Markos Kounalakis

Filling Greece’s ATMs with promises

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called on Greek voters to reject foreign creditors’ demands for more economic austerity in return for rescue loans.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called on Greek voters to reject foreign creditors’ demands for more economic austerity in return for rescue loans. The Associated Press

Greece faces one of the most difficult decisions in its modern history today as it heads to the ballot box to vote in a referendum few voters truly understand. Regardless of which way the vote goes, the country will be voting on an assuredly painful future.

The real unstated question on today’s ballot, however, is: Do the people want to put their future in the hands of their feckless, lying and entirely unreliable radical-left government, led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his ruthless, heartless henchmen?

Calling him a liar is a serious charge. I watched, however, as he was interviewed critically by Antenna TV and promised the impossible – to reopen the banks within 48 hours of a “no” vote. I am not an economist, but I do hold an ATM card that is being rejected by machines for lack of euro currency. Stocking an ATM requires currency, euro or otherwise. A bankrupt state cannot fill the machines with empty promises.

Many Greeks are casting their votes believing this is about the euro or the European Union. That is partly true. A “no” vote in the election will support Tsipras and likely lead to a “Grexit” (a Greek exit from the eurozone) and the misery, heartache and continued tragedy that have been Greece’s reality since the banks shut down last Monday.

There are virtually no Americans of Greek descent who support this course, and many of them have been calling friends and family in Greece to get them to vote “yes” – an unprecedented act by a heartbroken diaspora to affect the outcome of a national election abroad. Many of them – along with the multitudes of non-ethnic Greeks – have taken the economically further depressing course of canceling their holidays in Greece. This is a stake planted in the already barely beating financial heart of this suffering state.

In the days leading up to today’s referendum, Greeks here in Athens have gathered in large rallies to demonstrate their loyalty and support for a “yes” to the European project and currency, and against the failed experiment of the Tsipras revolutionary government.

The “no” forces have littered the streets with leaflets and graffiti promising retribution to dark internal and external forces. An aura of threat hangs in the air.

All Greece’s fate hangs in the balance of a vote some are whispering could be rigged, given the rapidity of the election and the heavy-handed chicanery of the Syriza party and its extremist left wing.

Ultimately, Tsipras is seeking more than a simple vote of confidence from the people. He is seeking a mandate to carry his anti-capitalist message to the other European capitals and beyond. His hubris and revolutionary fervor have him self-convincingly spouting a message of global overthrow that would undoubtedly have much more credibility had he not taken his own country down the toilet and to the brink of catastrophe.

Tsipras made an all-or-nothing negotiating gambit on Greece’s debt, believing he could hold his creditors and Western partners hostage in a financial murder-suicide pact. When global markets failed to collapse last week and it was clear that the last five months of his government’s bluster were also five months in which the West was building financial firewalls, his gambit failed. As has he.

A question that remains will be if today’s outcome is overwhelmingly “yes,” will he and his accomplices – and others who historically have drained Greek coffers – be held criminally liable? No current or future referendum will be able to exonerate him for his culpability in this Greek tragedy.

Greeks will survive this indignity. They have always survived, and they will always survive. But leaders of the world take note: Campaigning is hard; governing is harder.

Markos Kounalakis is a research fellow at Central European University and visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @KounalakisM.