In the beginning of this year, the people of Greece voted in the radical left-wing party, Syriza — lead by Alexis Tsipras. They did this to send a message to Europe, a message that Greece cannot bear the weight of austerity anymore. But this is a message to which no one listened; instead, the Troika — consisting of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank — continued to reel out Angela Merkel’s increasingly redundant party line that Greece has to meet its obligation.
This was how the people of Greece were to view it: as an obligation. An obligation to be treated by the rest of Europe like petulant children who need to be disciplined, an obligation to let their economy shrink to devastating levels, an obligation to stand by as poverty engulfs them.
In the meantime, the wider European community had swallowed up the media’s portrayal that Greece was getting what they deserve. After all, there is no denying that the country was in crisis long before the collapse of the housing market, and at the time, the bailout offered by the Troika was a necessary lifeline with good intentions. But the terms of the bailout demanded austerity — cuts, cuts and more cuts with only a tiny proportion of the money going in to kick start the Greek economy.
Austerity was issuing death sentences. Was this really what Greece deserved?
It was only inevitable then that the Greek economy would rapidly contract and unemployment would soar. But then the most distressing cost of austerity started to surface, with whispers of an intensifying humanitarian crisis. A report was published that showed how much people have suffered under cuts to healthcare and plummeting wages, this contained the sobering details that malaria had returned to the country after 40 years, that there were huge rises in instances of HIV, and significant increases in the rate of infant mortality. Austerity was issuing death sentences. Was this really what Greece deserved? How much more do the citizens of Greece have to repent, for the mistakes of their country’s government and their European lenders? And at what point will the pious European elites proclaim that Greece has atoned for their sins?
Over the last month, as the people became more and more squeezed, the prospect that Greece would default on its debt repayments became more and more inevitable. The extent of Syriza’s desperation was revealed when they submitted a proposal to extend the bailout agreement by conceding cuts to pensions and an increase in VAT — terms that fell significantly short of the anti-austerity platform they won the election on. Yet the Troika were still not willing to budge despite being well aware of what this would mean for Greece. So while the citizens were being pushed to breaking point, Europe was blackmailing their government into submission — a move that we now see was as foolish as it was despicable.
Tsipras revealed that he was just as adept at this political game as his European opponents and he played his final hand.
Last week, the narrative moved into the realm of absurdity when the fate of Greece turned into a vicious game of poker between Syriza and the Troika. Tsipras revealed that he was just as adept at this political game as his European opponents and he played his final hand. He announced on the morning of 27th June that a referendum is to be held this Sunday for the people of Greece to vote on whether or not to accept the terms of the bailout.
The Eurozone leaders were quick to up the ante by asserting that a rejection of the bailout was a rejection of the Eurozone: a no vote would mean Greece will be forced to leave the Euro. Tsipras’ resolve waivered in a last minute attempt to negotiate before the deadline passed. But this was again rejected and the conceit in Merkel’s response was palpable as she insisted that no deal can be reached before we know the outcome of the referendum. With no more cards up either side’s sleeves, as of Tuesday night, Greece had officially defaulted on its debt repayment — the first developed nation in history to do so.
No one has their hands clean in this now and there is nothing left to do now but wait for the crux of this spiteful game.
Now we’re in this situation that is tantamount to madness, one that was entirely avoidable; where the politicians of Europe remain defiant, even as the people of Greece become destitute, for the sole purpose of humiliating a democratically elected government that doesn’t play by their rules; where the Greek government has relieved themselves of their responsibilities by shifting the burden of this decision onto their own citizens. No one has their hands clean in this now and there is nothing left to do now but wait for the crux of this spiteful game.
Should the crippling practice of austerity prevail, the devastating cycle of churning out debt and squeezing the economy may continue until there’s no one left alive to pay. Or, if the terms of the bailout are not accepted, the Eurogroup may make good on their threats to force Greece out of the monetary union into the realms of the foreboding unknown.
Whatever happens, it is clear that this is a decision which citizens of Greece should never have had to make. They have been failed by the arrogance of European and Greek politicians alike, who have put their own agendas before the people they claim to represent. Regardless of who wins the political gamble on Sunday — the Troika or Syriza, austerity or the strength of resolve — it is the citizens of Greece who will lose and the world will say they deserved it.