Greek referendum anniversary: The battle goes on

Seven years have gone by since the Greek referendum on July 5, 2015. There are some who will not recall those heated summer weeks when the world watched a European drama, or rather a Greek tragedy, play out. And yet, the European Union of today was born in the summer of 2015; shaped by the decisions made at the time. To understand what we are facing in 2022, we need to understand what happened in Greece in 2015.

A conservative union

It has long been debated whether it is possible to be economically progressive within the legal constraints of the EU. The regulations that govern it, such as its single market laws and its Common Agricultural Policy all benefit big business and the economies of financial and industrial powerhouses, such as the Netherlands and Germany.

This problem is exacerbated by the euro which keeps the German industrial behemoth moving, tethering the rest of Europe’s nations to its fate. This would of course not be so bad if Europe was governed by a political union which ensured that the gains were then distributed among all Europeans equally. Alas, the reality could not be further from this.

For all of its conservative biases, there were a series of ambitious attempts to deepen and widen the integration of the European project. However, since the start of the economic crisis in 2008, these were all replaced by desperate measures, of an increasing authoritarian character, designed to keep the architecture of the EU unchanged at any cost.

It was within this environment that the Greek negotiating team, under the leadership of Yanis Varoufakis, had to renegotiate Europe’s handling of the Greek debt in 2015. This was stand against oligarch-enriching privatisations and economy-crushing austerity, and towards policies that would allow the Greek economy to recover and honestly have a chance at one day repaying its debts.

An unfaithful champion

Alexis Tsipras was elected prime minister of Greece with the clear mandate to end the austerity opposed by the country’s lenders and their local allies.

Unfortunately, within a few months, he started having parallel discussions with his European counterparts which undermined the efforts of Varoufakis in Brussels, slowly signalling that he was willing to capitulate to the EU and continue the austerity programmes.

Once Greece’s lenders sent the government a take-it-or-leave-it austerity deal, Tsipras organised a referendum on whether to accept the deal that contained the policy he was elected to oppose. As history shows us, he hoped he would lose it.

A betrayed revolution

In the lead-up to the referendum, Europe was abuzz. Propaganda portrayed the referendum on whether to accept further austerity as a decision on whether Greece would stay in the euro or not.

Others took it a step further: it was a question of whether the country would stay in the EU. Greeks were bombarded with scaremongering stories of potential shortages in food and medicine, not to mention financial ruin.

Then, something unheard-of happened: while debates raged for and against the austerity deal, the European Central Bank cut off access to liquidity for Greek banks, leaving Greeks without access to cash. The atmosphere in the country was truly warlike.

To this day, the consultation on whether this action was legal has never been published by the ECB, despite efforts to force the central bank to share the document they procured with public money.

Greeks were clearly being blackmailed. Thousands of people took to the streets across Europe in support, which developed into a movement that recognised that the future of the EU itself was at stake: would it be an authoritarian institution that bullied citizens into submission, or a true union of people tied together through policies aimed at shared prosperity and solidarity?

It was during those hot summer months that the spirit of DiEM25 was born, as some of us realised that the EU should either be democratised or it should disintegrate.

The fact that the Greeks voted against austerity, despite the pressures exercised on them by foreign and local elites, is testament to the depth and strength of the movement that led their struggle.

Tsipras’ complete betrayal of this powerful stance by his people and their allies from across the world did not just handicap the Greek Left’s credibility; it undermined people’s belief in change, leaving one of the most politicised and radicalised societies in Europe numb and disillusioned. To this day, abstention has not dropped to pre-referendum levels and the mainstream political debate is controlled by parties that have accepted Greece’s subjugation, with parties that still seek a resolution to the colonisation of the country, like MeRA25, being limited to the political fringes.

A continued fight

The task of MeRA25 in Greece is to re-energise the people who voted for ‘NO’ in 2015. Those who, in the face of impossible odds, stood resolute for a better Greece, in a better EU.

It is a hard sell: people feel betrayed and hopeless. It is a struggle that can only be won through patience and continuous proof that our party is loyal to people and democracy, while having credible solutions to the many existential issues faced by a country that’s been in crisis for over a decade. As the cost of living skyrockets and the European economy becomes destabilised by the rising energy prices and inflation, we will once more enter into a period where the radical, yet common-sense, solution of MeRA25 and DiEM25 will have an increasingly wider appeal.

Across Europe, DiEM25 recruits those who recognise that the EU’s actions in 2015 proved that it’s willing to go to any length to maintain the status quo and protect the interests it serves. It needs to be confronted, embattled and forced to change, and DiEM25’s mission is to create the pan-European movement that will lead that battle. A battle against oligarchs and the politicians that serve them. Greece in 2015 showed us both the strength that a determined people can have, and the dangers of entrusting our struggles to those undeserving. MeRA25 in Greece and DiEM25 across Europe need to learn from that and build a tool for political representation that can be trusted, through strong ties with society and mechanisms that ensure the party and its representatives stay true to the policies we champion.

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