With Austerity Vote Just Hours Away, World's Eyes on Greece

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With Austerity Vote Just Hours Away, World's Eyes on Greece

'Turn your backs on those who terrorize you daily,' Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says, urging Greeks to vote 'No'

Polls show a deeply divided populace in advance of Sunday's referendum. (Photo: desbyrnephotos/flickr/cc)

"What they're doing with Greece has a name: terrorism," Greek Finance Minister Yaris Varoufakis told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on Saturday, one day before his country votes on an austerity-driven bailout proposal in a referendum that some say could decide whether or not Greece stays in the Eurozone.

"Why have they forced us to close the banks? To frighten people. And spreading fear is called terrorism," Varoufakis said, adding that foreign creditors wanted to "humiliate Greeks."

He was speaking of the so-called Troika—the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB), and the European Union (EU)—and his words echoed those of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who urged a crowd of 30,000 supporters in Athens on Friday night: "Turn your backs on those who terrorize you daily."

"This is not a protest. It is a celebration to overcome fear and blackmail," Tsipras declared, calling on creditors to forgive 30 percent of what they are owed and allow a 20-year grace period for repaying the rest.

The question on Sunday's ballot paper reads: "Must the agreement plan submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the Eurogroup of 25 June, 2015, and comprised of two parts which make up their joint proposal, be accepted? The first document is titled 'reforms for the completion of the current program and beyond' and the second 'Preliminary debt sustainability analysis.'"

Voters are asked to check one of two boxes, either "not approved/no" or "approved/yes."

While the vote's potential consequences and outcome both remain very much up in the air, analysts and the public alike agree the implications could go much further than accepting or rejecting the bailout proposal.

"The gravity of the moment is not lost on Greeks," the Guardian's Helena Smith wrote on Saturday. "As tens of thousands attended competing Yes and No rallies in the heart of the capital on Friday, emotions were running high. For this is also a battle between the power of Yes and the power of No: Yes to Europe and its modernising effect; No to austerity, the levelling effects of tax increases and budget cuts and a life bereft of dignity."

Some, including German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, have said a "No" vote would result in Greece being kicked out of the Eurozone. Tsipras and Varoufakis, among others, have maintained that rejecting the imposition of further austerity would not be grounds for a so-called #Grexit.

And it appears that lenders may realize that fact as well. As the Guardian reported on Saturday:

Having previously insisted that a No vote on the lenders’ last terms would see their country forced out of the euro, Schäuble told the Bild newspaper that the choice before them on Sunday was between holding on to the euro and being “temporarily without it”.

It was far from clear what Schäuble had in mind, but economists have mooted the notion of a period in which Greece might go back to its national currency, the drachma, while its economy recovered.

Tsipras and Varoufakis have both said they would resign if voters approved the referendum question, which other observers suggested was the Troika's goal all along. 

Earlier this week, Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote: "Many European leaders want to see the end of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate."

According to Deutsche Welle, opinion polls published Friday showed the two sides in the EU nation of 11 million people evenly divided. An Alco institute poll found 44.8 percent intended to vote "Yes" and 43.4 percent "No." A Bloomberg survey for Greece's Macedonia University showed 43 percent would vote "No" and 42.5 percent "Yes."

The Economist Intelligence Unit, a consultancy based in London, forecast a victory for the "No" vote on Saturday, while also warning:

Greece today is angry and fearful, divided and conflicted, and will still be after Sunday’s vote. This means that Greece is headed for an even more tumultuous period ahead. With Greek society under immense strain and political divisions becoming sharper, the potential for political extremism will increase.

And writing at The Week, Sophia Ignatidou notes that the country's—notoriously partisan—mainstream media outlets are split on their stances as well.

Meanwhile, Greece solidarity actions took place worldwide on Saturday, in London, Dublin, Melbourne, and Berlin, among other places.

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