Report: Greece - European Union

Fear and defiance in Athens as Greeks vote in historic referendum

The First Secondary School, Athens, ready for the voters on 5 July 2015
The First Secondary School, Athens, ready for the voters on 5 July 2015 Jan van der Made

Nearly 10 million Greek voters were entitled to vote in Sunday’s historic referendum, which may profoundly alter the relationship between Athens and Brussels. The 19,159 polling stations opened at 7.00am local time on Sunday for a 12-hour period. Final results were to be transmitted via mobile phone by court representatives reporting from each station. In one Athens polling station opinions were divided.


It is warm in the courtyard of the 1st Secondary School at Adrianou 114 in the center of the Plaka, at the slopes that lead towards the Acropolis.

Outside, ignoring the political frenzy that is keeping Greece in its grip, tourists stroll along souvenir stands or sip coffee on the many terraces of Athens’ most popular tourist region.

George Tsaspiras studies a list on the wall of the school where he finds the room where he has to vote. The First Secondary School has five classrooms dedicated to the voting process.

George Tsasparis checks where he has to vote
George Tsasparis checks where he has to vote Jan van der Made

“What I voted is personal,” he says after casting his ballot. “But, whatever the outcome, it won’t make any difference. The next stage will be chaotic.”

Still he thinks it is important to vote. “You have to have more than 40 per cent of people casting their ballot, otherwise the referendum has no meaning.”

Tsaspiras thinks many Greeks don’t understand what they are voting for.

“They think by saying something it will happen,” he comments. “That’s the easy way. And you don’t just say something and then expect everybody else to agree with you.”

Voters should be aware that Greece is not alone, he points out. “You’re dealing with 18 other nations. And in order to keep your home tidy and not in a state of disaster you need to work for this.”

Two friends, both called Anastasias, have also voted at the school. They leave the polling booth, engaged in discussion. Anastasias Fotopoulos, a 19-year-old music student, says he did not hesitate. “I voted for No. The last five years have been extremely humiliating for the people of Greece. This is the first time that a Greek government gave us an opportunity to actually decide for ourselves what to do.”

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Even though he comes from a relatively wealthy family, he is feels he must show solidarity with Greeks who are less well-off. “We are not poor but we do realise what is going on around us.”

His friend, Anastasios Bambalis, a 20-year-old biology student, is less decisive.

“I don’t think there is a correct answer for this referendum,” he comments. “Because even if it turns out to be a No, it might lead to a steady exit, at least from the European Union and even from the eurozone. But, if we actually vote for Yes, then I think the terms for the next loans will be much more severe.”

Leanna, who walks around the polling booths and the courtyard of the school taking pictures, looks agitated.

“I have to register this historical moment,” she says.

Leanna works in a hospice in New York and moved away from Greece some 35 years ago. Her decision to vote Yes did not come easily.

“I do not believe that a Yes vote will solve the problems but I think between the two evils we can choose from, this one is the slower death,” she explains. “Because it provides some room and some space for hope, perhaps.”

Leanna is disappointed by the EU and feels Greece has been manipulated in signing deals it should not have signed.
But most of her anger is directed against the current government of left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

“Aside from the lack of experience, there’s no consistency in their ideology, their agenda, and the referendum is another example of self-serving, egocentricity, pretending to have the task to save Greece,” she says.

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