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Greferendum: an anthology

Thinking of Greece.

Some of Open Democracy best contributors on the Greek crisis give their thoughts on how they would vote in Sunday's referendum.

(This article was first published in https://www.opendemocracy.net and is reproduced here with their kind pernission) 

Frances Coppolaeconomics writer and contributor to the Financial Times

The creditors’ final offer is simply a watered-down version of the policies that were agreed in 2012. These have caused a 27% fall in Greek GDP, thrown one in four adults out of work, prevented more than half of young people from finding work at all, and created poverty and misery on a scale similar to the Great Depression. Crucially, they have also failed to make Greece’s debt sustainable.

In fact they have made matters worse. The IMF’s Debt Sustainability Analysis says that Greece will need an additional £60bn of financing and decades of debt relief, even without considering recent developments. The “reforms” imposed by the creditors neither restore the Greek economy nor ensure that creditors get their money back. They are not fit for purpose. Since the new proposal does not materially change them, the Greek people must reject them. A “No” vote is the only possible response. 

Costas DouzinasProfessor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute of Humanities, Birkbeck, London

The Tsipras proposal brings back the fear elites feel when the people momentarily enter onto the political stage. The referendum will be an encounter with the anti-austerity resistance of the Greek people and in direct contact with the occupation of Syntagma Square in 2011. It places the people at the centre of politics and prefigures an institutional framework in which direct democracy becomes a permanent supplement to its representative part.

But the referendum puts the European elites too before a major dilemma: do they respect the democratic decisions of people or are the demands of banks, financiers and their political and media friends the holy writ of new Europe?

Spyros Sofoslecturer and researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University

I would vote 'yes' as I do not want my objections to the way the crisis has been managed at home and in Brussels to be usurped by politicians that dream that they can give the Union a bloody nose by destroying the Eurozone or that want to use the woes of my country as an example to be avoided by my fellow Europeans who will be going to the polls later this year to elect a government in Spain and elsewhere....I would like my 'yes' to serve as the start of the process of regaining my voice as a Greek and a European citizen.

Yanis VaroufakisMinister of Finance, Greece

Since the announcement of the referendum, official Europe has sent signals that they are ready to discuss debt restructuring. These signals show that official Europe too would vote NO on its own ‘final’ offer. Greece will stay in the euro. Deposits in Greece’s banks are safe. Creditors have chosen the strategy of blackmail based on bank closures.

The current impasse is due to this choice by the creditors and not by the Greek government discontinuing the negotiations or any Greek thoughts of Grexit and devaluation…The future demands a proud Greece within the Eurozone and at the heart of Europe. This future demands that Greeks say a big NO on Sunday, that we stay in the Euro Area, and that, with the power vested upon us by that NO, we renegotiate Greece’s public debt as well as the distribution of burdens between the haves and the have nots. 

Dimitris Boucasvisiting lecturer, London School of Economics, UK

In the upcoming Greek referendum, there is a need to clarify the meaning of the two possible options.

YES means: accepting the current proposal of Greece’s creditors opening the road to more severe austerity measures with the least possible negotiating power for the Greek government, and legitimising the previous governments which brought the country to this point and opening the Pandora’s box for other indebted Member States

NO means: rejecting the current proposal and not condemning generations of young people to decades of austerity strengthening the government’s negotiating hand towards reaching a better agreement and most importantly, negotiating debt restructuring, coupled with measures for growth, always within the Eurozone

First and foremost, however, the referendum is a test for democracy. YES lends legitimacy to the unprecedented intervention and blackmail on the part of the European partners who equalise a NO vote with ‘return to the drachma’ - something that Mr Schäuble himself excluded as a possibility. NO is an anti-austerity message to Europe, honouring the values of democracy, respect of national sovereignty and solidarity of nations, which should be at the heart of the European project.

from http://phasma2.com/2013/09/greece-in-crisis-2/

Antonis VradisJunior Research Fellow, Durham University, UK

Sunday's referendum vote is not about one fiscal detail or another, a bad agreement or one that is less so. In its essence, Sunday's question is about dignity and our lives from this point on.

It is a question those of us lucky enough to have made it to the ballot box will have to answer for those who didn't make it.

This is why, should the referendum go ahead, I will be casting a vote, for the first time in my life. I will be voting for my friends and family chased away and denied the capacity to live over here. I will be voting for my dear friend who decided, in the darkest hours of the crisis, that his was a life not worth living. I will be voting in the hope that doing so will help make the lives of the criminal market gang truly unlivable. 

Pavlos EleftheriadisAssociate Professor of Law and a Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford University

The government seems unaware of the immense risks it is taking. A ’no’ will be a signal to the EU institutions that a deal is not forthcoming. The Greek default to the IMF, which happened on Tuesday, will then be read as a definitive signal that Greece intends to default on all its loans, in order to remain ‘independent’, as instructed by its electorate. Greece would soon be bankrupt and its banks would run out of money entirely.

It is in this way that a ‘no’ result will set in motion the process of disengagement from the Eurozone. It is true that the EU cannot throw Greece out of the Euro. There is no legal mechanism for ‘Grexit’. But this is irrelevant. The mechanism will work the other way round: the Greek government will beg for Grexit, when it finds out that it has to recapitalise its banks within a matter of days and discovers that the unilateral creation of a new currency is against EU law. The treaties will be amended and Greece will exit the Euro just in order for its banks to start working again. 

Jan ZielonkaProfessor of European Politics, University of Oxford

The vote on Sunday is not only about Greece, but also about Europe. Greeks can throw life into Europe by challenging the Frankfurt consensus and forcing the EU to halt the march of folly. Europe is doomed if such basic values behind the integration project as solidarity, equality and social care are being sacrificed on the altar of financial greed and national egoism. EU elites have lost a sense of history and economic rationality and the Greeks can make them rethink and possibly retreat. I fear that saving Europe is the last thing on the minds of the suffering Greek people.

Takis PappasVisiting Professor in Political Science, University of Freiburg, Germany

Here is a Greek story. It begins in Anatolia with my grandparents, who came to Greece as refugees after the forced exchange of populations - for them it was "The Disaster" - in the early 1920s. They became merchants and relatively prosperous Greek citizens. It continues with my parents, who worked their way in the private sector both in times of political tumult and in peace; politically moderate and wise folks as they were, they taught me to be a good citizen and productive member in society.

The story is now at a chapter where I have long ago moved residence from Greece to somewhere near the heart of Europe, happily seeing my own children to develop as true European citizens and proud heirs to a mixture of cultures. This has been a century-long, tortuous but also dignified journey from the Ottoman east to the enlightened West. And I don't want to see it reversed by a "leftist riffraff" in partnership with ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. To have a happy ending, this story demands that I vote "yes".

Vassilis PetsinisVisiting Researcher at the Herder Institute, Marburg, Germany

When Greece entered the Eurozone in 2001, I saw this as an essentially political project. Meanwhile, I remained very skeptical over the long-term capacity of the Greek economy to sustain the Euro currency. It did not take long until my worries were confirmed. Although I harbor various reservations over its timeliness, this referendum will provide Greek citizens with the opportunity to undertake political responsibility over a question of vital concern.

At this given moment, an abrupt default and Grexit would not provide a viable trajectory (let alone a panacea) out of the, admittedly harsh, austerity policies. By contrast, such a development would transform the already impoverished strata into an underclass in the literal sense. Furthermore, an abrupt Grexit would provide fertile ground for the reappearance of vulture capitalism comparable to the one that post-Communist Europe experienced in the 1990s.

In the light of these circumstances, I judge that an interim compromise between the Greek government and the EU would be a less bad option. In the long run, this would also give enough time for a more organized and better coordinated Grexit if there is no other way out. However, an abrupt default and Grexit would generate economic and, especially, political consequences that Greek society will not be able to manage in the immediate future.

James Galbraith, Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, USA

If the Greeks vote for "No", then negotiations can resume on a foundation of clarity and determination. Greece will not leave the Euro. It cannot be expelled from the Euro or from the European Union.

If the Greeks vote "Yes," then the austerity will deepen. The Greek economy will not recover. Very likely, someone else will have the responsibility to try to govern. In that case, the opposition--in Greece as well as in other European countries--will pass firmly to the anti-European, anti-Euro forces. Europe will not survive the political victory of those forces.

Dimitrios TriantaphyllouDirector of the Centre for International and European Studies, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey

Although it would be preferable if there were no referendum, I will vote Yes for a variety of reasons that are not directly related to the question posed. First, it negates the very notion of a parliamentary democracy that brought SYRIZA to power only 5 months ago, as the government has been unsuccessful or unwilling in negotiating a bailout. In this sense, the epitome of populism is at play yet again much as it brought SYRIZA to power after five years of playing the card of naysayers while in opposition by disrupting the orderly functioning of parliament and other institutions and encouraging disorderly street protests.

Secondly, for the first time in my life, I feel that my European identity, which complements my identity as a Greek, is threatened because both SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks, in their attempt to justify their governance, have been trying (somewhat successfully) to inculcate a sense of Greek exceptionalism which threatens to lead the country into terra incognita away from the European Union and the West in general.

Thus, the YES vote on my part is about putting the brakes on a government that should the NO vote prevail, would fundamentally challenge and change my way of life and negatively impact on the quality of my country’s democracy.

Vassilis FouskasProfessor of International Politics and Economics, University of East London

I would vote NO. I support Greece's principled stand against the blackmail and diktats of the European financial institutions, a stand that is an inspiration for all true Europeans. Greece has exposed the rotten core of European banking capital to the light of democracy. It has exposed the asymmetrical and rigid neo-liberal nature of the monetary union presenting a truly reformist agenda countering the prevailing model of European "integration", that of low (or no) wages, cuts and austerity.

This model of development creates surpluses in the centre and debts in the periphery further aggravating structural asymmetries, rigidities and disintegration. It is not good. I envisage a united Europe of peace, democracy, justice and social solidarity. To my chagrin, this is the Europe that Germany and France cannot give. Little Greece was the first to officially pose those issues at the heart of Europe and, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the credit goes to her.

Iannis Carrashistorian and lecturer at the Institute of Europe Studies, University of Freiburg, Germany

I have long been waiting for George Papandreou’s referendum on whether Greece should make the necessary changes to remain in the Euro. SYRIZA has however managed to conjure up a question that is both meaningless and divisive. Meaningless in the absence of a valid text, and divisive because it leads to a politics of nationalisms. The plan that was not agreed upon was insufficient in terms of reducing primary surpluses and of structural reforms.

But the alternative will be very much worse. The economy will tank, hunger will become widespread, pensioners and the poor will be disproportionately affected. Violence is likely. A “NO” will lead to a post-Sovietisation of Greek society. It is thus with a sense of mourning for the Greece and the EU that are failing us that I will vote “YES”.

But this “YES” comes with an addendum: if, after a “YES”, the EU and the creditors do not provide substantial debt relief in return for structural reforms, thus helping the Greek economy grow, they will bear the ethical responsibility for the inability of the Greek side to live up to impossible obligations. Historians of days to come will look back at their actions with disdain. 

Fintan O'TooleLiterary Editor at the Irish Times

There are times when the only thing to say is No. Not because you know exactly what all the implications might be but because someone has to put a spoke in wheels that are rolling towards disaster. The technocratic solution to the Eurozone crisis – vast bailouts of private banks plus austerity for the most vulnerable citizens plus the shrinking of the capacity of national states – is an obvious, empirical failure. But it is also undermining the ideas of democracy, justice and solidarity without which the whole European project will flounder. A Greek No will restore to Europe a starkly absent  idea – the principle of consent.

Neophytos LoizidesReader in International Conflict Analysis, University of Kent & Iosif KovrasResearch Fellow, Queen's University, Belfast

At this critical moment the priority should be to transform the ill-conceived referendum into an opportunity for a constructive mandate for Greece's future. It is still possible for pro-EU forces to win the hearts and minds of the Greek people for policies that foster domestic consensus and credibility abroad.

The most critical move is interpreting the ‘yes’ vote as a renewed mandate not only to renegotiate better terms within the Eurozone but also to form agovernment of shared responsibility. Reframing the referendum result in positive and inclusive terms will bring forward new political dynamics, and act as a litmus test of the capacity of Greek society to overcome its deep divisions.

John WeeksProfessor Emeritus at SOAS, London

On July 5 Europeans will witness an extraordinary event. A sitting government will ask its people to decide on a major policy issue that lies outside its electoral mandate. It is difficult to exaggerate the radical nature of the coming referendum in Greece. In January 2015 the Syriza Party platform committed to ending austerity and remaining in the euro zone. Now in July it faces the black and white choice of more austerity or Grexit.

The Syriza government has not mocked democratic principle by invoking the cliché that "circumstances have changed" to justify doing what it promised never to do. Rather, it asks those who will be most affected, the people of Greece, to decide. That revolt is real whatever the outcome of the referendum.

Alex Sakalis is associate editor of openDemocracy. He edits the Can Europe Make It? debate.


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