in Greece 2015

A cathartic rebuke of austerity



The July 6 Chania News (sort of like the Bloomington Herald-Times). The headline reads “Thunderous ‘NO’ from the polls”.

Όχι (OH-hee) – interj.: no

CHANIA, July 5 – It was a surprise to me that the cab driver spoke in Greek the whole way from the airport to downtown Chania. I hemmed and hawed and said “Mm-hmm” a lot to avoid admitting I couldn’t follow him half the time. It is perhaps not a sign of my improving ability to speak Greek as much as my ability to pass as someone who understands.

Anyway, it was near midnight, and I had just finished the last segment of my height-exacerbated flight ordeal. From Chicago to Frankfurt (8 hrs.) and Frankfurt to Athens (3 hrs.), I practiced a new discipline I call “sardine-fu.” Only on the sub-one-hour flight to Chania did I have both legroom and a row to myself.  I was just glad to be in the ground at my destination. Although come to think of it, the cab was no better for legroom. 

I said, so how about that δημοψήφισμα?, purposely not stating a side so as to encourage conversation. But the results were in by then and ΟΧΙ delivered a resounding 61% — a landslide result.

The cabbie was a No voter. “How could it be any other way?” he asked. And he was no outlier: Chania was the most No-voting of all 74 prefectures of Greece, voting a whopping 74% όχι. “I have six kids. They have no work. What else is there to be done?” He said a lot more than that, but that was the gist of it. When I got to my hotel, he gave me a card in case I needed a cab in the morning. It was for his son’s cab. 

I spent the day seeing mostly NAI (neh) voters. At one point in the Athens airport, I saw 30 people with two-inch-diameter NAI stickers emerging from Arrivals. After a while I figured they were mostly off the same flight. They seemed generally older and like people who could afford to travel. The people I was waiting for, family friends from America who happened to be arriving in Athens the same day as me, surprised me by being strongly in the NAI camp despite being Obama Democrats. As we watched the exit polls being discussed on Greek television, I was reminded that Syriza is an acronym for “Coalition of the Radical Left,” and that Alexis Tsipras was a Young Communist. (As an American, even I have to remind myself that only across the Atlantic is “Communism” a dirty word.)

There was one other OXI voter I met, my seatmate on the flight from Frankfurt. He was the Greek equivalent of a “snowbird,”  an avuncular retiree from Detroit headed to Crete for his usual six-month stay,  Like with the cabbie and my family friends, I played neutral at first until I could draw out whether he was willing to discuss politics. He was reluctant and resigned as the cabbie was, but he too saw no other option.

One of the things that really bothered me about those who promoted NAI was the idea that an OXI vote was a vote against Europe itself. While the 18 Eurozone countries have been largely if not uniformly strident towards Greece, there are 9 other countries in the EU which ar not in the Euro. They include powerhouses like the UK, struggling former Eastern bloc nations like Bulgaria, and enlightened social democracies like Sweden. Why is it that a no to the terms of staying in the EZ is necessarily a vote to leave Europe? I’ve begun to agree with the assessments that the other EZ nations advocating yes were not arguing economics as much as they were morality. To them I suggest they refresh their memories about how Greece joined in forgiving Germany’s debt after WWII, and then come back to me with their arguments warning of “moral hazard.”

My hotel is three blocks from the beach in Νέα Χώρα, a neighborhood on the beach near the center of town. I’m sure I will be availing myself of the sun and sand no matter what happens to Greece now. 

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