Saturday

25th May 2019

'It's Greeks against Greeks'

  • Supporters at a meeting for the Yes in front of Athens' Panathenaic Stadium - the rally was about half the size of the No rally (Photo: Eric Maurice)

It was a tale of two Greeces on Friday night (3 July) as tens of thousands took to the streets of Athens for the last evening of campaigning ahead of Sunday's referendum on bailout reforms.

At two different rallies, people expressed what they believe is right for the country.

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  • During Tsipras' speech: 'No to policy of cuts, Yes to resistance' (Photo: Eric Maurice)

In a calm and orderly manner in front of the ancient marble Panathenaic Stadium for the Yes. In a chaotic and passionate manner on Syntagma Square at the foot of the Greek Parliament for the No.

At face value it looked like a division between a rational choice to keep Greece inside the eurozone and avoid political isolation and economic disaster, and a heartfelt cry for new policies after five years of crisis, austerity and poverty.

The No supporters numbered at least twice as many as the Yes supporters, making it difficult to predict which side will prevail on Sunday.

While Syntagma Square was packed with at least 50,000 people from the No side, the the Yes camp says it represents the “silent minority”.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras electrified the crowd in a 10-minute speech.

"Nobody can ignore this desire for life, the desire for hope, the desire for optimism.," he said, calling voters to "overcome fear and blackmail".

"We are not deciding about staying in Europe. We are deciding about living with dignity in Europe. (...) For all of us to be equal in Europe," he said.

"You will decide with your heart and mind. Nobody can hide that we are right. We have integrity and bravery. Whatever happens, we are the winners."

"When Tsipras speaks, I feel comfortable," said Alexandros, a student.

"I trust him, he tries everything for us."

While several EU leaders and the Greek opposition say the referendum is ultimately about euro membership, many No voters agree with Tsipras' argument that the vote is about changing Europe.

"We live a historical period in Greece and Europe. We support Europe because we are the heart of Europe," said a man in his 30s who did not want to give his name.

"Europe's democratic values are in crisis. The EU has been transformed into a German Europe."

"We don't accept the blackmail or that the citizens have to pay forever," said Matina, a tour guide.

"We think austerity leads only towards death. We want the EU to care more about weaker citizens. We want to have the right to decide for our lives."

"No matter what we decide, we shall fight united to build a stronger Greece," Tsipras said, responding to widespread feeling that the referendum will lead to long-lasting divisions in Greek society.

This was especially true at the Yes rally.

"Greek people are easily divided," said Panos, a retired teacher.

"We should stay united because the most difficult time will be after the referendum. I'm afraid that banks will stay closed for several weeks," he said.

Constantine, a marketing director at a shipping company, said he feared clashes if the Yes wins, because of radical groups.

'Greeks against Greeks'

"It's Greeks against Greeks. I see it. I saw people going in different ways because of the crisis," he said.

"This is the first time ever I came to some sort of political event. I do not believe that people should intervene on political decisions, we elect politicians to govern," Constantine said.


"But now we have to do that, we have to prop up the effort of the EU, because being out of the euro would be a disaster," he said.

"I believe that Europe is building an economy that will rival the US or China, that is why I believe we should be part of the EU."

"We have borrowed and now we have to pay. The only question is whether it will be in my life time or for my two children. In the meantime, we have to create a modern economy that invests in people and does not just wait for tourists to come," Constantine said.

No party leader spoke at the Yes rally, where Greek flags were distributed and where pop music as well as Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, were played.

Different personalities including businessmen, artists and athletes told the crowd of around 25,000 that Greece's future lies in Europe.

"We cannot put into question Greece's European identity," said Nikos Aliagas, a well-known Greek journalist who is also a TV star in France.

"The No side has probably good reasons, but it is only anger, with no propositions," he said.

For many sporting the "Nai" (Yes) sticker, voting Yes is about protecting what they have.

"The people who are here are the people who made money with the euro," Constantine said.


"They are the people who worked. They may be selfish, but that is very Greek. We do not care about what is happening around. But now we do care for what is happening to our country."

On Syntagma, Tsipras' words on pride and dignity struck a chord but there was also some fatalism.

"Whether Greece votes Yes or No, the result will be the same, it will be in a stronger poverty," the anonymous supporter said.

"I support the No because we will have poverty with dignity."

Bulgarian lev makes inroads in Greece

Hotels and restaurants in northern Greece are accepting payments in Bulgarian levs, then converting them to euros in Bulgaria.

Feature

Athens on edge as referendum looms

Three days before the referendum, closed banks, frequent demos, and streams of leaflets are a reminder that the future of Greece is at stake.

Greek voters resent EU pressure

Faced with a choice many tell them is for or against Europe, some Greeks might vote No in reaction to outside pressure.

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