Yesterday’s astonishing referendum vote in Greece has left elite jaws dropping across the continent. In the face of universal opposition from the powers-that-be across the continent and dire warnings that essentially amounted to ‘ do what we say or else’ Greek voters overwhelmingly rejected the Troika’s latest bailout package.
Well, technically they didn’t reject the package exactly, because in the confused circumstances that followed Syriza’s referendum decision last week, the Troika declared its latest bailout offer to be null and void, and Alex Tsipras appeared to have accepted it, albeit with preconditions.
Never mind, because Greeks knew what they were voting for and so did their creditors, who had made it plain that they weren’t happy with the Syriza government and wanted Greeks to dissolve it and elect another. Everyone knew that if the referendum vote had gone the other way then Syriza would have resigned, and this was clearly the outcome Europe’s financial and political elites wanted, which was why they turned their backs on Tsipras’s last minute acceptance of their latest package.
Ever since Syriza was elected, the Troika has been determined to exact complete and unconditional surrender from Tsipras’s government because it fears that anything less would encourage other countries to question the disaster capitalism in drag that goes by the name of austerity.
Greece’s creditors may not have wanted a referendum, but their behavior last week made it clear that they also saw it as a potential opportunity to ditch Syriza and get a compliant technocratic government in power that would do their bidding without fuss. To press the point home, Greeks were presented with the same dread prospect of empty banks and ATM machines that were once used to justify the recapitalization of the banking system when the global financial crisis first broke.
Yet astonishingly, even in these fearful and ultra-conservative times, when electorates across the continent prefer to cling onto the boot that kicks them because they are terrified that the alternative would be worse, Greece refused to acquiesce in the face of shamefully undemocratic blackmail.
Told effectively to change your government or face bankruptcy, economic collapse, and expulsion from Europe, the Greeks voted no by an overwhelming margin. And they were last night, dancing in the streets and public squares even as they stared down into what remains a very dark tunnel. Why did they do this? Are they mad, these southern Europeans, in rejecting the ‘common sense’ imposed upon them by their sober northern creditors and the sour-faced disciples of TINA (There Is No Alternative)? Are they suffering from an attack of mass psychosis?
Well no. They were dancing because they had stood up to the blinkered financial thuggery that has ripped their society to shreds. They were dancing because they had reached the conclusion that sometimes collective defiance – regardless of the risks – is preferable to endless humiliation, despair and ruin. They were dancing because they had demonstrated a level of real political courage that has been so sorely lacking in so many countries during these grim years, and brave decisions are always more invigorating than fear and submission.
They were dancing because they had asserted their democratic right to choose a government that represented what they saw as their best interests rather than a government that recommended the interests of the Troika and the promoters of the disaster-capitalism-in-drag that we call austerity.
Of course this victory opens the way to all kinds of unforeseen possibilities. The resignation of Yanis Varoufakis already demonstrates that Syriza’s own defiance has its limits. The Troika may now accept Syriza’s conditions or Tsipras might demand more. Greece may be cast adrift and expelled from the eurozone, or simply allowed to drift away from it. If that happens, Greece may face a crisis even more severe than the one that has already wrought such havoc if it reintroduces the drachma, at least in the short-term.
As of this morning, no one knows how any of this will pan out. But yesterday, the Greek people found itself and spoke with its own voice. And now, faced with the refusal of the Greeks to dissolve its government, the powers–that-be can only either try and dissolve the Greek people itself, as Brecht once put it in a different context, or they can engage in open confrontation with a broad national consensus that is no longer restricted to the ‘far left’ government that the Troika tried to humiliate.
No wonder the Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijssebloem has described the result as ‘very regrettable for the future of Greece.’ German Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel yesterday accused the Tsipras government of taking Greece down a path of ‘bitter abandonment and hopelessness.’
Well if yesterday’s celebrations were what bitterness and hopelessness look like, then there are many other people in Europe who might want some of it too. And they might even conclude, like the Greeks, that sometimes a leap into the unknown is preferable to a fearful, debt-enforced future of endless austerity, and that sometimes, if you stand up to the powerful, you can actually win.