After five months of intense negotiations between SYRIZA, the leftist Greek government, and the “institutions” formerly known as the Troika, and after spending most of last week locked in discussions with creditors which did not result in a deal, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras made a speech on Friday night. In that speech, he referred to the creditors’ “insulting ultimatum.” In light of these developments, the Greek PM stated that “The EU wants to humiliate us, but we brought democracy to the world and that is our only option. I’m trusting the Greeks to make the right decision.” With those words he proclaimed that a referendum would be held on the 5th of July.
Since the election of the SYRIZA government, Greece has been in a state of conflict, not militarily of course but economically, politically, and psychologically. From the very start Europe has been making indirect and often direct interventions in the country’s affairs (consider the recent speech made by Jean-Claude Junker, who called on the Greek people to vote YES on the referendum). This display of power is an act that contradicts the basic principles and values of the EU (solidarity, balanced economic development, and substantial outreach). It is clear now that the European elites did not want a leftist government to be elected in Greece, or at the very least, they hoped that a “left intermission” would diffuse people’s frustrations and anger about the extreme austerity measures they have been subjected to under previous governments. Those elites also hoped that this would bring about a return of previous governments which had agreed on any and all terms. In a belittling statement, the Belgian PM called on Greece to put an end to its “playtime,” a period of time which in fact had driven at least two people to commit suicide every day, led to the reduction of pensions by 45 %, and pushed unemployment among young people up to 60 % .
As negotiations progressed and the Greek negotiating team stated its terms (no more increases in the VAT, no more salary and pensions cuts, and sincere talks on the restructuring of the Greek debt), those “institutions” made sure that there was no space for an “honorable compromise,” whatever that could possibly mean with the given circumstances, in moves that resembled a post-modern European coup. The Greek Prime Minister exposed the real intentions of the IMF and the other institutions when he stated that “The non-acceptance of equivalent measures is unprecedented… This strange stance may be due to two reasons. Either they do not want an agreement or they serve specific interests in Greece.” Recently, Gene Kerrigan, and many other prominent journalists and scholars, emphasized that point by stating outright, “What’s been going on in recent weeks looks like a silent coup against the Greek government. It could be EU and IMF arrogance and incompetence, but it smells more like an attempt at regime change.”
The Greek people democratically chose a new government with a clear mandate to put an end to austerity policies and change the living conditions of the population in Europe without, however, putting the country’s self-government and sovereignty at risk. The people’s preferences paid off. For the past five months actual negotiations have been going on in which the Greek government has been representing and talking on behalf of all Greeks, not just the supporters of SYRIZA. Having reached an impasse during the negotiations and without playing a “free card” to unilaterally stop the negotiations, the Greek government decided in a bold but equally rightful and democratic move to proclaim a referendum through which the Greek people would decide if the creditors’ proposals should be accepted or not. Arguments claiming that the referendum takes the Greek government “off the hook” and places the burden of this decision on the shoulders of the people seem to generally be made by people who believe that the Greek government should accept the creditor’s proposals even if they will lead to the further pauperization of the people and additional austerity. The current Greek government was elected because it stated that it would not give in to such demands, so the opposition parties have no footing to question the referendum, which seems to be the most democratic way to proceed.
Attempts made by the opposition to de-legitimize the referendum which have been backed by the full support of major media corporations that have stoked fears in past months are indicative of the political bankruptcy of these forces. Instead of trying to present their arguments and convince the people why they should vote for the proposals, which would be an act of true political ethos, they have resorted to petty methods and blackmail, and this demonstrates that their political agenda has always been in line with the oligarchy.
We should realize that this is more than about either voting YES (staying in the EU and the Eurozone, with all the devastating consequences it would bring about for the Greek people such as further pension and salary cuts as well as a ban on the return of collective bargaining agreements in Greece) or NO (an attempt to correct the existing inequalities and improve the living conditions of Greece). In fact, the Greek debt crisis is a European crisis, and Greece represents an existential crisis for the Eurozone. Therefore the real question at hand is about choosing between democracy or oligarchy, and that choice in turn centers on critical debates about just what kind of Europe we want.