Just over a week ago, while most of the world predicted that Greece would vote Yes in its referendum and that the government would fall, almost every campaigner and bypasser we met predicted that No would scrape it. They didn’t predict the massive 61 per cent mandate that Syriza would get for resisting austerity, but the universal response you got from campaigners – especially during and after the gigantic rally in Syntagma Square two days before the poll – was “yes, I think we’ll win.”
This weekend, there is a similar but less pronounced gap, focussed not on the feeling in the streets but on negotiating rooms thousands of miles away where the fate of Greece and of the dreams that Syriza carries with it are being decided upon – or torn up, depending on your perspective. Some – including, apparently, the departed Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis – simply refuse to believe that the Greek deal, no matter how much betrayal it contemplates, will be accepted by Schauble and his allies in the Eurogroup. In both cases, the subconscious predictions made on the Greek left and beyond may well stem at least as much from a desperate sense of hope as they do from a political calculation, let alone ‘game theory’. As with winning the referendum, the rejection of the deal by the Eurozone is in many ways the only way out for the current Syriza administration – a means of saving it from its own capitulation.
Over the weekend, large numbers of young Athenians head to nearby islands to get out of the city, go camping and swim. On a ferry going in the opposite direction from the small island of Agistri this afternoon, I chatted to Nefeli, 23, and Ioanna, 20, both students and, as it turned out, members of Syriza. “We voted for a leftist government,” says Nefeli. “Then we voted, 61% of us voted, for ‘no’. But they still want to destroy us, they still want to destroy the left.” After months and months of fighting the country’s creditors, the tone of many on the Greek left and in the wider population is now understandably one of exasperation.
Many Greeks, though they disagree with the deal and the idea of another memorandum, do not blame Tsipras primarily for the current situation. The emphasis for many is on the behaviour of the Eurozone – as Nefeli puts it, “not the people of the EU but its leaders” – which has pushed Greek society to breaking point, and tested many Greeks’ support for membership of the EU. Tsipras, she says, is “doing his best”. But the credibility of the government is in jeopardy as a result of the proposed new deal, in the context of widespread politicisation and high expectations. “People have started to think more,” says Ioanna. “And I’m afraid that they won’t believe the left anymore.”
A poll for Skai, a right wing local news station, announced in time for the parliamentary vote on Friday, declared that 55.5% of Greeks ‘feel fear’ at the idea of a Grexit. But in the current climate, everything is scary: a unilateral default and a return to the Drachma would bring chaos, at least for the moment, while a continuation of the austerity contained in another memorandum would mean more suicides, more poverty, more desolation. Both outcomes bring a humanitarian crisis; and many of the 55.5 per cent who fear a Grexit will now be concluding that it is inevitable, even desirable.
In many ways, winning the referendum was the real gamble for Tsipras. Falling at that hurdle would have meant, at least in the short term, the return of the old order and the implementation of austerity, while the left resisted cleanly from opposition. Falling from power in a few weeks’ time, having sold out to Brussels in spite of an overwhelming popular mandate, could, after a bit of time and political stagnation, bring much darker forces to the fore: “If the left falls,” says Nefeli, “Golden Dawn is next. That’s what history tells us”. The far-right in Greece has positioned itself cleverly, and has been waiting for exactly this kind of compromise. Abjectly losing the negotiations in Brussels, and being kicked out of the Eurozone, might just be the best outcome that Syriza can hope for.