UCL European Institute


YES, for our Dignity

04 July 2015, 12:00 am

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In this post, Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Professor of International Relations at Oxford, and Othon Anastasakis, Director of the European Studies Centre, St Antony's College Oxford, explain how a 'yes' vote in tomorrow's Greek referendum is a choice for dignity rather than fear, as canvassed by the No campaign.
Prof. Kalypso Nicolaïdis 
Dr. Othon Anastasakis
4 July 2015

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and not of the UCL European Institute

The SYRIZA government claims that a No vote in the referendum is about dignity. A Greece that can say no, no matter the consequences. A Greece that can at last resist creditors' demands, just as its national heroes of yesterdays resisted the Italian and Nazi invasions.  For many Greeks, - supporters of SYRIZA-ANEL-Golden Dawn - today's no echoes the OXI in 1940 spelled out with trees on the hillside of Epirus for the advancing enemies to behold. Seventy five years later, they think that will show the world that they can still take the heroic stance.   Against such a no, according to them, the YESes are the cowards, those who accept to be bullied and blackmailed, the German collaborators. In this simple world view, YES means fear. No means pride.

What is wrong with this picture? What is wrong with the "dignified" No?

For one, consider the lessons of history. In 1940, Greece was taking part in a collective resistance along with the likes of Britain, France and the United States, and along all the resistance movements of Europe. In a Europe divided between two opposing camps, Greece chose sides. Its heroic battle was indeed against an evil regime and ideology. Today, however Greece stands all alone against all in the Eurozone and even in the EU. Even Podemos in Spain, the strongest supporter of SYRIZA, is discreetly distancing itself from SYRIZA.

How could it be that the 18 other members of the Eurozone all be "the enemies of Greece" to whom we now need to say No while asking for more money? SYRIZA came to power with a moral argument against austerity and a revolutionary thirst for change which gave hope to those who believe that Greeks need to more fairly distribute the burdens of adjustment and expose the austerity discourse.  But this support has now been lost. Over the last few months, Greece has even lost its allies in the EU periphery, who now see it more as a threat to their own stability than as opportunity to expose Germany's mistaken ideology of abrupt adjustment. And how can they trust a Greek government that threatens to take them down with it?

A No vote increasingly appears like a desperate attempt to turn isolation into heroic resistance.

A YES vote on the other hand cannot be reduced to fear, the fear of the unknown associated with giving up the Euro. A YES vote can be more than that: a YES with dignity.

A YES with dignity will be a way for the Greeks to say: like our compatriots who voted No, we do not like some of the terms of the proposed deal. But we know that the deal is no longer even on the table. So instead we are ready to make a leap of faith and say yes to Europe, however flawed that Europe is. We are ready to trust the other Europeans that if we vote yes today, they will take it as sign that we want to trust them again and ask them to trust us. Trust is Europe's most precious commodity and without it, we are truly nothing. Not everyone in the EU scene deserves to be trusted. But do we really think, like the government does, that no one is to be trusted? It is only by trusting others that we can hope for a renewed negotiation process in good faith on all sides. It is by voting Yes that we regain the kind of credibility necessary to obtain the best deal possible in a future restructuring of the Greek debt.

A YES with dignity is a YES against those in Europe, including  in Germany or elsewhere, who are now convinced that the Eurozone is better off without Greece and wish to push the country towards its own self-exclusion. They are the ones who wish most eagerly for a No vote. With this YES we vote with all those in Europe who in spite of the lost trust remain faithful to their friendship with Greece and want to keep it in.

A YES with dignity is about resisting the understandable temptation to vote No, with a knee jerk emotional pride that takes us on the road to nowhere. A NO will not convince EU partners that this government would sincerely implement the parts in the agreement which are good for us -the fight against corruption and clientelism. A YES could bring about, finally after five years, a government of national unity in which SYRIZA could still take part. It could open the way to a more creative and responsible approach to the negotiations on all sides.

A YES with dignity would signal that we remember how Greece was at its strongest and most influential in the 1990s and 2000s, when it was the most reliable member state of the EU and NATO in our region. Europe was Greece's strength when we made it possible for the EU to rely on Greece to be a regional leader.

A YES with dignity can in this way be the best path to regaining our credibility lost in the rest of Europe and the world, by telling the creditors: you may be responsible for the dreadful economic recipes of the last 5 years and the current mess, you may be insensitive about our terrible economic depression, we may detest your moralising tone about who we are, but our Europe does not belong to you. Europe belongs to all of us. With our YES to Europe, we ask to become again actors of our own destiny.

  • Othon Anastasakis is Director of the European Studies Centre and Senior Research Fellow at St. Antonys College, Oxford; 
  • Kalypso Nicolaïdis is Professor of International Relations and director of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Oxford.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and not of the UCL European Institute