Is Greece’s “No” on Debt Referendum another Youth Revolution?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

During the past 5 years, the old categories of politics– left, right, center or capitalist and socialist– have been challenged by a new one, that of youth. What the Millennials want has begun to matter in addition to the other factors.

That Greece has a left-wing government run by the Syriza Party that urged a “no” vote on the referendum is itself in part of function of the youth vote and of the positions taken by the youth wing of Syriza. Youth voted “no” at even higher rates than the general population. They have faced impossible unemployment rates of 50% because of banks-imposed austerity and they are insisting that some other policy must be possible. They may be right or they may be wrong, but that they are flexing their political muscles and that they have understandable grievances are not in doubt.

A representative of Syriza’s youth wing told the Real News Network:

“SPOURDALAKIS: Well, I would say that both SYRIZA and the youth wing are more radical, at least in their positions, than the government is. For example, the youth wing has opened the issues of human rights, the issues of immigration, the issues of equal rights for the LGBT community, and so on. And these are issues which are not popular in the Greek society. And, therefore, the government’s positions, I would say, are less radical than those of the party or those of the youth. And what we’re trying to do is both [incompr.] pressure and check the government into implementing this kind of policy, but also trying to create a movement which will change the view that the society has on these issues.

PERIES: And what are some of the issues that are really at heart for the youth movement?

SPOURDALAKIS: Well, I would say that a very important issue is, of course, privatizations and stopping the privatizations that are going on right now, for example the mining operation in northern Greece, which has been temporarily stopped, but it hasn’t been brought back entirely. It’s the issue of the concentration camps that were created by the previous government for immigrants and shutting them down. And it’s also the issue of–also the issue of human rights, [human] rights of prisoners. And then, of course, also the LGBT issue of civil union for gay couples.

And these are all issues that the government has made some promises on but that remained to be quite–they’re still quite unpopular with the society. The society still is quite conservative on these issues.

So what we’re trying to do is create a movement that will both pressure the government into more progressive positions, but will also create sort of a social consensus to back these changes.”

At Gezi Park in Istanbul two years ago, Turkish youth challenged the increasingly autocratic leader of the center-right Justice and Development Party (AKP) over its determination to erase public space in favor of a mall and a mosque complex. The ruling party cracked down hard, with military grade tear gas and water canons. But two years later, the AKP lost its majority in parliament for the first time in over a decade, possibly stopping its march to reshape Turkey into a presidential system. The youth who demonstrated at Gezi Park were prescient, and they may have begun altering the public perception of the ruling party, which had become popular because of a perceived commitment to pluralism.

In Chile, since 2011 there has been a vigorous student movement of protest demanding a German-style system of free tuition for higher education. Current president Michelle Bachelet actually campaigned on this issue last year, and has taken steps to implement it, though there are obstacles deriving from a provision of the constitution put there by military dictator Augusto Pinochet. It is safe to say, however that this issue would not be on the front burner in Chile, and the government would not be seriously talking about spending 2% of the gross national product on it, if Chile’s youth had not mobilized in a consistent and dedicated manner around this cause.

And, of course, the Arab youth kicked off vast changes in politics beginning in 2011, bringing democracy to Tunisia and gaining a new and much better constitution for Morocco– though in other instances, where governments proved vicious and repressive, the latter threw their countries into vast turmoil.

Many Syriza youth want Greece to follow the path of Iceland, which rejected austerity, defaulted on loans, and nationalized banks. Iceland emerged arguably better off. But Iceland is a small country of 400,000, whereas Greece is a country of 11 million, and it is not clear that the dynamics would be the same there. What is clear is that Greece has rejected the austerity policies of the old in favor of the risk-taking of the young.


Related video:

“Greek voters rejected the terms of the European bailout plan in the country’s first national referendum since 1974. PBS NewsHour special correspondent Malcolm Brabant joins Hari Sreenivasan from Athens with more on where the country goes from here.”

PBS NewsHour: “Where will Greece go from ‘No’?”

Related book:

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

20 Responses

  1. Iceland had its own currency.

    Much easier to handle a default in this case. Greece would have to print a new currency to refinance its banks, once they are cut loose by the ECB (slated to happen on the 20th when Greece will in all likelihood officially be deemed in default).

  2. A majority of the Greek people voted for democracy and economic justice, but the potentates in charge of European finance are not having anything to do with that civilized nonsense.

    • ” The potentates in charge of European finance …”

      … happen to be other democratically elected governments.

      • Since when is the ECB president democratically elected by the european people? And the major player’s chancellor Merkel and minister of finance Schäuble were elected in Germany and not as gouvernors of europe by all europeans.

  3. The new division is really between the haves and the have nots, and the haves are getting edgy. The pan Europe demonstrations in support of a Greek ‘No’ vote are, I believe, an illustration of the universality of the position enunciated by the representative of Syriza’s youth wing. That support for a No vote cannot have been a considered economic position so much as a moral reaction to the perceived injustice of the whole thing, and sympathy for the Greek people. In a real sense it was also anti-Brussels and the haves. That will worry the hell out of them because it achieved a focus of solidarity that has escaped Brussels since the EU was established, a solidarity that could well become viral. Yanis Varoufakis is clearly an icon of that solidarity with his casual manner, crisp mind, and refreshing moral integrity. His dismissive remark about wearing the creditors’ loathing with pride suggested to me that we may be witnessing the emergence of a break between economics and politics similar to that between theology and science in the 16th century.

  4. This is what Paul Krugman has been saying: throwing out the Euro & bringing back the drachma is the only way Greece can get out of its financial problems.

  5. The No vote in Greece was so heartening, regardless of the demographics. At last a loud voice raised against the 1%.

  6. I’m not sure youth is enough. But it definitely hurts the US that its population is rapidly aging, and its aging whites in particular seem to be falling prey to paranoia about losing power to young non-whites, and support any measure that just happens to disenfranchise or imprison or even kill them.

    I think that not all movements for change are progressive, and we don’t clearly understand why populations go one way or the other. The classic analogy must be Germany and the USA in 1933. Many young Germans embraced romantic notions of the primitive past; few young Americans did. We don’t know why some young populations embrace religious revolutions and others secular.

  7. A bit of a stretch, isn’t it?

    The issue here seems pretty simple: reckless moneylenders gave buckets of money to a reckless borrower.

    That borrower can’t pay that money back, and in a normal world both borrower and lender should feel the pain.

    But that’s not what is happening here: the borrower is going thru Hell so that Europen taxpayer will “extends loans” whose sole purpose is to…. pay back the banks because the Greeks can’t

    Hellloooooooo. This is a rort, whose entire purpose is to shift the pain onto Everyone Else Except The Banks Who Were Recklessly Throwing Money Around Like Drunken Sailors.

    That’s what this vote represents: the Greeks understand that they have alreadg paid a price for their recklessness, and it’s time for the banks to take their licks too.

    Mr Banker, they CAN’T pay back the loan, so stop pretending that it will be repaid.

    Stop trying to squeeze blood out of a stone: write the f**king thing off as a bad loan, and then let EVERYONE move on from there.

    After all what *is* the endgame here? Slavery? Debtor’s Prison?

    The loan is toxic. Write it off.

    • You may underestimate the fierce political purposes behind the advancement of the EU from its original creation as a a Common Agricultural Policy, a European trade agreement. Germany and France moved heaven and earth to get a list of supporting nations replete enough to give it a global political look. They knew perfectly well the way Greece operated and the weaknesses of their system but brushed all doubts away in favour of grandiose political dreams. Think of seducing a kid with a bit of in his pocket into a Disneyland, locking the gates and lending him money to spend.

      • And here’s evidence if it’s needed.

        We cannot let Greece leave the eurozone. France is convinced that we cannot run the risk of a Greek exit from the eurozone, both for economic reasons but above all for political reasons.

        Manuel Valls, French prime minister on RTL radio:

      • But EU actually originated from the centralised control of steel output in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, it think (may be i missed some?). And though most money is being spend on agriculture (if one ignores ECB) the EU is not only a Common Agricultural Policy. To influence the shaping of things you can just wirte the laws instead of spending money on it right? With the rest i agree, they ignored risks (or took?) to expand the EU, and the Euro framework. Germany mainly because it’s economy needs a big market.

    • Check out “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein. Is austerity about recovering debt, or a deliberate political conspiracy to destroy institutions of the poor to create a belt of sweatshop states with 3rd world wages, as was done to Latin America and Eastern Europe?

    • That horse left the barn a long time ago, in the wake of the 2008 crisis.

      The banks have been made whole and hardly hold any more Greece debt.

      The problem is that in this first bailout the debt has been rolled over from banks to the states, and now the governments of these countries that are holding the debt face an angry electorate that won’t accept a haircut. The Finish PM for instance never gets tiered to point out that their share equals 10% of their GDP.

      To move past this would require some innovation along the line of the “bad banks” that sprung up after 2008 to hold all the trash collateral, aka a “bad sovereign fund” that will keep the debt on the books yet, guarantees a long enough debt moratorium for Greece to recover.

      Unfortunately nothing of the sort seems to be in the cards.

  8. Austerity does not work whether its for Iceland’s population of 400,000, Greece’s 11 million, America’s 321 million or an average family. You don’t gamble in the stock market and take out loans beyond your capacity – you work moderately hard and save a little each month. Bring back a reasonable American dream. The banks and Wall Street gamble with the investments of the 99% of Americans.

    Greece’s youth may accomplished much of what Occupy Wall Street was about. The US banking industry and Wall Street should both be bankrupted out of existence with many if not most of the executive fined, tried and sent to prison for at least 15 years. The banks (the Fed, IMF, etc) and Wall Street are nothing but legalized loan sharks and gambling houses respectively, that never lose. Close um all down and establish State banks, small banks that will maintain their collateral.

    Americans must really revolt against the banking industry, Wall Street, corporation, the Military Industrial Complex, etc.

    The American banks, the f**ked up Federal Reserve allowed the banking industry to grant phony mortgages that they all knew would balloon monthly payments beyond payment. Yes the banks have made trillions of dollars by selling the foreclosed homes.

    Get the money out of politics, establish state banks and the US government should stop borrowing money from the Fed.

    • “Greece’s youth may accomplished much of what Occupy Wall Street was about. “

      Nope, they won’t, because the banks have already been bailed out long ago. The debt is now inter-governmental.

  9. While there is much to be said for paying attention to what is happening in Greece and Europe, let’s not forget other areas, such as Latin America: “Ecuador, Greece and the Left In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!” by ANDRE VLTCHEK – link to

  10. It really hurts, doesn’t it, that Milton Friedman had this right back in 1997.
    I think the euro will revert to a deutschmark for eurozone countries willing to compete and cooperate with Germany. France and Italy may even end up outside that currency. The project of a united europe would then be dead. Thats no small thing.
    Greece, for its part, does not look to me to be anything but a lost child, yearning for the past. They dont believe in taxes, they retire at mid-life, and they SHOULD privatize their mines.
    Portugal, Spain and Ireland drank the kool-aid. They will utterly erupt if greece gets debt relief for their stunting. It will not happen and tsipras knew that when he called the referendum. Poor Tsipras, he hasnt a clue what to do now. His choice is either complete capitulation or leading his people into a new hell.
    This wasnt a “youth revolution.” It had little or nothing to do with immigration policy or LGBT rights.
    But It has demonstrated pretty clearly how a utopian vision can be as dangerous as any ideology.

    Furthermore, their political

    But i fail to see this as

    • That he predicted troubles for the EU and EURO Union doesnt makes his critic accurate. For example do the Greece retire at the same age as Germans do. Privatizing the lucrative mines will make the state lose money. But with the taxes there really seems to be some issues though its hillarious to declare them as the cause of the crisis and it’s persistence.

  11. Paris Deathrage, google exists. If you use it, you will find that the average retirement age for Greeks has be later in life than the EU average. Retirement at 53 was an outlier. Similarly, most Greeks pay all taxes due because they are taken directly out of wages. It is the rich and business owner who evade taxes, in part through doing business in cash and then depositing the cash in French and German banks. When Syriza wanted to focus on rich tax evaders France and Germany laughed at the idea, especially when it was suggested going after French and German bank accounts held by rich tax evaders.

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