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Little Atoms Dispatch: The Greek crisis is a fight for the soul of Europe

Europe has descended into ideology and power plays. How will the people of Greece respond?

It’s finally crunch time for Greece, after half a year of negotiations with its creditors.On 5 July, the Greek people look set to vote on whether to accept the latest deal offered by the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the EU Commission. The Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has urged them to refuse, calling for the “dignity of the Greek people in the face of blackmail and injustice”.

Last weekend, the lines at the ATMs snaked around the streets, ahead of capital controls on the banks announced today. Now the pro and anti-government protesters have new banners to fly: the Yes camp say that the alternative is leaving the euro and disaster, while No supporters feel they cannot back a document that would mean more austerity, tax hikes and job and pensions cuts, in a country that is already on its knees.

The Greek demos is being called upon to make a momentous decision. It will decide the fate of their country. It could prove a turning point for Europe: not only the unraveling of the Euro, but an historic moment that has already been compared to the signing of the Versailles treaty, or the shooting in Sarajevo that sparked the First World War.

Can Greeks make a rational choice?

But is it possible for the Greeks to make a rational choice? The fact is, the relationship between the Greek government and the Troika has departed from the realm of reason.

Tuesday is the deadline for Greece to pay the IMF I.6 billion Euros. It will be missed, bringing default one step nearer, because the expected agreement did not occur.

This was not supposed to happen. When the Troika pushed back on the final deal offered by the Syriza government, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he “could not understand”. This was not mere bluff. The deal offered had represented a major retreat for Syriza, who came to power in January promising an end to the brutal austerity of the last five years. They were prepared to compromise with the Troika on hiking VAT and corporation tax, cutting pensions and privatisations. An agreement was expected. The response by Greece’s lenders, to demand even tougher measures to achieve the same targets, was met with astonishment.

It’s more obvious than ever that Greece has become an ideological battlefield. It’s a fight for the soul of Europe, a battle of the heart rather than the mind. The Greek people are wary of trusting any source, preferring endless debates in the bars and kafenios to the mainstream media, which they know to be biased and corrupt.

Earlier this month, the Bank of Greece, supposed to be a politically neutral body, warned of an “uncontrollable crisis” if a deal was not made, with Greece exiting the EU as well as the Euro. The institutions are so heavily politicised here that reasonable debate is impossible, and a civil war is playing out in the social media world of Facebook and Twitter.

People are worried about everyday concerns. They talk about their next pension payment, if they have enough cash under their matress, will they be able to afford a new car if Greece loses the Euro. But they’re also worried about making the right decision, or whether there is a right decision at all.

Syriza still enjoys an astonishingly strong 47 per cent support in the polls, despite the damage the negotiations have done to the economy. They have no real opposition, with the right-wing party they ousted from power, New Democracy, behind by some 22 points.

Support for Euro still high

Yet support for the Euro is also very high, consistently polling at above 70 per cent. Syriza, or the Coalition of the Radical Left, came into power promising to fight for an end to austerity within the Euro. But this dream to reform the European project from within looks crushed by reality.

The government cannot deliver on their vision, and apparently neither can the creditors. The deal on the table is offered on the premise that Greece’s debt will be sustainable. The IMF says giving further aid will violate its mandate unless this condition is met. But the Greek debt mountain stands at 317 billion Euros. That’s 175 per cent of national output. Can it really be repaid? Of all the money loaned to Greece, only 10 per cent has found its way into the real economy. How can a country expect to rebuild under these conditions?

It’s ironic that Yiannis Varoufakis, the motorcycle riding, leather jacket wearing finance minister, has been held up as evidence of Greece’s passionate and impulsive nature. This has been contrasted to the apparently cool and level-headed voices of Northern Europe with Germany’s Angela Merkel at the helm. This is simply not the case. It is the European project as a whole that seems to have lost its anchoring in the principles of progress and peace, against the irrational forces of prejudice, hatred and war.

In a recent column, Costas Douzinas, the director of Birckbeck College, channeling Edmund Husserl, said that Europe is the end point, the purpose of humanity. Yet in the same week that negotiations with Greece ruptured, the EU voted against a union-wide strategy to cope with the biggest influx of migrants into its borders since World War Two. Europe, which once prized itself as a bastion of rationality and humane thought, has descended into ideology and power plays across borders. Will the Greek people apply their reason to vote on Sunday? Even if they do, they may not get the outcome they deserve.

Edited by Niki Seth-Smith

Yiannis Baboulias is a journalist whose work has appeared in Politico, the LRB, Al Jazeera, Newsweek, the New Statesman and others. He has spent too long covering the Greek crisis.

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