Greece's Pro-EU Opposition Is Absolutely Terrified Of What Happens Next
The 39% of Greeks who voted "yes" in the referendum on austerity are coming to terms with defeat and feel the discredited opposition parties may need replacing with a single pro-EU movement.
ATHENS — "I feel like an idiot, living among idiots," said Niki Kamtsios, carrying a Gucci shopping bag in one of Athens' more upmarket neighbourhoods. Kamtsios was in the minority who had voted "yes" to accept an EU bailout to save the Greek economy. "We don't have any money! Everyone has the impression that they're going to wake up and be full of money and we won't don't need agreement with the EU. They're idiots. We live among idiots, and we have to put up with idiots."
There has been little talk of the opposition to the left-wing Syriza government since Greece voted to reject the EU proposal — they are the 39% of the population who voted to support further austerity in the hope of a new debt deal with Europe. These voters tended to be older, better educated, and wealthier: people such as Kamtsios and other relatively affluent private-sector workers with savings they can no longer withdraw from Greek banks due to capital controls.
"The Yes side is completely discredited because they're associated with the old political system," says Costis Zombanakis, a Harvard-educated millionaire businessman and basketball impresario. He campaigned for a "yes" vote but said his side didn't have a clear pitch to the nation. "The No side had a simple message. They said, 'The Germans are cunts and [former prime minister] Samaras is a cunt.' On the Yes side you're not going to win by talking about liberal European values when No's message is that the Germans are cunts."
These are the Greeks who are are terrified of what is happening in their country – but they're also resigned to the fact that the existing opposition parties that dominated national politics for two generations are completely discredited among most of the population. This leaves them with a conundrum: The centre-right New Democracy and centre-left PASOK parties are structurally weak and languish in the polls while taking the blame for the allowing the country's economic crisis to happen. Unsurprisingly, these groups feel completely unable to compete with Syriza's populist pitch.
Sitting just five minutes' walk from Syntagma square, Where jubilant No supporters spent recent days celebrating outside parliament, Zobanakis said he believes Greece needs a new unifying liberal pro-European political movement to replace the old parties. He's also cryptically damning of prime minister Alexis Tsipras' use of threats in negotiations with international organisations: "The real tough dude never tells you to fuck his mother; they just shoot you."
Instead, day-to-day concerns of Yes voters include those of small business owners watching their businesses struggle, tech entrepreneurs unable to use cloud web services due to restrictions on spending money abroad, and a fear that any bailout deal will protect Syriza-voting public sector workers at the expense of a struggling private sector. Imports ranging from medical supplies to plastic cups for Greeks' beloved frappé coffees are drying up due to capital controls.
Alexandros Soultos, one of those entrepreneurs, says he has "a feeling of numbness" about his country's predicament. "I have no doubt that a deal will be reached and that, given what we've seen from both Syriza and the coalition that previously was in charge, the private sector will be taking the largest hit while the public sector will largely dodge the bullet. As a businessperson I know that what I need most is a stable environment with clearly delineated rules."
Even members of the old parties suggest it might be time to put aside old differences and run on a much-rumoured single pro-EU parliamentary ticket in opposition to Syriza. But doubts still remain about whether the groups could put aside old rivalries and choose a single leader for any elections, despite the resignation of long-standing New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras on the day of the referendum.
Dimitris Kareles, a PASOK parliamentary candidate, says the idea of his party joining a single pro-EU group would be popular in Athens but "absolutely nowhere else" outside the capital. Instead he is damning of his own party's immediate prospects, explaining it now has limited appeal to the current youth of Greece because it's perceived to be part of the old guard.
"The only trustworthy voice in our political system is Tsipras," the architect sighs, drinking a pint of Stella Artois and rolling cigarettes. He predicts Tsipras could remain in power for years if the prime minister manages to carve out a deal with the EU and remove the more troublesome far-left elements of his Syriza coalition. "He was not part of the old political system, so he has credible. The other [political parties], we can say beautiful things but people don't believe us."
Kareles has little time for the idea of pro-EU party but instead fears the rise of a populist far-right government if Syriza fails in its aims.
"Everyone's tired," he warns. "And when a society's tired then everyone turns to a very conservative option."