'Greeks Do Not Accept Shackles': Country Gears Up for a Major Referendum

VICE News speaks to people in Greece ahead of the country's important referendum on Sunday.

by Kayleen Devlin and Nektaria Tserpeli
Jul 2 2015, 4:05pm


How the Greeks will vote in Sunday's upcoming referendum is anyone's guess. Events have unfolded in the country at a dizzying pace over the past week, seeing banks being shut, an historic IMF default, and last-minute bailout demands being made. Yet whilst the latest headline grabbers have involved decisions and statements made by European financial and political heavyweights, on Sunday a decision on whether to accept bailout terms — the outcome of which could sculpt the future of Greece's eurozone membership — will be put to the people.

Thymios Angouras is an unemployed 31-year-old living in Athens. He has two masters degrees, and says that he's been unemployed since April 2014.

"The last five years, we have lived in austerity that never ends," he told VICE News.

"The last five years, we have been living the consequences of a 'yes.' Voting 'no' gives me a hope for tomorrow as I do not have anything to lose. I am unemployed, and I have no hope for the future. I know that I may lose everything by voting 'no,' but I also know that I will have the opportunity for a new start."

The referendum question itself leaves much to be desired or, to put it more aptly, understood. It asks Greeks whether they should accept Europe's now expired bailout conditions, which propose austerity measures that include fiscal reforms and pension cuts. The wording of the question is cryptic, making reference to attached appendixes titled "Reforms for the Completion of the Current Programmes and Beyond" and "Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis."

Related: Banks Close For A Week Before Crucial Debt Repayment

Figures suggest that approximately 1.2 million Greeks are without a job. For younger generations, the figure is worse, with about 50% of the people between 15 and 24 years  jobless. Yet whilst for some, like Angouras, the upcoming referendum represents a potential for change in Greece's depressed economy, others see the change caused by a "no" vote as only depressing circumstances further.

Twenty-two-year-old Greek student Filiagkou Kyriaki Maria told VICE News that the possibility of a "no" vote — leading to an exit of Europe and reversion back to the Greek currency — would be disastrous.

"Who would like to do any kind of trade with such a weak currency? I am against the referendum," she told VICE News.

"I think it should not go forward. I see panic and insecurity from many people. Ordinary people do not have technical knowledge of economics. I believe at the moment many Greek people do not understand the disaster of returning to our national currency."

Related: Greece Is Playing Economic Chicken With The Rest Of Europe

The outcome of Sunday's vote remains — for now — uncertain. According to a poll issued on Wednesday by the Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper, the "no" vote was in the lead, with 54 percent planning to vote in opposition to the bailout compared with 33 percent in favor. The poll conceded, however, that the gap is narrowing following the decision on Sunday to close the banks and restrict ATM withdrawals to 60 euros per day — a restriction that won't be lifted until the day after the referendum, on July 5.  

Members of Greece's leading Syriza party have called on the public to vote "no" in the referendum. In a televised address on Wednesday, the country's prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, urged the public to vote "no." He added that the vote was simply a vote on how to solve the Greek debt crisis, not a vote on whether to leave the eurozone.

Speaking on Thursday to ABC Radio, Greece's finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said amid speculation that Greece could be forced out of the eurozone that the country could no longer make drachmas. "We smashed the printing presses — we have no printing presses," Varoufakis said.

Despite this, some European countries — including Britain, France, and Germany — have insisted that a "no" vote in Sunday's upcoming referendum would spell exit from the eurozone.

Related: Greece Offers Last Ditch Bailout Plan Before Clock Runs Out At Midnight

Yet such threats seem to be falling on deaf ears amongst some of Greece's voters.

George Georgeopoulos, a professor of economics from the University of York who is currently in the Greek city of Patras, told VICE News that voters he's been speaking to across different parts of Greece remain unphased by the threats.

"The people I've spoken to who are voting 'no' tell me that they are not saying 'no' to the EU or eurozone, but they're saying 'no' to the current proposals. They've told me, 'We know we're not going to get kicked out. We're not being fooled by this,'" he told VICE News.

"There is a risk of a Grexit, but they seem to think the eurozone doesn't want that to happen. Frankly I think they are correct — I don't think a 'no' vote would lead to the eurozone countries kicking out Greece."

Georgopoulos maintains, however, that there is no room to be complacent in the event of a "no" vote.

"The economic situation has been worse over the past five days under the Syriza government than ever before. People are upset. They've been saying to me, 'We picked this party so that things would get better, in fact it's worse.'

"It can only get worse if they vote 'no,'" he told VICE News.

Yet for 67-year-old pensioner Efi S., the events of the past five days are overshadowed by those of the past five years.

"I am in favor of a 'no' as for five years with the previous governments they promised growth and there was no growth. The only thing we were facing for five years was a dramatic decrease in my pension and an increase in taxes."

"They underestimated my dignity," she told VICE News, "I'm a scientist, an educated person who has worked my whole life. I want to say that these past days have brought to my mind the poet who said, 'Greeks do not accept shackles.'"

Related: Greece's Young Anarchists