One year after the Greek "OXI"

 Athens, Greece. 3rd July 2015 -- A man holding two puppets with a yes and a no sign. Photo: Dimitris Parthimos/Demotix/Corbis Athens, Greece. 3rd July 2015 -- A man holding two puppets with a yes and a no sign. Photo: Dimitris Parthimos/Demotix/Corbis
Dimosthenis Papadatos Anagnostopoulos

Referenda have supporters but also fanatical adversaries on both sides of the political spectrum. In the case of last year’s Greek referendum, the first one in the country since 1974, its opponents from the Right (New Democracy, but also Pasok’s social democrats and To Potami’s liberals) rejected it as “divisive”, but at the same time took sides in favour of NAI. Its opponents from the Left (the Communist Party, KKE) interpreted it as an effort by the government to entrap the Greek people between two versions of austerity: a hard Memorandum proposed by the “institutions” (EU, ECB, IMF), which the people were called to reject, and a “milder” Memorandum the government was fighting for.

Referenda are not actually divisive in themselves; they just reflect and sharpen pre-existing divisions. So, the 5th July referendum revealed a deep social divide that was not created in a week, and this is why the dispute between NAI and OXI was all but a mere surface effect.

Anyone who witnessed the enormous gathering for OXI on Friday 3 July (but also the unprecedented “pro-European” rallies backed by the bourgeois parties) can understand this; anyone that remembers the lock-outs in small businesses, the discontent at the queues outside the closed banks and the way privately-owned media exploited it, as well as the incessant threats and the blunt political interventions (both from inside the country and from abroad) who equated a possible OXI vote with Grexit and chaos.

For the rest, who don’t remember, a simple analysis of the OXI vote will suffice to convince them: OXI was supported by the many who found themselves at the hard end of austerity, but also those who believed the crisis could recede only if the Greek government ended austerity, and stop servicing the debt. What’s more, a recent poll published in Ta Nea (a daily newspaper that openly supported NAI) shows that 74% of Greeks still believe austerity to be self-defeating. In other words, the division brought to the surface by the Greek referendum was not incidental.
On year on, however, the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets for OXI will not go out to celebrate the first anniversary of that historic victory. So what’s left of it?

For the NAI supporters, nothing at all: the referendum was just a reckless political maneuver that led us to a harsh third Memorandum and capital controls that worsened a market which was already in recession. In reality, NAI supporters were calling for the government to sign whatever deal was available, no matter how harsh or bad, if only it ensured Greece’s place in the Eurozone and the EU. The market was in crisis before capital controls due to the fact that in Greece as everywhere in Europe, profit margins have been shrinking and demand is crumbling; not because of a lack of cash!

Nevertheless, despite their flawed analyses and crushing defeat, NAI supporters seem vindicated today: one year after the referendum, the government that led the OXI campaign was forced into signing a hard third Memorandum that is enforcing to the letter, presenting it not as a product of extortion but as a solution to real problems. This is why the hundreds of thousands that took the streets for OXI will not be there today for the commemoration of that great victory.

The 5th July referendum was one of the rare moments in History when large parts of a society felt they have nothing to lose and stood behind those political leaders who seemed willing to fight in their defense. In reality, the then-government declared the referendum in the hope that it would stop its continuous slip towards the troika positions during the dragging negotiation: at the beginning of 2015 Syriza was elected to put an end to austerity while staying in the Eurozone; a little later it promised a “mutually beneficent compromise”; and when that proved impossible, it aimed for an “honorable agreement”. On the night of July 12th, when the troika enforced a harsh third Memorandum in a way that made international public opinion react with cries about a financial coup, it became clear that elections and referenda are no longer allowed to influence economic policy in the Eurozone –and that, apart from a defeat for the Greek government and those of us who stood beside it, was indeed a political coup.

Still, losing to superior opponents is part of the game – even if the government reassured Greek society for months that this was not a possibility; what was clearly foul play was that  a left government accepted a political coup in favour of the continuation of austerity as the limit of its policy: that happened in August 2015, when Alexis Tsipras called for elections, ignoring Syriza’s central committee’s calls for a conference in order for the party to decide not to impose the new Memorandum as government. That was a second coup that eventually led to the breakup of Syriza. And that had nothing to do with the expectations of the 3.5 million people who had voted for OXI. 

The division the referendum revealed is no longer just about the Memoranda, but also about the correct stance toward a European Union that allows exceptions to its rules only when they come from the Right. There are no easy answers, but the recent Brexit win makes them urgent. Europe, held “together” only by capital for the past two decades, hasn’t been more divided since WWII;  if the answers are not provided by the Left (a Left that will no longer mistake OXI for NAI) the UK example shows who is lying in wait to provide them.
Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos is a member of the editorial board of RedNotebook.

Translated by Dimitris Ioannou, edited by Caterina Drossopoulou
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  • The original text was first published on: Written for AnalyzeGreece!