Monday, July 27, 2015

What “Yes” and “No” Actually Meant in Greece


rosegreece

Apart from the fact that there was a “no” and a “yes” on the ballot of the recent  referendum in Greece – nobody (inside or outside of the country) seemed to have a clear understanding of what they were voting for. An obvious communications problem.

And the communications issue is what “no” and “yes” actually meant to the Greeks.

On the surface, Greeks went to the polls to approve or reject a bailout proposal from their creditors, which would have extended credit to the country in exchange for additional austerity measures. Greeks overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, voting down the bailout terms (61% to 39% approving).

However, when you examine the language and messaging from the opposing “yes” and “no” camps, the clarity of this debate quickly fades.

The “yes” campaign argued that this was really a referendum on Greece’s position within the Eurozone. They believed that the Europeans were unlikely to give a better deal than the one being offered.

The government, led by the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, campaigned heavily for a “no” vote. Tsipras argued that by voting no, Greeks would be expressing their displeasure with austerity measures – and risking very little. The alternative, they were told, was a better deal from Europe. There would be immediate negotiations and the banks would soon reopen.

But let’s look at what the Greek word for no – “Oxi,” means. It is steeped in national and political significance. This stems from when Mussolini attempted to invade Greece in World War II, demanding that the Greeks surrender. The Prime Minister of Greece at the time, Ioannis Metaxas, said “oxi.” And since then, there is a national holiday in October called Oxi Day celebrating this occasion of national defiance. Thus, it could be argued that this “no” vote was more of an emotional vote on the part of the Greek people.

After a blistering campaign in which Tspiras called upon his people to vote no to “blackmail and fear,”  his government’s stance towards Europe has softened remarkably. Viewing the confusing and contradictory messaging of the Greek government through the lens of political gamesmanship, Tsipras could be accused of risking the fate of his country in the Eurozone to gain leverage in negotiations.          

So, the Greeks have voted with a defiance that asserts a sort of national dignity. What we hoped for has now happened: both sides returned to the negotiation table prepared to make a deal (and they did!) – with a clarity of intent and communication that heretofore was lacking.