Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Perilous ‘No’ to the Status Quo

by Aristides N. Hatzis

Wall Street Journal

July 8, 2015

People outside Greece can’t comprehend the extent of the “no” side’s victory in Sunday’s referendum. It wasn’t only a landslide, 61% to 39%. It was also a triumph in an existential battle. Both camps presented the vote as a winner-takes-all conflict. The government, in supporting a “no” vote, asked the Greek people to demand an end to failed austerity policies and depression. The “yes” camp tried to persuade the electorate that the vote would determine Greece’s international standing.

The victory for “no” says something about Greek-voter fatigue for recession and bailout-imposed policies. Even “yes” supporters concede these policies haven’t fully revived the economy. But it also sends a worrying message about Greek politics. The country’s political elites almost unanimously supported a “yes” vote, and voters overwhelmingly rebuffed those elites.

It’s hard to overstate the pressure voters faced to choose “yes.” Major television channels and newspapers, university professors, economists, bar associations, mayors, chambers of commerce, workers’ unions, leading intellectuals, columnists, artists and athletes all joined the pro-Europe camp with statements, op-eds, petitions and warnings. Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, centrists, social democrats, socialists and moderate leftists filled the ranks of the “yes” campaign. Except for those who are openly affiliated with the ruling far-left Syriza party, it was difficult to find a member of the intellectual elite who supported “no.”

This was an unusually broad coalition, arguably the first time such a wide array of competing interests made common cause. They united because they believed, correctly, that a lot was at stake—not just economically, but politically. The “no” position was endorsed by marginal political forces such as the radical left, the populist far-right and neo-Nazis, and “yes” supporters feared that the economic and political chaos following rejection of the bailout terms and an exit from the euro might empower those groups.


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