The Streets of Athens Say "OXI"
Walking through the heart of Athens, the result of today's referendum appears to be obvious. Posters cover the walls, lamp-posts, bus stops. Painted banners hang from buildings and railings. Stalls and people leafleting fill the streets. All call for a “No” vote in today’s referendum.
The division in the country, however, soon becomes clearer. Turning on the television, the adverts by the “Yes” campaign become inescapable. Here is where big business and the parties that back a yes vote have the influence. The message is that a “yes” vote is a vote for Europe.
So while the “No” campaign has covered the walls of the city with an offer of uncertainty and hope, those calling for a yes vote have direct accessto mainstream media channels and are playing on people's fear of the unknown.
The messagesof the “No” campaign are not the only ones to cover the streets of the city. They are surrounded by graffiti reflecting the widespread nature of far-left politics in Greece: “Free Palestine,” “Always Queer. Always Antifascist,” or “Class War.”The city is alive with ideas, and people who are willing to fight for them.
the "No" rally in Syntagma Square was by far the largest
Of the rallies that took place here in Athens on Friday night, the "No" rally in Syntagma Square was by far the largest. People filled not only the square, but alsoeach street leading to it, unable to move through the crowd as it condensed and people gathered in front the Greek Parliament. Syntagma station itself was filled withcrowds and banners. As I left the station to join the rally, chants of "ΟΧΙ" [No] were already erupting on the platforms and escalators. Later on, an announcement from the main stage told us that people were no longer able to join the demonstration from the station. They could not leave the trains as the platforms were already full with people waiting to joining the demonstration.
I was told that as people had gathered, police had sprayed tear gas on activists and were telling them to leave the demonstration. Yet after this violentaction, the police had mysteriously left. The lack of barricades and police presence in front of the Parliament amazed the crowd, which erupted into cheers, pointing and chanting as Zoe Konstantopoulou, President of the Hellenic Parliament, came out to join the crowds.
The loudest chants of the evening, however, came later, aftersongs about revolution and uprising, after talks by politicians from across Europe and for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Afterhe had appeared on the stagethe chants of "OXI" could be heard long after those in the main square had stopped - as those in the streets leading to the square caught onand joined in. The excitement in the crowd was tangible. Many chants resonated from the crowds "Democracy Above Europe," among them.
Leaving the demonstration, I was surprised again by the lack of any police guarding the shops on the streets leading to Syntagma Square. I was told that there were many police there, but that they were hidingin the streets behind. A few months ago, I was told, when police lined the streets and barricades protected the Parliament, that there were frequent clashes and violence, but now that the police no longer enter demonstrations, protesters are peaceful.
On the one hand, the atmosphere here is alive and exciting. Neighbourhood committees have sprung up across the capital this week, bringing together members of traditionally rival left groups,to organise the “No” campaign, and public transport is free all week.
There is not enough money even to keep the food bank open
However, signs of the crisis can be seen across the city: a man searching for food in the bins of Piraeus; a woman on the underground with a bag of free food from the church; and the lines emerging from each ATM machine across the city and people attemptingday by day toconvert their savings to cash. In theory the withdrawal limit is €60 per day. However, as theATM machines normally dispense €20 and €50 notes, but not €10s, and the €20 notes have run out, in reality people can withdraw only €50 each day.
One moment that aptly depicts the extent of the crisis here in Athens is that, upon arriving at a food bank in central Athens yesterday, we were told that it is no longer open every day. There is not enough money even to keep the food bank open.
While the result of this vote may end up being influenced by the constant messages of fear from all the main news channels, many people appear determined to resist this. As I overheard one Greek say in contemptuous response to the evening news, "We don't have fear; we have hope."
Maria Christofidis is student from London who has just finished her GCSEs
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