Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Referendum 5th July 2015


     Poster of Syriza for 'OXI' on July 5th 2015 - the Sunday of the Rerendum

Whether or not it was a mere coincidence to discover in the old port of Spetses an 'Oxi' Poster of Syriza which had underneath it another poster which advertised 'Paradise', is not of such great importance. Rather there is a poetic-philosophical connection between the two. This is especially the case when people yearn after five years of set-backs some respite from despair and misery. Above all the constant uncertainty about the future with ever more youth living off the pensions of their grandparents demanded a kind of brinkmanship at the edge of suicide. The austerity measures gave no room for any constructive solutions. Hence what propelled Syriza into power on January 25th was the only thing left: hope. 

Strangely enough the months since January leading up to the referendum refuted this ancient myth, for hope was not the last thing to come out of Pandora's box. It was the referendum itself although Yiorgos Papandreou had contemplated it late 2011, but was whistled immediately back by all EU leaders and then ousted out of office.

Still, the longing for a kind of paradise which resembles 'normality' reminds of a saying by the philosopher Kolakowski. He believed when people seek unity in paradise, the outcome is more often a caricature and in reality a disaster. In Polen, this was the case when the experiment with Solidarnosc ended abruptly with the declaration of martial law in 1981.

Since then and especially since German reunification many things have changed in Europe and the world. It was thought the cold war was over, but then the invasion into Iraq in 2003 changed all that. Since 2008-9 the special Greek circumstances have added a special dimension linking what happened in Egypt and Spain in 2011 to a present world engulfed in countless civil wars and mounting threats of all kinds, including mass migration, climate change and new populist movements upsetting the power base of the established parties.

The outcome of the referendum with the 'no'-vote gaining over 60% while the yes-vote only 37% surprised many, and especially those who had campaigned har for the yes-vote, including Juncker, Schultz and many others who favour a European version of terms they think Greek people and its government need to accept, if they is to be given further funds for a bailout.

What surprised is that the young government of five months not only survived but that the Greek population managed to withstand an enormous pressure coming from all sides. It will now be interesting to see how Europe and the world responds to this daring feat of people ready to risk everything and still maintain there is now room for negotiation.

When a Syriza member came around to the cafe the day before the voting started, that is on a Saturday, and this not in Athens, but on the island of Spetses, he wished to distribute along with the poster a leaflet filled with arguments for the 'NO' vote precisely this hope. When asked not once, but several times, whether or not Syriza had made some serious mistakes since taking office after the January 25th election, he was reluctant to answer. Finally he shrugged his shoulders as if to admit not everything went as smoothly as imagined would be the case, but then he reasserted himself and said all what we have is 'hope'. He meant the hope with a no-vote the negotiating position of the coalition government - afterall Syriza entered such a coalition with the Greek Independent party of Kamenos but which is too often forgotten by all Left Wing enthusiasts - will improve.

Hope was already the main slogan of Syriza during the campaign leading up to the election on January 25th. Five months later, and in view of the failure to negotiate a deal with the creditors, hope advanced again to the top of the agenda.

The wording of the referendum itself

As to the referendum itself, many commentators stated that people found it extremely confusing when asked to vote on something obsolete when a far more serious question prevails, namely if Greece shall stay within the Eurozone and remains a member of the European Union or will exist? Habermas had said already a long time ago that the either / or choice is always posing false alternatives. It is like standing at one and the same time on either side of the barricade when in fact not a battle be waged but a reasonable dialogue should take place to find out what are acceptable solutions for all to continue living together. Obviously many found the terms set by the Troika or institution no longer acceptable and thus they decided to erect invisible barricades. The consequences are nevertheless not only positive for those who voted 'no' or a defeat for those who voted 'yes'. Afterall those who abstained from voting can be interpreted as a double no: against both approaches which created the entire mess in the first place and has now lead to bank being closed and most likely without money if the ECB does not open up again the emergency credit line.

The referendum itself was presented to the voters as follows:

“Should the proposal that was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund at the Eurogroup of 25 June 2015, which consists of two parts that together constitute their comprehensive proposal, be accepted? The first document is titled ‘Reforms for the completion of the Current Programme and beyond’ and the second ‘Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis.’ ”

Before dwelling on the more subtle points, Yiorgos Chouliaras, poet and diplomat, wrote the following brief account of the dilemma Greek voters have been subjegated to. It describes what many went through before casting their vote on Sunday or for that matter decided it is wiser to abstain. There does exist the rule that if more than 40% of the voters do not cast their vote, the referendum has to be nullified. By all accounts, this proportion of voters not saying either yes or no has come close to reject altogether the referendum.
No wonder if confusion reigned in the days before the vote. That confusion is well described by Yiorgos Chouliaras who denotes the relationship to the past, whether now ancient or more recent, plays as well a role.

Referendum predictions, according to my mother

Afraid of what the future holds, now that the past is as dead as their husbands, most of my elderly friends, my mother said, wish to appear positive and vote YES on the referendum. Judging, however, from what they tell me on the phone, she continued, they can hardly distinguish between options and are, therefore, just as likely to vote NO, while those few who recall the past and wish to register a negative vote may also get confused and vote contrary to their wishes. This is why it is so difficult to predict what may happen with any referendum. It’s like being absent-minded and turning the lights ON and OFF. Whether you can see or not only partly depends on such actions. It also depends on whether it is day or night, while, mostly, it depends on whether you have remembered to put on your glasses.

Προβλέψεις για το δημοψήφισμα, σύμφωνα με τη μητέρα μου

Καθώς φοβούνται τι επιφυλάσσει το μέλλον, τώρα που το παρελθόν είναι νεκρό όπως και οι σύζυγοί τους, οι περισσότερες γηραιές φίλες μου, είπε η μητέρα μου, θέλουν να φανούν θετικές ψηφίζοντας ΝΑΙ στο δημοψήφισμα. Κρίνοντας όμως από όσα μου λένε στο τηλέφωνο, συνέχισε, δυσκολεύονται να διαχωρίσουν τις επιλογές και είναι γι’ αυτό εξίσου πιθανόν να ψηφίσουν ΟΧΙ, ενώ οι λίγες εκείνες που θυμούνται το παρελθόν και θέλουν να καταγράψουν αρνητική ψήφο μπορεί επίσης να μπερδευτούν και να ψηφίσουν αντίθετα προς τις επιθυμίες τους. Αυτός είναι ο λόγος που είναι τόσο δύσκολο να προβλέψεις τι μπορεί να συμβεί με οποιοδήποτε δημοψήφισμα. Είναι όπως όταν αφηρημένος κανείς ανάβει και σβήνει το φώς. Το αν μπορείς να δεις μόνον εν μέρει εξαρτάται από παρόμοιες ενέργειες. Εξαρτάται επίσης από το αν είναι μέρα ή νύχτα, ενώ, κυρίως, εξαρτάται από το αν θυμήθηκες να βάλεις τα γυαλιά σου.

Yiorgos Chouliaras

[Adapted into Greek by the author]


Voices prior to the referendum

In all considerations, uncertainty shall prevail.

Such a beautiful country and such a mess.

I am not worried for I have nothing to lose.

If they would not use so much pathos I might vote 'no'.

I have followed Varoufakis for years, he knows what he says.

The entire referendum is a farce.

If only the referendum would not split us as people but it does.

Politics is a game all play and all will lose in the end.

The Americans don't like what is going on, and will step in.

You will see Congress is going to question the IMF's role in all of this.

Greeks are gamblers, and if they lose money, they leave the table. That is it!

We Greeks are obstinate mules but we also hold together.

I feel that I have betrayed my country for years, now it is time to stop that.


Analysis of the result / frank opinions

The No referendum was a class declaration not a national parties preference declaration 

You may see that by analysing the results, for example:
The results of two municipalities of B 'Athens show quite clearly the class character of today's vote.
Municipality of Filothei-Psychiko: Yes 72% - No 28%
Municipality of Agia Varvara: No 73% - Yes 27%
Municipality Ekali 85% Yes -Municipality Peramatos 85% No
So its not the SYRIZA people who voted no but the poor. 
If you see behind this NO Tsipras, Varoufakis and Lafazanis its wrong: this is a no to permanent 
You must also take in mind that many people abstained because they didnt or could afford to go back to their villages, cities, towns to vote. 
KKE also voted abstained. 
I suppose you say that for our creditors: 'There is a difference as to what constitutes a dialogue and what is treating the other only as enemy and as someone to be blamed for all the failure.'
Maybe you didnt realise but the last week there was war from the media against SYRIZA; a propaganda we never saw in this extent, passion and hate. 
The big loser today is the Journalism, the private TV media, and ethics, I hope after Mr. Samaras to start there and resignations.
Propaganda, the Eclectic change agenda, the news construction and especially the reliability of our television media professionals hit rock bottom.



Thanks for sharing your view point. I understand. Did you not say that Greek people have been terrorised over the past five years? If the propaganda war intensified prior to the referendum, then it is also a sign that there is much to lose on both sides. The failure to convince each other as to what would be a common strategy to go forward together creates despair but causes as well panic. The pitched voices in the talk shows certainly are an element of this drama being played out in the media.

In my first comment about the outcome of the referendum, I did not deal with the yes or no vote so much as more with those who abstained. You added some further factors of consideration: people who could not afford to travel (although a 50% reduction existed for those taking the Flying Dolphin from Pireaus to Spetses if they would come to vote), but also the position of KKE.

However, I do know people first of hand who abstained but do not belong to the poor people or the working class. I believe a lot of the Anarchists abstained because they do not believe in the institution as they are equally not for or against Europe.

Equally it would be wrong to constantly portray the Greek delegation sitting on the one side of the table, the Eurozone Ministers of Finance on the other. Rather all sit around an oval table. Ideally it would mean all are equal.

However, we know that even in the rounds of ministers conformity rules prevail. They make it all the harder to break the deadlock.

It can be even claimed that right from the start Syriza was heading for this disaster in the negotiations by not heeding following points:


Indeed Syriza has been banking on this one card: hope! Tsipras himself stated that a sound no vote which he got now, would lead to a stronger position at the negotiation table. However, if the creditors take this as a rejection of the terms they wish to set before giving any more money, then the question arises how will this scepticism and mistrust be overcome?

Bridging differences

Repeatedly it was said there is a need to bridge differences, while at the same time there was thought one solution could be a kind of bridge agreement i.e. extension of the deadline when the bailout payment time line ceases as it did on June 30th. It would allow gaining time to work out in details a mutually agreeable deal. Moreover it would do justice to the fact that a new government cannot learn all the ropes within the short period of five months. But this did not prevent the creditors to use deadlines as both measures of progress being made and criteria by which can be judged whether commitments are kept or not. The default by not paying back to the IMF 1,8 billion marks a first in terms of a developed country.

Already Gabriel, the SPD leader in Germany, said too many bridges have been burned.

It was already an odd coincidence that one famous bridge collapsed in the Epirus region where Tsipras comes from. Herodotus linked these extreme weather signs causing catastrophes with historical events of likewise gigantic proportions. The collapse of that one bridge may be taken as a signal for things to come.

Repeatedly this metaphor of a bridge was cited during the past five months. It was hoped to obtain even a bridge loan, or something which allows the bridging of time between the need for immediate funds and the time needed to work out a concrete deal to the satisfaction of everyone. Yet a good friend said a mistake Syriza made once they started to make appointments after they assumed office that they did not hire people who know how to bridge differences.

Power projections

By the way this friend knows that policy makers base their decisions on simulation calculations based on information being gathered not by merely ordinary experts, but by the socalled Intelligence community, CIA included. Whether reliable or not, in the end this simulation calculations determine what he calls 'power projections'. It shows what possibilities another country has to influence the policies of the other i.e. whether or not friendly to oneself. Subsequently, he says, that it has been established by the German intelligence and CIA that 73% of the Greek civil servants are in reality anti European. If that is taken as basis for all further decisions, then all the assurances by Tsipras that a 'no'- vote does not mean an exit from the Euro and the European Union shall be doubted by the other side. In this regard a successful vote of abstention would have made a significant difference in the interpretation of the referendum, for then the Greek people would have not been polarised but were expressing a clear dissatisfaction with both sides.

It could have been expected from Tsipras to realize images count as well. After all, they did make an impression at the beginning by appearing without a tie. Yet if they wished to set a different tone at informal level, then it must be acknowledged that formal rules apply as well and what projections exist in Brussels about “here come the Greeks again”. When that is being said, it means a kind of stigma exists already, a stigma most difficult to detach oneself from. It may even make any effort in vain when attempting to set oneself apart from past delegations as if another or new negotiation strategy was in the making. And every newcomer must integrate himself in the modus vivendi as quickly as possible.

The loss of hope

In an article of the Guardian today, there is quoted "a woman, a 41-year-old dentist, said she was resigned rather than sad because, with the dire state of Greece’s finances and Tsipras in power, there was “no real hope either way”. (1)

Indeed it was hope on which Syriza has based primarily its promises to the electorate, but a hope is in reality resignation since it does not allow the articulation of concrete measures to be undertaken, in order to show to the creditors a real effort is being made to get the Greek economy and administration onto a right track.

Concrete measures and change in the culture of how things are done

Tsipras could have argued differently at the negotiation table if he had commenced with the implementation of concrete measures which would be worked out together with the general public. Alone tax evasion requires a cultural change, but surely making people become honest all at once is most difficult. And here begins also the difficulty of measuring progress as this is a quality and not a quantitative and therefore measurable matter. Of course, in the end the state would be collecting more taxes, but to arrive at this state, European leaders would have to embrace an old Chinese state wisdom saying in difficult times the state should be most generous for people in need would give back double if really helped. European leaders seem to go completely against this wisdom.

I think to make a significant change in Greece in terms of tax collection and payments with receipts Enlightenment is needed. Many people are often not aware what damage they create when they chet the state, a damage not only to the entire society, but also to themselves. The term 'damage' has been defined in Hegel's philosophy as someone not contributing to the wealth of the nation, and therefore followed upon Adam Smith. So damage inflicted upon oneself needs to be clarified and not just the outsiders, or the past be blamed for ongoing practices which have not changed since Ottoman times. As these problems have a lot to do with Greek mentality and culture, it would be crucial to depart from an illusion that there is a continuity between the past and the present by simply pointing to the rich cultural heritage Greece has. Paul Tillich said that recourse to tradition and cultural heritage is the best way to distort the perception of the present.

Blaming the other

I did not speak only of the creditors but also of Tsipras and Varoufakis who had been treating the other side as enemies. For sure, that is not dialogue but a style of politics well known during the student protest movement of '68. Polemic was used to downgrade the other so that he needs no longer to be taken serious. It was an intellectual weapon but with an undercut which landed the one who used it more often in isolation. Certainly it is not the basis for any serious discussion with the aim of looking into alternatives as to what is demanded right now and which seems impossible to be satisfied, at least not under the conditions which prevail and the terms which have been set like a clicking clock in a chess game. Even then it reminds of Wittgenstein who saw language similar to a chess game but he reserved the right to demand of the other to be understood in what he means to say and not what the other misinterprets or construes into quite another meaning.

Need for clear commitments, trust and consistency in negotiations

At the negotiation table you need to present creditable arguments with a sign of clear commitment. That requires as well a time horizon in the knowledge of what takes time to be resolved in the long run but also what needs to be done immediately to remain 'creditable' in the short run. By argueing constantly about the need for a debt restructuring but without going into details as to what the short term strategy would look like, the Greek negotiation team failed to convince. Lagarde said repeatedly it is not enough the declare the intention to stop corruption and to ensure the taxation system will function, for that had been declared so many times that it was no longer creditable as mere declaration of intention.

The negotiation strategy of Tsipras ended up being a full disaster since he sabotaged repeatedly his negotiation team whether now with Varoufakis leading it or some other expert. When they were about to clinch a deal, there came the announcement of the referendum. The chief Greek negotiator simply dropped his pen since he realized this was it. Such an exposure gave moreover the impression that the government had not really thought through its steps. You do not fall in the back of the ones facing the full might of the European Council of Ministers.

A lot of trust was destroyed already before Syriza took power since the Greeks are known for wanting to negotiate constantly as if nothing is stable, and no real commitment possible. Like an anarchist spirit moving into the European institutions, it complements and contradicts at the same time the much preferred 'informal' procedure adopted as well at EU level. It is a kind of pretence things are not so formal so as to expect as an immediate outcome binding decisions. This is done in a suggestive way as if each member state is free to voice an opinion and thereby deviate from the rest. Yet inherent in such an informal institutional set-up is a coercive power which can be used against those who bent too much the rules or even wish to go against them.

The formal and the informal rules – which ones are kept, which ones not

Naturally there is a wide divergence between written and unwritten rules. How they are set and who observes if kept, matters as well but it is something outside observers can hardly detect. There are finite elements at play which matter. Some would say it is subject to the personal chemistry of politicians involved in the process but they interact as well with those who are permanently in Brussels compared to those who fly in and out. It has been said about the permanent staff from Greece that they worked hardly for the newly elected Syriza government and may explain some of the hitches which occurred during the past months since election on January 25th.


Constantly blaming only the other side will not help. It merely demonstrates a lack of self critical awareness. More than anything else, I believe this is hurting the chances of the Greek side finding a way out of the mess.

There is also the danger of an avalanche of stupidity. This is the case when everyone says I am stupid if I do not do the same as the other, namely not give a receipt and not to pay taxes. He joins an illustrate club thinking to be a part of the clever ones, when in reality they blind each other as to the damages they create not only for the Greek state but also for themselves.

Crucial is also the mistrust many have towards governments and even more so towards EU institutions and the decision making processes taking place within and outside these frameworks. Most explicit is that of the ECB which ought to be a mere economic instrument but plays increasingly so a political role e.g. by deciding or not to give Greek banks extra liquidity to keep the run on the banks in Greece still under control.

It should be acknowledge that if you do not have a minimum of trust, then how can you trust a bus driver not to slam the bus he is driving not the next time into a crowd of people? Trust is a way to ward of insanity of all kinds.

There is a growing awareness amongst some Greeks who say they have even betrayed their country. They are now willing to go through these hardships. That is why I quoted this one man who prefers three years of hardship to a permanent life in an iron cage which the creditors want to build for Greeks to live in.

Still, over exaggeration of what is the case remains to be an art seeking the right proportions. A humanitarian crisis is one of those terms which should be used with care. Who is well off, who is not is in many cases relative and often conditions from one country to another cannot be compared. Besides there is the plight of the migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and elsewhere. Hence we need to distinguish real assessments from inflammatory remarks on both sides.

Naturally I am deeply concerned about the images about Greece conveyed by both the Greek and the foreign press, but I can assure you that I know many people in Germany who know and think Greece has been treated unfairly.

1. Source: Greek crisis: European leaders scramble for response to referendum no vote




Once the results became known, the Left in Europe and throughout the world started to celebrate. Finally some hope. The wish to defeat the institutions of suppression and causing recessions due to the neo liberal hard course of austerity had united many in that wish.

What now follows will be very interesting. Blue Monday will tell already what a difference a referendum can make.

Definitely everyone who advocated the yes-vote, including Schultz of all people, have to think twice about their future in politics. More important is what shall follow, for now a real test of democracy in Europe shall begin: will the EU accept the vote of the Greeks or will the hard course prevail with the end result being the ousting of Greece of the Eurozone and of the European Union. One foreign policy implication predicts already it may well spell the end of modern Europe. People inside of Greece are worried about this backward course of their government. They fear the clocks shall be turned back and stricter controls on everything will edge towards one kind or another of a repressive regime as it prevailed in 1920 onwards.

One man declared prior to the referendum that he will vote for 'no' since three years of hardship are better than a permanent life under the tutelage of fake agreements. It may well be more than mere three years of hardship which will await not only him taking care of his age parents both over 80, but for everyone it will be quite the test to survive. Definitely fake models of success may get very quickly out of fashion even though they predominate still the scene at the moment. For Greeks are as well inclined to dress up when they go to vote as if going to a wedding or funeral. In this case, they were not sure what ceremony they were about to initiate. This is why it is important that the youth stayed away.

As a historical footnote it should be noted that an anarchist did not vote for or against. Rather she abstained and counted on the possiblity that more than 40% who would not vote. If the case, it would make the referendum according to prevailing law invalid. The fact that this number was nearly reached says something about how the outcome of this referendum should be interpreted. In the official declarations this fact is not mentioned at all, and even the press leaves it out. It is well known that success stories can be easily fabricated and that politicians of all colours chose to perceive only what is in their favour. They end up ignoring systematically other signs. Such a practice has proven in the final end to be always a grave mistake.

Hatto Fischer

Spetses 7.7.2015

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