There may be almost as many reasons that Greeks voted no as there are Greeks.
ATHENS, Greece — As news spread of the surprisingly strong victory for the no side in Sunday’s referendum on a European bailout offer, Greeks poured into Syntagma Square, site of many historic demonstrations.
In a festive mood, they streamed in from the subways, which have been free since the banks closed last week, by foot and by car, whistling, tooting horns and banging drums. As if by mass telepathy, they knew that Syntagma Square — Constitution Square — was the place to go.
Some wrapped themselves in Greek flags, while others sang traditional Greek protest songs — peaceful, happy and proud of their courage in sending a message to the rest of Europe that endless austerity would be a dead end.
There may be almost as many reasons that Greeks voted no as there are Greeks. But if there was a consistent theme among those celebrating, it was that they had taken as much suffering and humiliation as they could stand. Rejecting the endless demands of their European overlords for tax hikes and pension cuts, they said, became a matter of national dignity.
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For Anthi Panagiotidou, who eagerly joined the mass of humanity with her daughter, Chrysa, voting no was a simple decision: After five years of austerity, she could not endure any more.
Anthi Panagiotidou lost her job in an architectural firm, and though she eventually found work, it was not at the same level. While rich Greeks send their children abroad for college, she said, she can barely pay for tutoring for her daughter, 17, to prepare for the entrance exams that will determine which rank of state-run university she attends, as well as what major she will be allowed to pursue.
Her disabled husband cannot afford physical therapy, she said. What is worse, she said passionately, is that they are not alone.
“There are people without electricity, thousands without health insurance,” Panagiotidou said as she welcomed the triumph of the vote against accepting a new bailout that includes more austerity demands.
Greece is like a sinking ship, Panagiotidou said, and perhaps the referendum will force the rest of the world to pay attention.
But the rest of Europe may see those who voted no as irresponsible and shortsighted, expecting the people of other countries to bail them out while they have failed to make loan payments or to adapt to changes, such as ending patronage, early retirement and tax evasion, in exchange for help.
Voters on both the left and the right of the political spectrum who chose no said they were prepared to deal with the consequences. They might become poorer, they said, but they would have nobody to blame but themselves, and even if the country’s economy collapses, they prefer to go down fighting.
Some Greeks invoked the historic images of Kougi, a fortress where in 1803 independence fighters blew themselves up rather than surrender to the Ottoman Empire.
It would be better, the “no” voters suggested, for many Greeks to sacrifice their own well-being and for their country to abandon the euro and go to a lower-valued currency of its own than to remain at the mercy of European creditors.
Voters like Panagiotidou said the strength of the no vote was even more astounding after a week of capital controls in which Greeks were forced to wait at ATMs every day for rations of 60 euros, or about $67, and retirees had to stand in line for a small portion of their pensions.
People were terrified by the bank closings, Panagiotidou said. If the banks had been open, she said, the no vote probably would have been even bigger.
For young people who have come of age during the austerity measures of the last five years, anything seemed better than continuing to bow to the demands of the creditors, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the other eurozone nations.
Thalis Doukakis, 25, has been doing odd jobs since he graduated from college with a film degree, he said after voting no in Ilisia, an Athens middle-class neighborhood. Both his godmother and his widowed mother, a retired nurse, help support him.
He said he understood the consequences would be painful if Greece resorted to a currency like its previous one, the drachma, but that he believed the outcome would be better in the long run.
“It’s better to have three or four worse years with the drachma than all these measures,” he said.