By Michael Nevradakis
Reporting from Athens
Originally published on 99getsmart.com.
With early returns from the referendum coming in, it is clear that a vote of “no” to the austerity measures proposed by the institutions formerly known as the troika will prevail, with a clear majority that will likely surpass 60%. As I write this, the sky is falling on Greece, the sea is drying up, day has become night, trees and flowers and kittens are dying, bullets and missiles are flying, and Greece is feeling the angry wrath of the gods for defying the will of the creditors, the mass media, and the troika.
At least, that’s what the mass media would have had us believe, with their dire warnings as to what a “no” vote would bring for Greece and with their utterly disgraceful coverage of events in Greece over the past two weeks. In reality, as I am writing this, I am sitting on a park bench in an ordinary neighborhood of Athens. It is a beautiful Greek summer evening, there is a light breeze, young people, families, and the elderly are walking about, and there is no sign of anything but life continuing on as normal. A couple of miles away, in Syntagma Square, more Greeks are congregating to celebrate the “no” victory in today’s referendum.
In my previous piece, I strongly questioned the timing of this referendum and the question being posed to the Greek voters, as well as the SYRIZA-led government’s actions throughout its five-plus months in office and in the days leading up to today’s poll. Those criticisms and questions remain. Nevertheless, amidst a climate of pure media and political terrorism, blackmail, and manipulation, Greek voters resoundingly said no to the proposals put forth by the institutions. This, in itself, is a major milestone for Greece and for the Greek people.
Today’s result is not a victory for the government, whose actions continue to betray its pre-election promises and electoral platform, and whose referendum was held under the worst possible circumstances: with banks shuttered, with capital controls enforced, with an out-of-control media freely terrorizing the public, and in the middle of the country’s tourist season. The result is, however, a victory against the scaremongering of the media, of the European institutions, and of Greece’s completely discredited political class, namely the previously establishment political parties (New Democracy and PASOK) and their media-supported allies (To Potami).
The media coverage seen in the previous days, both from Greek and international outlets, is nothing short of disgraceful; a hatchet job against Greece and its people. The Guardian, which remains for some absurd reason a well-regarded publication in Greece despite years of inaccurate and sensationalistic articles about Greece, warned its readers that shelves in Greek supermarkets are barren, that the tourist resorts of Mykonos and Santorini are facing “food shortages,” that gas stations are out of fuel, and that every single ATM in Athens had throngs of people queuing up to withdraw their funds. One visit to travel forums on the Internet, such as TripAdvisor, shows hundreds upon hundreds of postings from prospective visitors to Greece, who have been influenced by this absurd media coverage and who are second-guessing their upcoming holidays in Greece.
The clear bias in favor of “yes” was apparent in the writings and also in the tweets of numerous correspondents based in Greece, whose coverage all throughout the crisis has been nothing short of disgraceful. Some such correspondents, such as Yannis Koutsomitis, could not hide the fact that they voted “yes” in today’s referendum, just as they have been unable to conceal their staunchly pro-austerity views, despite all evidence as to how destructive these policies have been and continue to be. The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the BBC warned their audiences about the impending chaos that would be arriving in Greece in the event of a “no” vote, while making sure to warn the audience about the perils that a “grexit” would bring to Greece, connecting the referendum with the issue of whether or not Greece will remain in the Eurozone. Such biased “reporting” is irresponsible and, indeed, criminal and it is a tremendous shame that these “journalists” have such a large audience, including tens of thousands of Twitter followers, to spread their misinformation.
Today’s vote is a response not just to this media terrorism, but to all those around the world who have fallen victim to such media coverage: the clearly ignorant and uniformed and the racist, who continue to fall back on completely untrue and discredited stereotypes that Greeks don’t work hard, don’t pay taxes, retire at age 50, and have been living off of free money provided by “hard-working European taxpayers” (similar to statements, incidentally, also made by celebrity finance minister Varoufakis in the early days of the SYRIZA-led government). Successive Greek governments, including the current coalition, have done nothing to attempt to reverse Greece’s image abroad or to correct the numerous racist and ignorant stereotypes which exist about the Greek people and which continue to be perpetuated by numerous media outlets.
Today’s vote is also a victory against the domestic media system, the oligarch-owned television and radio stations, newspapers and Internet portals, which provided almost wall-to-wall coverage in favor of voting “yes,” in favor of more austerity and further capitulation to the EU. The same media outlets which, despite SYRIZA’s empty rhetoric (something which it is great at), are still allowed free rein to do and say as they please, facts and objectivity be damned. Greek voters overcame this non-stop propaganda campaign not due to the “radical” government that is in office, but because many Greeks finally have had enough and have shut these media outlets out of their lives.
Despite this, 40 percent of voters—four in ten, in other words—said “yes” to Europe, “yes” to more austerity, more cuts, lowered pensions, more privatizations, a continued “brain drain” out of the country. This is hardly a surprise, unfortunately. It is reflective of the deep divisions which exist in Greek society, and a longstanding inferiority complex held by many Greeks that Greece is worthless without being a part of the “civilized West,” which they define as the Eurozone, NATO, and the European Union. It is reflective of the divide-and-conquer efforts of much of Greece’s political class and by the media, where public servants have been pitted against employees of privately-owned corporations and businesses, the latter of whom were among the strongest proponents of “staying in Europe” and voting “yes” while blaming the public sector for each and every one of the country’s ills.
The commonly-heard argument is that without Europe, Greece has no future, Greek children have no future, that the country will be “internationally isolated.” The irony of the “yes” supporters is that they are the ones who, quite typically, are critical of the patronage state and the perceived corruption in Greece, but who then vote for the same parties which perpetuated this system and this corruption for four decades. One also has to wonder what sort of future the children of Norway, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Iceland have and how these countries are managing to cope with the apparent “isolation” they must be experiencing, as they are neither members of the Eurozone nor the European Union.
In the days leading up to the referendum, the media and political machine did its very best to convince the world that “yes” would prevail, that the Greek people “wanted to remain in Europe” (where would Greece go? Africa? Antarctica? Mars?). A media manipulation playbook, prepared on behalf of New Democracy, was leaked to the public, explaining just how the message in favor of “yes” would be propagandized to the masses, while stating that any polls showing even a small “no” lead (of up to five percentage points) would be spun into showing a narrow margin in favor of “yes.” This was followed up by the exit polls which were announced moments after the polls closed at 7 pm in Greece, showing, at best, a narrow margin of victory for “no” and leaving open the possibility of a narrow “yes” majority.
The true results, however, show a clear majority in favor of “no,” once again discrediting the polling firms, whose pre-election opinion surveys and exit polls were laughably off the mark in 2010, in 2012, in 2014, and again prior to the elections of this past January. These polling firms (who receive funding from the state apparatus and whose polls are not independently conducted, but instead conducted on behalf of the same pro-austerity and/or pro-government media outlets) and their results (including their repeated “findings” that 70-80% of Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone at all costs) should never be trusted again, or referenced by anyone who cares about facts or reality.
Despite the celebrations though, the true test as to how much the people of Greece have actually “stood up” to the austerity regime will take place in the coming days, and not with the “no” victory today. Because if the “radical” SYRIZA government dares to come back with its own proposals for further austerity, primary surpluses, and privatizations (47 page proposal, measures totaling 8 billion euros, etc.) and those who voted “no” today accept this and treat SYRIZA as heroes, then it will be evident that there is no true resistance and that nothing has changed.
The real referendum, in other words, will follow in the coming days.