It is hard to understand the current Greek crisis without understanding the country’s recent history. SYRIZA for example, is not just a party that was founded to protest the recent austerity measures (like Podemos in Spain). Rather, it traces its roots to the communist resistance against the German occupation in the Second World War. One of the first things Alexis Tsipras did when he was elected as Prime Minister was to visit a monument dedicated to 200 (mostly communist) resistant fighters, a move he himself admitted was symbolic.
The reactions of many Greeks to foreign nations whom they believe are meddling in the country’s internal affairs go back even further, to the beginning of the modern Greek state almost 200 years ago.
I’m currently reading a book on Modern Greece by Yale professor Stathis Kalyvas. I wanted to share this quote:
Most Greeks see Western Europe (and the United States) as unwelcome meddling foreigners, even though they have largely profited from their interventions. Conversely, Europeans (and Americans) are exasperated that Greeks have failed to see those benefits, even though their inverventionism has been driven primarily by their own self-interest and has been imposed over the Greeks – their discourse about the importance of ancient Greek civilization notwithstanding.
This coming Sunday, there will be a referendum on a proposal that officially isn’t valid anymore, that no one has read and that may be voided anyway by whatever the government and The Institutions agree on this week. On Saturday, a man sat opposite me on the tram reading Kafka; perhaps he was just trying to make sense of the situation.
Tonight, there was yet again a mass protest on Syntagma Square, this time of the Yes (Ναι) campaign. I arrived later than yesterday and, quite unusual for this time of year, it was raining so it was hard to compare numbers fairly, but the square was yet again pretty packed. These people were on average a little older and looked a little bit more affluent than those attending yesterday’s protest, but there was still a very broad mix of people.
The atmosphere was, if possible, even friendlier than yesterday.
Despite the rain, I decided to hang about a little longer this time. Like yesterday, there wasn’t much going on and it was mostly people just being there for the sake of being there. Today, I really wanted to be there too. Menoume Evropi – we stay in Europe!
I still have to get used to the fact that mass protests are being organised in favour of a government, but that just goes to show how things are quite unusual in Greece right now.
Today’s protest (which is still going on as I write this) seemed much more spontaneous than the one organised by KKE last week. The atmosphere was quite friendly and several carts selling hot food even made it even feel like a music festival. There were TV cameras from all around the world; Athens Plaza hotel, where most journalists seem to be staying, is doing very good business this week. As I left – and I should point out that I was there as a spectator, not as a participant – scores more people arrived by metro to join the rally. All public transport in Athens is free this week.
While in the centre, I saw several ATMs, none of which had queues and several of which dispensed money. No matter how much Greece is making the headlines around the world right now, and no matter how much capital controls must hurt many people and businesses, life in Athens continues to go on as (almost) normal.
On an aside, the fact that the referendum question is asked so that NO (“ΟΧΙ”) is what the government hopes people will choose has a lot of historical relevance: 28 October, the day on which in 1940 the then Greek government rejected an ultimatum by Mussolini to allow Axis forces to occupy strategic location in Greece, is still a public holiday here. One cannot understand the subtleties of this crisis without understanding Greek history.
Friends and relatives have asked me to keep them updated about the situation here in Greece; hence I’ve started to write daily posts on Facebook. I decided to post them here as well.
Things here in Greece are getting more surreal by the day: banks won’t open tomorrow and may not open until after the referendum. The latest news says ATMs may be closed tomorrow too and a €60 daily limit will be imposed thereafter. (Someone pointed out that many older Greeks don’t even own bank cards.) Twitter is showing photos of long queues at ATMs and petrol stations right now. The prime minister gave a speech today in which he sounded even more defiant than before. I have mixed feelings about the man and his policies, but I really don’t like his current confrontational approach to politics.
People have asked me if we are alright. We are. I’m following the crisis from the unfairly easy position of someone who doesn’t even have money in a Greek bank. In fact, we were going to open such an account tomorrow — a plan which we have now obviously postponed.
I just saw a garbage collection truck making its daily round, the relevance of which is that in many ways, life goes on as normal. It’s going to be an interesting week though. Let’s hope for the best. Greece deserves it.