Greeks’ overwhelming “no” vote to creditors’ demands for more austerity in trade for rescue loans, opting to stand instead with the prime minister’s hope for a better deal, reverberated Sunday through Delaware’s Greek-American community.
“I was more than surprised,” said retired University of Delaware Professor Dean C. Lomis, who is of Greek heritage and has family there. “I was shocked.”
There are about 5,000 Greeks and Greek-Americans in Delaware, according to census figures, including many who came during the main influx of immigrants in the late 1940s. The community each year shares its culture in the popular Holy Trinity Greek Festival in Wilmington, which draws about 40,000 people and last month marked its 40th anniversary.
Lomis, considered an expert observer of all things Greek, had expected not only a “yes” vote, but also “a very, very close vote… 51 to 49 percent or even closer.”
Instead, with more than 97 percent of referendum votes counted, “no” votes tallied more than 60 percent – a margin the interior ministry predicted would hold.
Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said creditors planned from the start to shut down banks to humiliate Greeks and force them to make a statement of contrition for showing that debt and loans are unsustainable.
On Sunday, he said, “the Greek people said ‘no more’ to five years of austerity.”
Instead, they sided with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who bet the future of his left-wing government by insisting a “no” vote would give him a stronger hand to get a better deal.
Tsipras – in what some have called high-stakes brinkmanship – called the referendum last week, giving both sides just a week to make their cases.
Those favoring a “yes” vote accused Tsipras of jeopardizing the country’s membership in the 19-nation club that uses the euro, contending the vote came down to keeping the common currency.
As results were tallied, thousands gathered in Athens, waving Greek flags and chanting “No, No, No.”
Although he expected the opposite outcome and his relatives favored a “yes” vote, Lomis – whose heritage is Greek and who spent two years there in the U.S. Air Force – said he understands the “no” vote and is glad it was overwhelming.
“I expected a very close, very tight vote because they didn’t want to get out of the euro zone,” he said, but a close vote could have left an impression that neither side won.
“I personally feel it is a good thing they voted overwhelmingly,” he said. “They all did it together, united they stand.”
The vote, he said, reflects that the Greek people have grown tired of European pressure, especially from Germany.
“Greece was down on its knees,” he said, “and they wouldn’t give any breaks.”
“I’m sure they’re going to go to Europe and to Germany to get some more definite terms now,” Lomis said.
Greece may have to get out of the euro zone – or may get thrown out – but may benefit from Germany not wanting similar situations with other countries, he said.
“They don’t want this thing to get out to Italy, Spain and Potrtugal because they’ve got problems of their own,” Lomis said. “On the other hand, if the Germans want to take a very tough stand, Greece may have to get out of the euro zone or they may throw them out.”
Likewise, consultant Spiros Mantzavinos, who owns the Wilmington-area Mantzavinos Group public relations firm for small businesses, said Sunday that “a lot is going to depend on what the next steps are.”
Like others in Delaware’s Greek-American community, Mantzavinos said, he has family in Greece and has been following news of the country’s economic issues.
“I think the opinions here have mirrored what you’ve seen in Greece,” he said, including the split of opinions.
As the referendum approached, he said, “personally, I think it had gotten to the point that it was more of a political issue than economic one.”
With international officials acknowledging that the plan intended to remedy the country’s economic problems did not work, he said, “People have been very much aware of the hardships that have come from austerity.
“It didn’t pan out,” Mantzavinos said. “The Greek economy didn’t grow.
“It contracted more and created a situation that was unsustainable, with high unemployment,” he said, especially among young people.
With the Greek people “truly suffering,” he said, a vote either way would not have solved the issue. “Greece was going to suffer with a ‘yes’ vote or a ‘no’ vote, either way,” he said.
Although creditors have not yet signaled what they will do next, Mantzavinos – who chaired this year’s Greek Festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church – said, “It’s going to be a sensitive time now and I think it’s going to take some sensitive minds to work together and come together to come up with some solutions.”
For the Greek prime minister’s part, he went into the referendum positive about a negative vote.
“Today, democracy is defeating fear … I am very optimistic,” Tsipras said earlier in the day after voting in in Athens.
But European Parliament President Martin Schulz said on German public radio that he hoped for a “yes” vote.
“If after the referendum, the majority is a ‘no,’ they will have to introduce another currency because the euro will no longer be available for a means of payment,” he said.
Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt was one of the first eurozone ministers to react to the initial results.
“This likely ‘no’ complicates matters,” he told Belgium’s VRT network.
He insisted, however, that the door remained open to resume talks with the Greek government within hours.
But Soula Mistras of Wilmington, who is active in the Hellenic University Club of Wilmington, said the vote cast a pall on her home in Wilmington.
“We are very sad and very upset,” she said. “We feel like a funeral in our home because we feel like it will be very sad for Greece.”
Her husband, Antonis, who came from Greece and works in finance for Du Pont Co. said he fears the prime minister was “deceptive.”
“The ‘no’ vote was catastrophic,” he said.
“They hang onto the idea that the ‘no’ vote would bring some kind of hope to them,” Mistras said.
“The ‘yes’ vote would have been bad enough,” he said.
“Anybody that has followed this to any extent understands there are no grounds for a better deal, that’s a fruitless hope,” he added. “It’s all an exercise of bad politics from the side of the government so they can stay in power and take Greece out of the euro.”
Mistras said he believes “the wealthy people probably voted ‘yes,’ and the poor people probably voted ‘no,’ but they are the ones who are going to pay the price.”
This coverage contains material from the Associated Press.
By: Robin Brown
Photo Credit: Associated Press