Newspaper article International New York Times

Emphatic 'No' Prompts Greek Pride and Revelry

Newspaper article International New York Times

Emphatic 'No' Prompts Greek Pride and Revelry

Article excerpt

Celebrating the vote to say no to more austerity measures tied to a possible new bailout, Greeks gathered to explain their frustration.

As news spread of the surprisingly strong victory for the no side in the referendum on the terms of a European bailout offer, Greeks poured into Syntagma Square, which has been the site of many historic political demonstrations.

In a festive mood, they streamed in from the subways on Sunday, which have been free since the banks closed last week, by foot and by car, whistling, tooting horns and banging drums. As if by mass telepathy, they knew that Syntagma Square -- Constitution Square -- was the place to go. It was almost required of them, they said.

Some wrapped themselves in Greek flags, while others sang traditional Greek protest songs -- peaceful, happy and proud of their courage in sending a message to the rest of Europe that endless austerity would be a dead end.

There may be almost as many reasons that Greeks voted no as there are Greeks. But if there was a consistent theme among those celebrating, it was that they had taken as much suffering and humiliation as they could stand. Rejecting the endless demands of their European overlords for tax hikes and pension cuts, they said, became a matter of national dignity.

For Anthi Panagiotidou, who eagerly joined the mass of humanity with her daughter, Chrysa, voting no was a simple decision: After five years of austerity, she could not endure any more.

Ms. Panagiotidou lost her job in an architectural firm, and though she eventually found work, it was not at the same level. While rich Greeks send their children abroad for college, she said, she can barely pay for tutoring for her daughter, who is 17, to prepare for the entrance exams that will determine which rank of state-run university she attends, as well as what major she will be allowed to pursue.

Her disabled husband cannot afford physical therapy, she said. What is worse, she said passionately, is that they are not alone.

"There are people without electricity, thousands without health insurance," Ms. Panagiotidou said as she welcomed the triumph of the vote against accepting a new bailout that includes more austerity demands.

Greece is like a sinking ship, Ms. Panagiotidou said, and perhaps the referendum will force the rest of the world to pay attention.

But the rest of Europe may see those who voted no as irresponsible and shortsighted, expecting the people of other countries to bail them out while they have failed to make loan payments or to adapt to changes, such as ending patronage, early retirement and tax evasion, in exchange for help.

Voters on both the left and the right who chose no said they were prepared to deal with the consequences.

They might become poorer, they said, but they would have nobody to blame but themselves, and even if the country's economy collapses, they prefer to go down fighting. …

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