ATHENS (Reuters) - Athens was still standing on Monday. The Parthenon had not crumbled before the coming Apocalypse. And as their left-wing government made tentative overtures to its European partners, Greeks expressed hope catastrophe might yet be averted.
“I think there will be an agreement,” said 21-year-old student Christina Sideri, queuing to withdraw the 60 euros Greeks have been rationed to per day for a week now. “There’s no way we’ll leave the European Union, and the European Union cannot continue without Greece.”
Greeks believe they called Europe’s bluff on Sunday with a resounding vote to reject the terms of an international aid deal despite the warnings of European leaders they faced being cast adrift from the euro currency bloc.
The next few days may yet prove Greeks wrong, but the 61 percent who voted ‘No’ were won over by the assurances of their left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that they were voting on austerity, not on their place in Europe.
Thomas Gerakis, of pollster Marc, singled out two public addresses by Tsipras on Friday, armed with a timely report by the International Monetary Fund describing Greece’s debt as unsustainable. That has long been Tsipras’ chief argument in favor of a writedown on the debt.
In a rousing speech to 50,000 people in Athens, he told them a ‘No’ vote was a vote to stay in Europe, and “live with dignity in Europe”. Europe was bluffing, he intimated.
“On Sunday, you are not deciding whether Greece stays in Europe, you are deciding whether ... we will accept the continuation of a policy from which even its architects say there is no way out,” Tsipras said in a television address on the same day.
“What was crucial was the rally and the timing of Tsipras’ televised address on Friday, when he said that a ‘No’ vote does not mean a rupture with the EU but would be a tool for better negotiations,” said Gerakis.
“That was the key moment when a significant number of voters went from the ‘Yes’ to the ‘No’ camp,” he said, after most polls in the run-up to Sunday’s ballot put the two sides almost neck-and-neck.
Despite the ‘No’ camp’s euphoria, officials in Brussels and Berlin said a Greek exit from the currency area now looked ever more likely.
Tsipras returns to Brussels on Tuesday for an EU summit armed with what he will argue is a popular mandate to fight for better terms and debt forgiveness.
He will meet fierce resistance from Germany, Greece’s biggest creditor and toughest critic, but the noises from Madrid and Rome suggest others in the bloc might be more amenable.
“At some point this is going to end,” said Sideri. “We can’t have capital controls forever, the banks can’t be closed forever. Let’s hope for something better.”
Across the road, 40-year-old taxi driver Christos Mitsionis was in good spirits, unusually so given Greece is literally on the verge of running out of cash.
“I think they’ll reach a solution,” he said, with a smile. “Everything needs to be discussed, so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again.”
Gerakis, the pollster, said the referendum may also have provided a vent for Greeks tired of being the bad boys of Europe. After the ignominy of bankruptcy and bailout, and years of plummeting living standards, to say ‘No’ to their creditors was for many Greeks a moment of catharsis.
“I think there was also a psychological reason at play,” he said. “A people who have been pressurized for so many years needed to express a degree of pride, especially when they didn’t feel it would cost them anything.”
Tsipras, too, can still bask in the role of newcomer, elected just five months ago as an alternative to the same staid faces of a discredited political elite that has run Greece for 40 years.
Ironically, even if he can clinch a new deal, it will involve many of the tenets of the last proposal Tsipras dismissed as a “humiliation”.
Argyri Alexopoulou, 65 years old and unemployed for the last 25, said Greeks had been duped.
“The question was completely unclear,” she said, in reference to the densely worded question in the referendum, sprung on Greeks at eight days notice with little time for a real campaign or debate.
A cartoon on the front page of top-selling newspaper Ta Nea showed a Greek man rummaging through a giant ballot box. His wife asks, “Is there hope, Mitsos?” He replies, “I‘m looking for it.”
Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Giles Elgood