Greece’s Vote for Sovereignty

CAMBRIDGE – Creditors and debtors have found themselves at odds for as long as money has changed hands. But rarely have the issues been framed as starkly – and in such a public manner – as in the just completed Greek referendum.

In a vote on July 5, the Greek electorate resoundingly rejected demands for further austerity by the country’s foreign creditors: the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the other eurozone governments, led by Germany. Whatever the economic merits of the decision, the Greek people’s voice rang loud and clear: We are not going to take it anymore.

It would be a mistake, however, to view the vote in Greece as a straightforward victory for democracy – despite what the country’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and his supporters like to claim. What the Greeks call democracy comes across in many other – equally democratic – countries as irresponsible unilateralism. There is, in fact, little sympathy for the Greek position in other eurozone countries, where similar referendums would undoubtedly show overwhelming public support for the continuation of the austerity policies imposed on Greece.

And it isn’t just citizens of the large creditor countries, such as Germany, who have little patience for Greece. Exasperation is especially widespread among the eurozone’s poorer members. Ask the average person on the street in Slovakia, Estonia, or Lithuania, and you are likely to get a response not too different from this one from a Latvian pensioner: “We learned our lesson – why can’t the Greeks learn the same lesson?”