Greece debt crisis: Too many Greeks decided the referendum question was 'Do you want to pay more humiliating and unfair taxes?'

Mr Tsipras  behaved as though he was still a radical student throwing rocks at riot police

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The Independent Online

My country’s Prime Minister asked a stupid question, so there is going to be no smart answer.

The confusing and complex referendum wording was bad. But Alexis Tsipras’ claim that he needed a 'No' vote to be able to negotiate a better deal with our creditors was baffling.  My concern was different.  I asked myself how either a 'Yes' or 'No' vote would affect my family and my country.  More austerity after 5 years of “death-by-taxes”? Greece forced to exit the Eurozone?

The risk of a Grexit was too much to consider, and I felt even the worst deal would be better than no-deal. I voted Yes because I was answering my own questions: “euro or drachma?” and “inside or outside the European Union?”

Choosing the euro meant I wanted security, free trade and free travel, and to belong to an ambitious and peace-bringing family of 500 million people. I rejected 25 per cent inflation and currency fluctuations that favoured the  rich and destroyed the poor.

I remembered my father trying to pay back a business loan with  29 per cent  interest when I was a kid. I did not want that for my children. I was given a university education in the UK after Greece’s entry to the then-EEC. Isolation has not been my experience.

Many Greeks decided the question asked was : “Do you want to pay more exhausting, humiliating and unfair taxes?” Anyone would answer No to that. But it was disingenuously posed, and essentially undemocratic. Add to that a fast-tracked five-day ballot process, rather than the 30 days stipulated by the constitution, and an absence of meaningful presentations by both campaigns, and people believed Mr Tsipras’ arguments.

Many Greeks voted to express confidence or dissatisfaction in the current government. Others voted to  xpress anger to previous governments and their austerity programmes. The No vote was a belated No to old policies. This disapproval was already expressed in the January elections; but if you can twice send a damning message, why not?

Some were scared or elated by the conflicting messages coming out of Brussels and Berlin. A Yes vote could means mean a better deal.  A No vote pointed to Greece being  out of the Eurozone, or even out of Europe. Others said that nothing could change Greece’s position in Europe. Differing  arguments and scenarios on the “Greek problem” emanated from  Brussels. The USA and the EU seemed also divided. And what about Putin? Most people in the end simply didn’t accept that 'no' could lead Greece out of the EU; most warnings were dismissed.

Four days before the election I met a good friend on the street. We started talking about the referendum and the political climate and found ourselves agreeing on everything. After 10 minutes I asked: “So we’re both voting Yes, that’s a relief!” He was surprised and said he’d be voting No, asking how can I seriously vote Yes? Two educated working professionals, asked the same question, agreeing to everything, but giving two opposite answers? There must have been something seriously wrong with the question.

People also got angry by the promotion of the Yes vote in the media. Many felt a Yes vote was being pushed down their throats. After capital controls were implemented last Tuesday, news programme showed queues in front of an ATM with people were wearing winter clothing and jackets. In July - in Athens!  The temperature that day was 33 C, and the picture was obviously an archive one. So, they would vote No to punish the news organisations. 

Mr Tsipras – the man holding the power  - behaved as though he was still a radical student throwing rocks at riot police. Yet his populist message found favour with hundreds of thousands.

The result is therefore not surprising. The neo-Nazis of Golden Dawn have often voted as a block together with Tsipras in parliament, and they also supported the No side. So have Syriza’s  coalition partners, the right-wing Independent Greeks. Anti-Europe moderates, disappointed with the EU’s manner of negotiating these past 5 years, further aided the No vote. So did the Pro-drachma lobbies.

These are special groups. But you don’t get to 62 per cent with this bunch alone. Those left unemployed by the recession made a clear choice. Those exhausted by taxes after 5 years of austerity saw little option. Those who lost their homes because of shrinking  salaries, those living the daily hell of life below poverty line – all have their own agenda. And there were people who saw the referendum asking simply: “Can you withstand one iota of more austerity?”. The obvious answer was No.

Some were afraid of a long-alleged but never admitted plan of Mr Tsipras to take Greece out of the Eurozone and possibly the EU. But because of the government’s message, many felt they were being asked to prolong their personal torture.

A wider failure is the inability and incompetence of both Greek and European leaders opposing Mr Tsipras to explain what was really being asked. If anything has been shown these past 6 months under Mr Tsipras’  government, it is that he is a master of claiming  to turn a few loaves and fishes into food  for thousands.  The people applaud such announcements, even though they are all still waiting to eat.

If there is now a reflex rescue by Brussels and the IMF, Mr Tsipras will be hailed a hero. If not, polls suggesting that 78 per cent of Greeks prefer the euro over the drachma, point to further instability.

Are the Greek people to blame for being so easily misled?  Maybe. But Mr Tsipras did not hesitate in dividing Greece in order to suit his own agenda. This referendum has already inflicted damage - regardless of what happens now.