Greece’s turmoil a risk to security
REFERENDUM RESULT WILL AFFECT E.U. POLICY
Region faces migrant crisis, Ukraine war, Islamist threat
athens — Tucked in a tough corner of Europe, Athens has been battling foreign invasions at least as long as records can tell the tale. So as this deeply divided nation prepares for a Sunday vote about whether to swallow more painful austerity from Europe, the consequences of the outcome run far beyond whether Greece will receive a new financial lifeline.
In a Europe that is coming unmoored from a post-Cold War order that appeared stable just a few years ago, the outcome of Greece’s decision is certain to influence how European Union leaders handle the vast security challenges that stretch before them. An unprecedented migrant crisis, a war in Ukraine and a growing threat of Islamist militancy have shaken the 28-nation alliance, as nationalism and economic populism surge in many capitals.
As Greeks go to polling places Sunday for a historic referendum, the country’s instability is bound to persist no matter the outcome. With food staples dwindling in supermarkets, gas stations running low on fuel and nearly all imports grinding to a temporary halt, Greece will need help from far beyond its borders as it wakes up Monday morning to life after the decision, leaders here said.
ATHENS — After five months of bitter backroom talks and poisonous public smack-downs between officials in Greece and Europe, the fate of this nation-on-the-brink will shift into the hands of the Greek people on Sunday.
A substantial majority of voters in the country of 11 million are expected to turn out for a referendum that will ask them to answer either yes or no to a jargon saturated question about Europe’s now-expired bailout offer.
Although the ballot doesn’t say so, Greece’s future in Europe, the survival of its government and the welfare of a population that has endured the most profound economic collapse of any developed nation since World War II could all be on the line.
Greeks will vote after a week that has been perhaps the most difficult for the country since its debt crisis began nearly six years ago. Banks stayed shut, with ATMs dispensing a meager maximum of 60 euros per customer. Food banks and hospitals reported shortages of basic supplies. At offices and shops, deals were put on hold as Greeks anxiously wondered whether the week’s turmoil was a mere prelude to something far worse.
On the final day before the vote, neither side was permitted to campaign. But officials in Greece and around Europe managed to work in some final insults as they sought to persuade a population that polls show is split almost exactly even between yes and no.
Greece’s outspoken finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, accused the country’s European creditors of “terrorism,” saying that they hope to scare Greek voters in to defying their own government and voting yes.
“Why have they forced us to close the banks? To frighten people,” Varoufakis told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo in an interview published Saturday. “And when it’s about spreading terror, that is known as terrorism.”
Varoufakis told El Mundo that he did not think Greece’s creditors were serious about kicking the country out of the euro zone, as they have repeatedly threatened.
“It’s too much money, and I don’t believe Europe could allow it,” he said, estimating the toll for the continent at a trillion euros.
Varoufakis also vowed to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung that regardless of which way Greece votes, the country will sign a bailout deal with Europe on Monday.
European officials have scoffed at such claims, with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble reiterating on Saturday that any new talks would be “very difficult.”
Schäuble insisted that the collateral damage to other European countries from a Greek meltdown would be limited. But in a potential softening of what had been a relentlessly hard-line stance, he told the German tabloid Bild that Greece may only “temporarily” leave the euro zone even if the country rejects Europe’s bailout offer.
Greece and Europe have been on a collision course since January, when Greek voters elected the radical leftist Syriza government on a platform of ending the strict austerity imposed here as a condition for massive bailouts.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the surprise referendum a little more than a week ago, hoping to gain leverage in his bargaining over the terms of the country’s cash-for-cuts deals.
But Syriza officials say they think their paymasters are now trying to bring down the government through a yes vote.
Before negotiations broke off, they say, they were trapped by the incoherent demands of the credi tors, with the International Monetary Fund demanding tough austerity but offering to slash Greece’s debts and European officials easing up on austerity but promising no debt forgiveness.
“So we had the worst of both worlds,” said Tasos Koronakis, the head of the 13-member secretariat that sets Syriza’s political policies. “That’s the reason why we decided to turn to the people and involve them in negotiations.”
But Greece’s banks may not last muchlonger without a deal. Greek banks have about $1.1 billion of reserves remaining, enough to last through the end of Monday or Tuesday morning, the head of the National Bank of Greece, Louka Katseli, told reporters on Friday.
The European Central Bank can choose to bolster the amount of emergency assistance it gives Greek lenders or it can pull the plug, a decision that would immediately cause the banking sector to collapse. It could also help trigger Greece’s exit from the euro zone.
That prospect terrifies the yes voters.
“No will bring about a catastrophe,” said John Seretis, 39, a pharmaceuticals distributor. “Yes will bring about many difficult things. But at least we’ll be in the euro.”
But Kyriakos Roussopoulos, a 41-year-old chef, said the government should be willing to blaze its own path if the country’s creditors won’t yield.
“We can make a new history,” he said. “We Greeks say that with an olive tree and a ship, we can build everything again from scratch. I may be poor for the next 10 years, but my kids will be better off.”
“Why have they forced us to close the banks? To frighten people.”
Yanis Varoufakis, finance minister
Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, accused the country’s European creditors of “terrorism.”