Tuesday 25 June 2019

New proposals seen as betrayal as Oxi voters ask: Why did we fight then?

Pensioners are given priority tickets by a National Bank official, as they wait to receive part of their pensions in Athens yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Pensioners are given priority tickets by a National Bank official, as they wait to receive part of their pensions in Athens yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Caroline Crawford

Vassilis Adrianoupolitis (38) stood in solidarity with the growing crowds in Syntagma Square. The policeman who lost his job two years ago was one of thousands who was drawn to the centre of Athens once again, following two weeks of rallies and protests, high hopes and massive dejection.

This time there were no speeches, no rallying cries - just people urging their Government to think of the country. Vassilis's reason for being there was simple: "We are blindly walking into catastrophe."

After years of austerity, many fear the past fortnight has been the final straw. The decimated construction industry collapsed completely, already stretched hospitals ran out of vital supplies, and the struggling tourist sector suffered huge losses.

The affected areas could easily have seen their mirror image in Ireland, but the sheer scale of the Greek destruction fell far beyond anything we had experienced or could even imagine.

This fortnight alone, 40,000 construction jobs were lost at one stroke, pensioners collapsed as they queued desperately for a €120 pittance, and riot police were a constant reminder that the situation was a powder keg.

And at the heart of it all, Greece was carved into a deeply divided country. Both sides rail against the devastation which was been exacerbated beyond all expectation this month - but they lay the blame at the feet of very different masters.

The mood now is a far cry of that just two weeks ago when both sides were upbeat. Despite the shock referendum announcement and closure of the banks, people on the streets were confident of a deal. Many insisted it would not even come to the vote.

But as the days passed without agreement, the country became more divided and it was clear the referendum could not be avoided.

Massive rallies in Syntagma for Oxi and Nai attracted tens of thousands - both sides confident. When the final rally for Oxi was held last Friday, attracting one of the largest crowds to the central square, it became clear the tide had turned.

Yet Sunday's result was an unprecedented landslide victory for Syriza, whose senior members admitted they had expected a much closer margin.

The outcome caused elation among the vast majority of those who had "voted against austerity". But not all of them celebrated.

Even after a resounding victory with over 61pc of the vote, many still spoke of their concerns and reservations.

"I was going to vote Yes but when I saw our former leaders come out and preach at us to vote with them, my blood boiled.

"They are the reason we are where we are. I voted No but it has left me anxious," said Iro Syngarefs, who said the vote had caused massive divisions within her family.

For the jubilant Oxi voters, the outcome was a message for Europe - we will not be pushed around. Celebrating, they spoke confidently of a better deal within days.

But over the past week the blind belief has faded as people acknowledge such an outcome has not materialised.

Crowds at ATMs grew larger. While the €60 limit remained in place, in reality many were forced to take €50 due to a severe lack of small notes. Slowly people accepted the banks would not re-open this week and maybe not for some time if a deal could not be reached.

Shops in some areas saw panic buying of dried goods while many restaurants and cafés refused to accept cards.

"It might not be up to us anymore, that is what people are so worried about. Europe may decide it won't back Greece anyway because we can't keep our promises," said Eleania (42), who works in the banking sector.

"The Government lied to the people. Many of my friends voted Oxi thinking there was no question of a Grexit, that is what they were told. But it is all a sham. They were promised a better deal with less cuts, but we are now facing more," she added.

Vassilis agrees. He can relate to the anger of Greeks. Having lost his job two years ago, he now earns a living as a tradesman. But he is anxious. "We have to pull the brakes on where we are going. Not just for the Yes voters but for the No voters also. I lost my job and I understand what it is like, but we need to make decisions not just for ourselves but for the good of the country," he added.

Greeks have stayed glued to their radios and TVs, following every twist and turn in the saga. The news that new proposals would be just as stringent as those rejected was a shock. Pro-Europeans breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that the deal would be accepted, but for Oxi supporters the news was a betrayal. One worker looked on the verge of tears as he spoke about the proposed concessions: "Why did we fight then? What was it for?"

Irish Independent

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