This article originally appeared on VICE Greece
On Monday afternoon, thousands of people converged outside the Greek Parliament in Athens, in support of a "No" vote at this Sunday's referendum.
The question is whether or not to agree to a bail out plan proposed by Greece's lenders. A "Yes" vote would mean accepting a deal from foreign creditors and submitting to more austerity. A "No" vote would mean shunning the cash and seeing what happens next.
As soon as the referendum was announced last Saturday, Greece was split into two opposing camps. Many people formed queues in front of cash machines to take as much cash out of their accounts as they could before Monday, when the banks closed up shop for a week and set the cash withdrawal limit to 60 euros.
This growing climate of fear and uncertainty wasn't palpable at Syntagma though. People were definitely troubled, but for the most part they appeared positive and determined. Banners calling for an end to austerity and opposing the European Union were everywhere, as were those expressing their opposition to further budget and pension cuts.
People of all ages gathered – workers, the unemployed, students and pensioners. Governing party SYRIZA were there of course, as were leftist parties from outside the parliamentary spectrum, antifascist groups and members of the anarchist movement. The Greek Communist Party, on the other hand, was absent, having decided to boycot the referendum. Their view is that, "the fraudulent 'No' proposed by the government is essentially a 'Yes' vote for the SYRIZA memorandum" – believing the government's negotiating proposals to be near identical to those of their creditors.
Athina is a 19-year-old student at the Athenian Medical School. She came to the demo with friends and said that, "a 'Yes' vote, in my eyes, is a never ending cycle around the memorandum. We haven't really been told what a 'No' vote entails, and I would really like some clarification on that. I'm voting 'No' because I may not know what lies ahead, but I'm sure that a 'Yes' vote means allowing for years and years of more austerity. If we enter yet another memorandum there is no way back. They'll suck us dry and keep imposing measures and cuts, until we're a third world county. By voting 'No' we're showing that we're not going to back down. My 'No' vote puts pressure on our lenders to work out a viable plan."
Aris, a 21-year-old student also told me why he is going to vote "No": "The only thing that could make us look towards the future with a sense of optimism is a 'No' vote for the dictatorship imposed by the European powers-that-be. The only thing that frightens me is a 'Yes' vote, although realistically I think that is what people will go for, because they are afraid."
Alexis is 30 years old and has been unemployed for three years. For the first two years of the crisis, he could still find some employment here and there as a graphic designer, but over the last year that has dried up. He has no money coming in and is unaffected by the measures imposed on the banks. "I'm voting 'No' because we need to reject any form of blackmail. We are living in a state of blackmail and it has crippled this country and its people. Those that vote 'No' are unafraid. They won't buckle under threats and won't back down, because over the last five years they have seen their wages, freedom and options dissapear. I have already lost so much and we all stand to lose a lot more unless we fight," he told me.
Konstantinos is a 29-year-old actor, who supplements his income by working as a waiter. "Things are positive. This whole state of change should fill us with optimism and smiles," he told me. "Last month, I made 250 euros and I have 30 euros in the bank. Obviously, I'm not affected by capital controls and I can't relate to people queuing at cash machines. I think everyone should just chill. I'm supporting the 'No' vote, because a 'No' vote means a career. If the 'Yes' vote wins, we know what the next day holds. If we just accept more of the same, we know the shit that we're going to be forced to eat. A 'No' vote gives us an opportunity to build bonds and relationships with other people and fight for something different to what we have been going through for the last five years."
Nektarios is 31 years old and said: "We are behind the 'No' vote for three basic reasons – We don't want a new memorandum, because if you take a look at the measures being proposed you'll realise that they're worse than the previous ones. The second reason is that we want to provide people with the hope that if they produce a strong 'No' vote, then the next day they can go on and fight. Thirdly, a 'No' vote will open up a new route that will include a debt write-off, an exit from the European Union, as well as the state reclaiming the banking system and handing it back to the workers.
"As we edge closer to Sunday, the fear-mongering will increase. What we are seeing here today is that people aren't backing down, but they want answers and these answers must be provided by the Left. The 'No' campaign reminds me of the anti-war rallies that surrounded the Iraq war. It's the only thing you can compare it to," he went on.
Amidst the crowd, there were a number of tourists. Hazel Graham is from England and has been living in Greece with her husband and child for the past three months. As she notes, "we've been in Greece for three months now and we'll be flying back to England on Monday, after the referendum. We're here to support the Greek people in their fight against austerity. What's happening here is truly inspiring. These are tough times and I hope the referendum produces a 'No' vote. I'm impressed with the energy of the campaign and the will of the people here. There are demonstrations in support of Greece in England as well, and I hope they are big enough and manage to break down the stereotypes of this country that are constantly being recycled by the English media."
A gathering of those in support of a 'Yes' vote is scheduled for tonight.
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Want some background? Read A Brief History of Greece's Debt