Eyewitness: Despite media fear-mongering, Greeks stay calm and carry on

Greeks celebrate in front of the their parliament as the results from last night's vote start to come in
Greeks celebrate in front of the their parliament as the results from last night's vote start to come in

By Omaira Gill

On Sunday night, Syntagma square erupted into a party as Greeks celebrated the country's historic No vote in the referendum. Revellers stayed out until the small hours waving Greek and Syriza flags, hugging each other and cheering. In a race that official polls thought was too close to call, the No camp stormed ahead with 61% of the vote.

In light of the results, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, former prime minister of Greece until he was ousted in this January's elections and the man who presided over some of Greece's harshest austerity cuts, tendered his resignation.

The lead up to the result was typified by calm, despite media scaremongering. In the cafes and the streets of Athens on Sunday afternoon, Yes and No camps sat side by side and debated without friction.


In Pireaus, Athens' twin city, the owner of a kafeneio, the traditional coffee and mezze houses where the older generation prefers to gather, said:

"During the week, I thought it was going to go in favour of Yes. Then the old prime ministers appeared on TV asking us to vote Yes. That changed the minds of a lot of people. They really didn't like that."

Nearby, three friends, split across the Yes and No camps, cracked jokes about the situation. "He didn't go get any money out of the bank," said one. "As if I have any," his friend responded as they both roared with laughter.

The evening would bring the news of the No camp's win, which none of the official polls had been able to predict. Addressing a jubilant crowd, Alexis Tsipras said:

"You made a very brave choice. The mandate you gave me is not the mandate of a rupture with Europe, but a mandate to strengthen our negotiating position to seek a viable solution."

Meanwhile his opposition has turned on him, demanding he makes good his promise of a deal within 48 hours which he had claimed in the run-up to the referendum.

As morning dawned, it was time to take stock. If voters hoped that their choice of No would send a strong enough message to soften the stance of negotiators, it doesn't appear to have happened.

Eurogroup president and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in a statement:

"I take note of the outcome of the Greek referendum. This result is very regrettable for the future of Greece."

President of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, responded by saying:

"This is a difficult day."

He went on to remind the Greek government that while Greece had voted No, they now had to convince 18 other member states of their proposals.

Greeks could be forgiven for wondering what they had actually voted for. The country stands on the brink of economic collapse with a banking system that has been  haemorrhaging deposits at an accelerating rate since Syriza came to power.

Capital controls limiting withdrawals to €60 (£42) a day and pensions to €120 (£84) a week have been in place since last Monday. The question of liquidity is now a serious one. Rumours have been flying that further capital controls are in the pipeline.

Pensioners have been hardest hit by the measures, with many of them still relying on bank books rather than cards to withdraw money. Limited bank branches opened during the week for them to withdraw their cash, causing anguished scenes and tears of frustration among the elderly waiting in line. Volunteers have been distributing bottled water in cities across Greece to pensioners as they queue for their turn.

Later today, the European Central Bank will meet to discuss the possibility of a liquidity lifeline to Greek banks which have been shut since last Monday.

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande are due to meet in Paris this evening. An emergency eurogroup meeting to discuss Greece's precarious financial situation is be scheduled for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, after the party, the headache now looks ready to set in. Apart from demonstrating a democratic process in action, there are fears the result might end up not being worth the paper it was written on. A public forced to make an impossible choice is about to find out if it was just an empty gesture.

Omaira Gill is a British freelance journalist living in Athens. Click here to follow her on Twitter.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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