Greece crisis: This referendum isn't 'democracy' — it's tearing my country apart

I know what a well-organised process looks like. But what is happening in Greece is a world away from that

Loukia Gyftopoulou
Tuesday 30 June 2015 19:17
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If I had to describe the Greek referendum in one word, it would be ‘madness’. I landed in Athens on Friday night for what was supposed to be a week’s holiday in my home country, and I have already had enough of reading the foreign press’ romantic views on the sad state of my beloved country or hearing emotional arguments about how ‘asking the people’ will bring democracy to Greece. It won’t - at least, not this way. It will only bring division.

Do you really want to know what it’s like here at the moment? A heated Facebook debate between two close friends just ended with the words: “Don’t ever talk to me again, you bloody fanatic.” Why? One was voting ‘yes’ and the other ‘no’. They have been friends for more than a decade. And that’s just one example of many, many incidents I have witnessed.

“I’m not talking to my brother these days, we’re enemies,” said another friend, only half-jokingly, when I asked how his family were doing. And jokes aside, this is becoming an everyday reality. Even I, despite pretending to be the voice of unity and reason, prefer not to see or talk to my best friend, because they are an avid supporter of the opposite side.

The TV and radio stations are constantly broadcasting news programs to update the public. Worn out journalism colleagues are trying to control their guests, who are frantically shouting in desperation, trying to shift the vote one way or the other. Social media sites are more like civil war zones – full of threats and swearing, with people losing their tempers and branding each other ‘fascists’ simply for holding a different opinion.

Thankfully, the streets are still calm. Waiting in long ATM queues, patient citizens still find the strength to laugh and socialise with one another. But for how much longer? In Greece, emotions run high. Greek people have always taken sides on everything from politics and football to the best way of cooking moussaka, but this situation is taking a dangerous twist. Only yesterday I was nearly labeled an enemy of democracy for saying that this referendum is a fatal mistake, and I will probably be called similar names for writing this. But I don’t care. It’s not a joke anymore.

Manipulated by emotive language, panicked people are being sent to the polls like lambs to the slaughter, asked to make a decision that will change the country’s destiny overnight. But they are making this decision without any real information. There has been no debate, no clear answer as to what either of the options mean, and we have no idea what the next day will bring. No one has been kind enough to explain – yet still we all have to choose a side.

What happens if ‘no’ wins and Greece is forced out of Europe and the Euro? Or what if ‘yes’ leads to a horribly painful deal involving endless austerity? Who would be to blame then? Surely not the government, because the decision will be taken by the people. Ultimately, it is us who will be responsible for whatever calamity comes.

And how will friends and family of opposing camps react after the vote? Will they forgive and forget their differences in the light of what ensues, or will this escalating hatred take over and split our already divided society for good?

Referendums are, of course, ultimately democratic. I covered the Scottish Independence referendum last year, and I know what a well-organised process looks like. But what is happening in Greece is a world away from that. People need time to think, they need facts and figures and they need to partake in healthy and informed debates. None of this is happening.

Greeks must have a say but they don’t deserve to be used as scapegoats in any ensuing disaster, which is what I fear may be happening here. Give them time, give them information and tell them what the hell they’re voting for. Whatever side they currently stand on, they have the right to know what their vote really means.

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