For most Americans, this past weekend was one long celebration of national pride, as the Independence Day fireworks gave way to the Women’s World Cup final victory. But the US wasn’t alone in having a patriotic party; the Greeks were dancing in the streets on Sunday as well. Greece’s reasons for jubilation are a little more complex than the American ones, but the end result has been a rather similar expression of national unity and self-determination.
Sunday’s big event for the Greek people was a referendum asking them whether to accept the latest proposal from the country’s international creditors. Saying “yes” would have secured Greece a fresh tranche of bailout money to keep it from teetering off the edge of economic oblivion, but it also would have accelerated an increase in the country’s pension age and imposed tough new conditions on an already embattled population. Saying "no," more than just the opposite of "yes," would serve as a symbolic defiance of austerity imposed from outside. The Greek people decided, with a clear majority, to reject the proposed bailout. And then they threw a party.
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- More than anything, the referendum offered a cathartic moment for a country that’s been under economic pressure for over half a decade. Greece has been one of the hardest-hit victims of the global economic crisis of 2008, and is presently deeply indebted to a number of international organizations that have helped it avoid defaulting on its national debt. In order to appease those creditors, the country has already instituted numerous reforms and spending cutbacks, but its new Syriza-led government has spent most of this year locked up in unproductive efforts to renegotiate the terms of its loans. (Photo credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / Getty Images)
- The European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund demand that Greece cuts state spending further and faster, while Greece says it’s got nothing left to cut. Both sides feel like they’re being held hostage by the other, and the whole protracted saga has been a massive frustration and burden for the country’s population. So when an occasion comes when the people can, at least temporarily, throw off the shackles off austerity and say enough is enough, why not enjoy it to the fullest? (Photo credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / Getty Images)
- No one in Greece is under any illusions about what the referendum decision means for the country’s future. The choice was always a bleak one: accept the onerous conditions of the bailout proposal and suffer, or reject them and suffer a less predictable, but still unpleasant fate. But what’s important about making that choice is that it’s a statement of assertiveness and some small form of self-determination. (Photo credit: MILOS BICANSKI / Getty Images)
- By exercising their democratic right, the Greek people gain a sense of agency: their future pains will be that little bit easier to overcome because they at least had a say in their country’s direction. All the cheering and flag waving in Athens on Sunday is about this psychological comfort and relief rather than some economic breakthrough. (Photo credit: CHRISTOPHER FURLONG / Getty Images)
- The crazy thing about Greece’s seemingly perpetual debt crisis is that, even after mobilizing the entire country to make an important decision, it remains an unresolved issue. Will Greece exit the euro currency union? What will its status in the European Union be? Will Greece eventually default on its debts or will a line of extra credit be extended to it even though it rejected the present terms on offer? (Photo credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / Getty Images)
- None of the big questions surrounding Greece’s future have yet been answered, even though the buildup to the referendum was full of implication suggesting that Greece was, in practical terms, voting on whether to stay in Europe or leave. (Photo credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / Getty Images)
- The European Central Bank will be meeting today to determine its response to the Greek decision, and eurozone ministers will be holding a similar summit on Tuesday. In reality, then, the entire referendum can be deemed a grandiose negotiation tactic that has served to illustrate the political capital of Greece’s negotiating team and bolster its position. It won’t have endeared the country’s leadership to its creditors — who are already upset about Greece’s historic profligacy and current intransigence — but they don’t necessarily have to be friends to agree to a compromise solution. (Photo credit: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / Getty Images)
- Like Cuba in the midst of the Cold War, what happens in Greece has implications spreading far beyond its modest borders. (Photo credit: PACIFIC PRESS / Getty Images)
- If Greece is allowed to fail, the same threat would loom large over other struggling economies in southern Europe. If it’s cut some slack and helped along, it would encourage a wider rebellion against austerity in those same countries. The way that the Greek domino falls will have widespread consequences, but today isn’t the day we get a conclusive answer. (Photo credit: ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / Getty Images)
- Sunday’s vote in Greece was the act of a country rejecting austerity, but still clinging on to the euro, saying no to the particular conditions of a loan offer, but still seeking that loan. The situation remains decidedly undecided. But last night democracy had its moment and it was beautiful and happy and united — a small ray of sunshine for a country beset by dark economic clouds. (Photo credit: ANGELOS TZORTZINIS / Getty Images)