Saturday, July 4, 2015

Greek Referendum: It's Not a Simple Yes or No.

Today I say, “Happy 4th of July, United States.”

Tomorrow I say, “Good Luck, Greece.”

Today is the 239th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Tomorrow is Referendum Day in Greece, the first since 1974, and first day of only God knows what for Greece.  Its people certainly have no idea what lies ahead and nothing coming out of its government suggests there’s much of a clue lurking there either. 

To begin with, no one—including Greece’s Prime Minister—seems to have any idea what the Referendum is all about.

Officially it’s a vote on whether to accept or reject a bailout proposal from the vilified Troika of lenders, but the proposal has expired by its terms and is no longer on the table. Technically there is nothing to vote for or against, but the government refuses to withdraw it.  The opposition parties have taken the opportunity to cast it as an up or down vote on whether Greece wishes to remain as part of the European community: A Yes vote (NAI) keeps Greece in, a No vote (OXI) does not.

The government came up with the Referendum as a means of passing on to the people a decision if made by the government would put it at odds with its election promises against continuing austerity measures. It linked its preferred vote to the highly symbolic word OXI—the one-word answer delivered by Greece to the Italians who’d demanded Greece’s surrender to Italy and Germany at the beginning of WWII.  To make its position even clearer to the electorate, the government reversed the customary form of the ballot by placing the box for voting NO above YES.

But what specifically are the people voting for?  The government keeps shifting its stance on that, but one thing remains clear: a vote for OXI is a vote for the government in power.  Meaning a NAI vote is against them.  And that, dear reader, is what this has come down to.  Whether or not the government wants to see it that way—or intended it––that’s nevertheless what it has come down to in the minds of the Greek people.

It’s also how Greece’s lenders see it, and they are waiting until after tomorrow before reengaging in any further bailout talks.

Some think the current Greek government is so hungry to stay in power it will cling on even if soundly trounced by tomorrow’s vote, but that will be hard to pull off in a civilized manner.  Indeed, Greece’s controversial Finance Minister has made it clear that if a YES vote prevails he will resign.  I’m sure he sees that as an incentive for voters, just not sure which camp is more motivated by his promise.

Bottom line: the bailout has expired, but as I wrote last week, this is one long Kabuki play of a negotiation. Europe does not want Greece out of the EU or off the Euro and nor do the majority of the Greek people.  There are more scenes left to play out. Just not sure of the cast.

But overall, I still believe the biggest risk to Greece is not the financial stigma it’s enduring—that will pass in time—but in galvanizing its citizenry along OXI and NAI lines it is edging old fault lines to the surface, and responsible leaders should be wary.

For those of you expecting me to guess at how tomorrow’s vote is likely to go, uhh uhh. I’m not the one to ask. But I do have a rather impressive prediction for you.

Bloomberg ran a story that Paddy Power, Ireland’s largest bookmaker, said Wednesday, “We’ve seen enough to be convinced,” and paid out winnings four days in advance of the election to gamblers who bet Greece will vote YES on July 5.  The story reported that “Gambling companies routinely pay out early on sporting events when they regard the result as a foregone conclusion, in part because it draws publicity and in part because gamblers often recycle winnings into other wagers.”

Ironic, isn’t it, how a government said to be run by academic games theorists gambling with a nation’s future doesn’t even have the confidence of its own kind.

Good luck tomorrow, Greece. I’m betting on you.  And praying for you.



  1. So it seems that the Ayes have it - at least they have the winnings! Still, Jeff, I think you're being a bit unfair to the government acumen. The reason the banks have no money is because the government has put it all a No vote. Double or quits.

    1. I think you're right on the money, Michael. The government said this referendum is costing 20 million euros, but I've heard estimates of closer to 120 million...not to mention lost time from work, etc.


  2. So... maybe the Greek government should have taken all the money they could scrape together and sent it to the bookies in Ireland: if the country votes YES, then they'd have made a pot-load of money for the country's coffers, and if the country voted NO, they could leave power and the problems behind them...

    Oh, maybe not.

    1. EvKa, in ASSASSINS OF ATHENS, which I wrote over a half-dozen years ago, I unexpectedly anticipated the rise of SYRIZA and its Prime Minister. In that version of today, leaving power behind was not in the makeup of the relevant characters.

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you, Lil. All good wishes are welcome.

  4. The results of the referendum are coming in at an overwhelming 60% for NO (OXI) and 40% YES (NAI).

    Stay tuned, the ride is just beginning.

  5. Just as long as everyone in the news media stops using that dreadful portmanteau word "Grexit" to describe Greece's possible exit from the EU ...

    1. Already happened. For most of Greece the new word is "Greatigue."

    2. Ah, in the same way that the referendum over the Scottish Independence became known at the 'Never-end-um'

  6. I will say that I think it's great that 60% of voters said NO to the Troika's imposition of horrific austerity on the Greek people, causing more impoverishment, unemployment (now 25%), homelessness, hunger, etc.

    Tremendous amounts of money has been paid to the ECB and other banks -- and how has that helped the Greek people?

    They stood up to Germany's regulations. And I think many Greeks associate that with the OXI said to Mussolini and Hitler. It's about being free from under the thumb of the wealthier European countries and their bankers, especially Germany's.

    Just watching Democracy Now! and explanations of the economic benefits Germany got after WWII -- and that the government won't extend them to the Greek people to whom they should pay reparations.

    The vote is also generating waves among people in other countries also facing austerity.

  7. Your views, Kathy, are indeed what some thought they were voting for in going for OXI. Others saw it differently...and some saw it as a country committing mass suicide.

    I think we'll know better by Sunday when the "final" deadline comes and we see if Prime Minister Tsipras actually has a plan acceptable to the EU that will keep Greece on the Euro, or at least in the EU. His firing of his controversial Finance Minister right after the Referendum vote, and reaching out for consolidated support among his long time Parliamentary foes, seemed smart moves 'to the center' to appease those in the EU uncomfortable with his party's declared Marx-Lenin philosophy. We shall see.

    Frankly, two factors that give me pause are that virtually every Balkan-born person I've spoken to who actually lived in a "workers paradise" but now lives in Greece cannot understand how the Greeks possibly think life will be better out of the EU--especially the women.

    The second matter is a serious Freedom of the Press issue raising its ugly head in Greece. In an unprecedented move the Journalists' Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA)--a group closely allied with the ruling party SYRIZA--was reported to have brought disciplinary charges against nine journalists from major television stations for "biased positions" during the Referendum coverage. And in his speech this morning before the European Parliament a few minutes ago, Tsipras went out of his way to mention the "terrorism of the media."

    Again, we shall see.

  8. Well, the New York Times and other media have brought up the London Agreement of 1953 which forgave a lot of Germany's debts, cut some and extended the repayment period. Greece was one of the creditors which relaxed Germany's debt.

    It seems to me that Germany owes Greece a lot based on that and that Italian and German fascism cost 1 million Greek lives in WWII.

    Also, from what I have read, 80% of young people voted NO. They are tired of the more than 50% youth unemployment rate. It's only gotten worse since austerity was imposed. What did they have to lose?

    Also, many poor people voted NO, too.

    I sympathize with the younger folks with that employment rate which is outrageous.

    Also, I don't think that Syriza is a Marxist organization. It is a coalition of about 13 or so groupings from centrist to left-wing. It doesn't have a "line"; it has several. And differences show.which wouldn't if they were politically unified.Also, Syriza members don't all agree with each other, even those in the Parliament. They argue and vote differently.

    I have thought of Syriza more like Students for a Democratic Society, which arose in the U.S. in 1962. It was a coalition of many political groups and ideologies. It eventually split into different factions, but even as one group, SDS didn't have one view that all members agreed with. There were constant differences of opinions.

    1. Hi Kathy,

      SDS? In your starkest memory of SDS it would only qualify as SYRIZA light,,,make that extra light. The acronym SYRIZA stands for this phrase in Greek, "Coalition of the Radical Left." The party wears its Marxist Lenin origins proudly and doesn't even attempt to hide them. The 14 or so factions run from North Korean to Swedish communist, so it's quite a big--and as you point out--fractious tent.

      You're right though about all decisions being made by committee and there's the rub in why the situation has reached the critical stage.

      As for what do the suffering have further to lose from all this, I'm sad to say we may soon see.

  9. Well, there are different factions in Syriza, as shown by different votes even within those in Parliament and arguments amongst themselves. There are centrists and Social-Democrats to more left groups. They are not tied to the Greek Communist Party, which is actually opposed to Syriza and told people not to vote in the referendum.

    Even today Tsipris agreed to concessions to the Troika, with which others in Syriza will not agree. And this also flies in the face of what the NO voters wanted. So, it remains to be seen what will happen here.

    Also, I was in SDS in two different colleges -- there were vast differences of viewpoints, all sorts of study groups reading a variety of books, lots of arguing. And everybody was in it at a certain point, every youth group of every left party plus independents, etc.

    My college cafeteria was divided into about 8 groupings, all in SDS, all with different views. Constant arguments. Then varius splits happened.

    1. BINGO, Kathy! Imagine your college cafeteria running a country on the edge of financial Armageddon and you have the situation in Greece today. :)

      Let's just hope PM Tsipras's proposals submitted last night show enough flexibility to lead the EU to show the same.

  10. Interesting. SDS running a country, hmmm. But my point was to say it was all different ideologies.

    I just read descriptions of Syrize at different blogs; it is a coalition of different movements, some moderate, some left-wing.

    I do wonder what will happen with Tsipris' proposals within Greece. His proposals are not what the NO voters wanted. They wanted an end to austerity.

    Tsipris' proposals contain a hike in sales taxes, a cut in poor pensioners' benefits, a rise in the retirement age, among other things. How will the NO voters take this? The labor unions? The others in the Syriza leadership?

    That's the question at hand. Will there be protests? Or not?

    Also, as a friend mentioned yesterday, there is a lot of really awful and bigoted vitriol inside Germany directed against the Greek people. Given Germany's history, it is rather nerve-wracking. Also, Germany was given a huge break in 1953 by Greece and 20 other countries, and Germany of all countries should give Greece a break.

    1. Kathy, I'm not sure what blogs you're reading, but believe me when I say SYRIZA is the left of the left. It's no surprise to anyone that the moment they were elected the violent rock and molotov cocktail tossing demonstrations that plagued all prior governments ceased, as if by magic. :)

      That said, it has long been said that the only person in Greece who might be able to get through the necessary social reform measures that had protestors crippling other governments is Tsipras. But whether he has the political will is another thing. If he shows that will, and stands up to his more radical party members, he'll undoubtedly pick up the support of Greece's mainstream parties (to compensate for the loss of votes among his own party), and complete his shift toward the center left...likely making him PM for life!

      On the OXI vote, no one knows what it really meant other than a nationalistic show of pride in a leader who stood up to the Lenders.

      I'm sure there is vitriol against Greece in Germany, as there is here against Germany. Though I must say from my brief time in Munich in June and what I see here in Greece, it's more anger directed at each nation's government (and leaders), that at the other's people. On the other hand, as a result of the Referendum, there is now deep Greek against Greek polarization here...even within the same family...and that's what troubles me most.

  11. And what is happening to the predatory lenders and corrupt politicians who started the problem. NOTHING. Read the history of the debt here:

    1. You cannot be serious, Sis in citing to that article as a legitimate history of events--as corrupt as they were and remain. Any article that starts off with blaming the mafia, international bankers, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and ends with tying it all together as the result of a "New World Order––a world owned by a handful of corporations and banks," makes me want to reread "The Boys From Brazil."

    2. It's not Brazil you should be looking at as a case study. It is Argentina. Kissinger could tell you all about it. But he won't.

  12. I have read of terrible anti-Greek vitriol by German media, and given Germany's history, I don't like it. It's of the "We Germans work so hard; the Greeks are lazy," which I don't even like to repeat as it's bigotry and arrogance.

    And I also don't like bullies, which the Schaubel and other German leaders and the ECB are acting like. And they conveniently forget that Greece and other countries gave Germany a break in 1953 in terms of cutting their debt. And, as I said, I think Germany owes Greece (and other countries and peoples) a lot!

    And now pensioners and others are going to pay the price while the bankers get their interest and debt -- and Greece gets very little. After all, what has austerity gotten Greece, while the bankers have done well?
    25% unemployment, 50% youth unemployment, a higher rate of impoverishment, homelessness, hunger, suicides, etc.

    And now Tsipris has been battered into a proposal which the referendum refuted. Greece is a "hostage" to the ECB, etc. And the people will suffer more now.

    1. You're absolutely right about the name calling, Kathy, as it's flying from both sides and with such vitriol that it's starting to focus on old tried and true scapegoats, bringing the crisis to an entirely different level. That's a real danger.

      As for Tsipras being "battered" all I can say is WOW. He is a fascinating politician. He drove the country into a white hot frenzy to vote against austerity (his finance minister swearing to cut off his arm rather than sign such measures), then did an immediate 180 agreeing to even more stringent austerity than his voters soundly rejected. But instead of being run out of town on a rail as a betrayer, he's drawing sympathy from his supporters as "battered." THAT is a politician who knows how to manipulate his people, and confuse the you-know-what out of them in the process. :)