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European gambling of national referendum

Posted July. 06, 2015 07:13,   


YES or NO?

This is the second time already. I could still vividly remember all those red and blue stickers on house windows in a residential area in September 2014 when I visited Scotland to cover the story of its independence referendum. Neighbors living upstairs and downstairs were seen to furiously argue up for the voting.

This time, it’s Greece. And the atmosphere is even more hostile than that of Scotland. It seems that they see this as a life or death issue. Banks are closed and in the eyes of people who go day-to-day without a penny are full of fear. At a square in downtown Athens, those who agree and disagree hold a daily rally to confront each other. It seems that an agora, a central spot where ancient Greek people gathered to voice out their hearts and minds, is reenacted in Syntagma Square in front of Greek Parliament. There is, however, a sense of crisis instead of peace.

Up for the national referendum, Greek people are neatly divided into two: those who say yes and no. It all began with confusion for the young and the old, and the rich and the poor. As the referendum is nearing an end, there is no clue for the result due to mounting fervor. The day before the national referendum in Scotland, people came out into the street in Edinburgh, singing and chanting for their cause till dawn.

As has been known, the announcement of Greek national referendum came all of sudden after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stormed out of the discussion on June 27. Most of people who don’t want Greece to exit the eurozone said in the beginning that they would “accept” creditors’ terms. As the control over capital in Greek banks became tighter, however, voters who say “no” have drastically increased. No one can guess what the result will be at the moment. The internal division among Greek people, however, would leave deep and long scar even after the referendum ends.

Could it be due to a wide-spreading populism amid lingering economic crisis? Holding a national referendum has recently become popular among European leaders. Having learned a bitter lesson from rashly agreeing with independence referendum for Scotland, Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom said that the nation will conduct a national referendum to decide whether it would withdraw from European Union by 2017. On the pretext of local referendum in the Crimea last year, President Vladimir Putin of Russia annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The Catalonia region in Spain is waiting for an opportunity to carry out a national referendum for its independence.

A national referendum is a form of “direct democracy” that asks the entire nation about political and diplomatic issues of great concern regarding the identity of the country. Oftentimes, however, it is conducted for the purpose of “a vote of confidence” that asks people’s trust on their leader. The vote of confidence used to be a favorite tool for dictators who wanted to indefinitely prolong their power. Such examples include Napoleon when he became emperor from First Consul of the Consulate and Hitler who sworn as Chancellor. If Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wins this vote, he is likely to wield uncompromising power not just in his country but in discussions with creditors as well.

In the massive flow where Europe becomes “separated” from its current “integration”, a referendum could be a popular tool. The one that has been recently carried out, however, seems more like a gambling that leaders use to evade their responsibilities while trying to gain stronger leverage in politics. As he selected the referendum as a “tool for negotiation”, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has been branded as someone who doesn’t make any sense among creditors. It causes great fear that issues that could bring about great ramification to global economy like “exit from Eurozone,” “withdrawal from EU” and “dissolution of commonwealth” can be decided by such an “uncertain gambling” as a voting of a certain nation or local people.