the same system of greed and arrogance that stole Native lands and considered Black people commodities to be bought and sold and abused.
I see the “NO!” of the Greek people as another sign of hope that people are ready for change. There have always been little pockets of opposition – communities printing their own local money, the Co-Op movement, and others. I’ve long admired Cuba where, after the US embargo isolated them, they continued to provide education and health care while tearing up parking lots and planting food.
Our current economic system is sick, dysfunctional, I’d even say evil in that it destroys communities and people. It plants greed and harvests violence. I don’t think I can do a Greek dance, but I certainly hold It’s people in my heart and prayer.
Carol, you’ve been in my mind and heart all weekend as I’ve heard TV reports on the situation in Greece. Thanks for writing a report that, unlike much of the news, does not favor the Troika. Good luck to the vast, angry 1%. I’ll keep all of you in my mind and heart as your brave government works to save you all. This sounds like Greek tragedy….except that the one with hubris is not the Greek king but the Troika. Overweening pride always leads to a fall. Good luck, again, to your government and the 1%. I hope you all get enough to eat!
OOPS! i MEANT TO THE VAST AND ANGRY 99%. GOOD LUCK TO THE 99%.
oh I thought you meant the vastly powerful and angry 1%,
Thank you, Carol! Your cogent and “right there and living it” commentaries have really helped us counter the miserable reporting, for the most part, presented in our papers in the United States. My spirits rose this morning…can Greece help us reclaim democracy here at home? And, for the Greek people, “Yes.”
So helpful to have this specific information, Carol, to help spread the real word about what’s happening in Greece. Everyone has an opinion, mostly based on what we read in the US which is filtered, often, through the 99% perspective.
Thank you for this timely report Carol. And Respect & Courage to the Greek people.
Thank you for helping me understand what’s happening!
Thank you, Carol, for your sensitive and incisive account. May many unite in prayer and action to keep the fire of justice and equality burning.
Congrats and kudos to the People of Greece and humanity everywhere! A huge victory!!
Thank you, Carol. I am so proud of Greece. We should all be watching this very carefully. We will be in the same or similar boat in the near future. The question is if the debt is not repayable and has never been, what does the IMF really want?
This is an excellent question, Anina, and one that the media are careful never to allow to arise. In my opinion, it is this: because the terms of the second bailout agreement were renegotiated under what is called the London agreement, whereby ALL the resources of the Greek state are promised as collateral in case of a default, it was only a mater of time before the creditors would try to provoke a default and simply take over. The first bailout did not have these conditions, just the plan to privatise 50 billion euros worth of public assets (airports, ports, water, electricity, timber, mines, coastline, islands, etc etc), but the privatizations ‘were not going fast enough’.
Please keep asking such questions – and seeking, and sharing, the answers.