Greeks returned to apparently normal humdrum life on Monday after emphatically supporting the government’s call to reject loan conditions offered by the country’s international creditors.
More than 60% of Greeks voted no in Sunday’s referendum on a package of spending cuts and new taxes in return for more loans. There were jubilant scenes in central Athens on Sunday night although few knew precisely what they had voted for.
The atmosphere was less jubilant on Monday as Greece’s banks announced they will remain closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and cash-machine withdrawals will stay limited to around $50 per day per account. Now, it’s down to their Prime Minister, the charismatic Alexis Tsipras, to fight for the best deal for Greece at an emergency meeting of European leaders on Tuesday. Before that, the newly appointed Finance Minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, will meet with his European counterparts.
Greeks hope that an agreement can be made so that this painful impasse ends. But banks have been closed for a week now, and anxiety over the lack of access to cash and the future of the country is growing.
“I think he’s [Tsipras] the best thing for Greece right now. We went to see him at the rally on Friday and it was amazing. I brought my kids — my husband works in Turkey because he can’t find anything in Greece. He was unemployed for five years. The last five years in Greece have been so hard,” says Jo, a mother of two children from the neighborhood of Kipseli where Tsipras grew up.
Tomas, 52, welled up with emotion when he says, “I have no job for three years now. I’m an economic adviser and nobody wants to invest in Greece. Nobody wants to run a new business. Everybody who invested either in real estate, in Greek bonds, in the stock exchange, has failed with his investments. The last place in which his money was not rotten was the banking system but we can’t even access our money. I’m so worried now. The country must be represented by a credible negotiator — creditors will only speak on a new deal if we are represented credibly. Otherwise, within hours we’ll have no money at all — not even the €60 you can get now.”
Michael Pantazopoulos, 55, a naval architect, says Greece is “now looking at total catastrophe.” “From now on it’s going to be more and more difficult — we are in much worse shape than we were six months ago,” he says. “Greece is already destroyed and there is not much difference between the E.U. proposals and what Tsipras wanted in the end. Look around the street, every small business is closed — what is going to happen now? I work for the private sector — we cannot always support the public sector — all Tsipras did was increase the public sector — gave them all their jobs back.”
Meanwhile the no voters are defiant about their decision and confident it will make a difference. “I’m happy because it was a strong result — I didn’t know how I was going to vote until the last two days and I decided to vote no in the end although I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” says 33-year-old Thannassis. “We are with Tsipras because he’s a young guy and we don’t trust the old guard in Greece.”
He adds, “It’s definitely true that we didn’t know exactly the answer to the question we were being asked — that’s one of the reasons I didn’t know how I’d vote; so we voted with our hearts.”
Although most European Union leaders kept quiet before the referendum, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch Finance Minister, said the referendum result was “very regrettable for the future of Greece.”
Many in Athens remain defiant. “This is a cheap joke,” says Dimitrius, 26, when asked whether the referendum result means it is more likely that Greece will leave the euro. “Everybody who knows geopolitics and economics knows that if Greece leaves the euro zone, then the euro zone will collapse in two years, maximum,” he says.
Wrapped in an oversize Greek flag, 32-year-old Olyssea says the referendum was about governments realizing that they’re dealing with people, and not numbers or objects.
“Can we pay the money back? No, we can’t — that’s why we voted no — we can’t pay that money back and it’s not our debt. I don’t give a damn about the money — it’s nothing to do with me, why should I pay it,” she says.