The Only People Who Are Upbeat About Greece's "No" Vote? The Greeks

Photo: NurPhoto/Rex USA.
On Sunday, the people of Greece banded together to send a message to their European creditors: No. In a referendum, Greeks summarily rejected demands for more austerity, which would include deep cuts to pensions and government spending, in exchange for more loans. While everyone around the world seems terrified that the vote will lead to the breakup of the European Union, the mood in Greece is surprisingly upbeat.

On Monday, the White House urged both sides to seek a deal that would have Greece stay in the eurozone. European leaders are meeting on Tuesday to continue to hash out an agreement on Greece’s future with the euro — but the mood is not exactly optimistic. And yet, although Sunday’s “no” vote could be seen as a shortsighted reaction to terrible conditions, it was also a way for citizens to fight back against policies that have left a quarter of all Greeks out of work and half of all people under 25 unemployed, while driving up the suicide rate, and leaving elderly people penniless and hungry. It's cheeering some people up.

“I am happy. We said ‘no’ at last,” Margarita Prounia, an artist living in the port city of Piraeus, told us over Facebook. The vote, she said, was “the first time we have the chance of opinion here.” Prounia also said that the 60 euro-per-day limit on ATM withdrawals from Greek banks has not affected her much — she uses credit cards — and she knows the banks could run out of money. Bank doors will stay closed as negotiations start again, and without a major breakthrough, Greece is dangerously close to ruin.

The country's situation was dire before the vote on Sunday; it missed a 1.6 billion euro payment it owed to the International Monetary Fund on June 30, and it has another payment coming due on July 20. Greek leaders want their nation's debt cut to a more manageable amount, but so far no one wants to make any concessions. And, in the wake of the vote, Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's finance minister, resigned in a dramatic post on his blog.

Prounia’s cousin, Urania Mylonas, watched from New York as the referendum's results came in, and she was happy to see the “no” side win, even if it means things could still get worse for loved ones. “For us, it looked like enough is enough,” she told us. “The reason they voted no was that they were being backed into a corner with impossible solutions, and they believed they shouldn’t be punished and made an example.”

Disclosing that her family in Greece has been lucky compared to many others, Mylonas said she does worry about what will happen to them. “We definitely all feel helpless,” she told us. “We can’t even send money at this point, because we’re not sure if they’re going to be able to access it, how much it would be able to help, whether it would be intercepted. We’re just not sure.”

But even with so many people in crisis, Greeks are committed to assisting one another when the rest of Europe is reluctant to. "It’s pretty awful — but the great thing about Greeks is that they tend to band together," Mylonas said. "When someone doesn’t have enough food, they’ll bring them something. I think that you see, more and more, neighbors helping each other, taking it into their own hands."

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