Transcription of Alexis Tsipras’ speech tonight, July 3, 2105 in Syntagma Square in Athens. Tsipras is appealing to the Greek people to vote no—oxi—in the referendum on Sunday and thereby refuse more austerity in return for a bailout and yet more unpayable debt. The past five years of austerity imposed by Europe have reduced the country to a shell. Even the IMF has reported that its growth predictions for Greece under the last austerity were wrong; there was no economic growth, only contraction and misery. Having lived in Greece, and having village friends there who are suffering, this speech felt particularly moving. But Tsipras’ speech was not just for Greece, it was a stand against austerity everywhere.
And let’s remember that the current situation is not the Syriza party’s fault. Its coalition was handed an impossible situation when they were elected in January, and their handling of the negotiation with Europe and with their own people has so far been quite remarkable. Still, no matter what happens on Sunday and in the coming weeks, it’s going to be hard times for Greece. But it was already hard times when I lived there, in a village habitually angry at the corruption of Athens (they mean the seat of government more than the city). And those hard times in the 90s were nothing to this.
The speech is very much a political appeal to democracy and defiance, not an economic one. It remains to be seen if it’s effective, or enough, but I was interested in its use of national founding mythologies—imagine living in a country where your founding myths are, in fact, actual myths. I realize that’s there’s a contradiction when someone who despises nationalism as much as I do likes this speech. Ends don’t justify means, certainly, but more than nationalist rhetoric I think this is very much an anti-neoliberal and pro-poor speech and we haven’t seen that sort of thing very often.
Having said that, it’s interesting when an attempt to rally a country using national myths of origin mentions… actual mythology. By Zeus!
“Citizens of Athens, Greek people: today, we are not protesting. Today we are celebrating. Today democracy is celebrating. Democracy is a celebration, democracy is joy, democracy is salvation, democracy is a way out, and today we are celebrating the victory of democracy. No matter what Monday brings in the morning, we are already victorious. Greece has sent out a message of dignity, of pride.
[Chants of oxi, oxi (“no”)]
Nobody, nobody can ignore this passion, nobody can ignore this eagerness for life, the eagerness for hope, the eagerness for optimism. Today, today we are celebrating our decisiveness to take our fates into our own hands and to give word to Greek people, give the floor to Greek people. Today we are celebrating and singing, we are celebrating and singing in order to overcome fear, to overcome blackmail. Europe, the Europe that we have known, the Europe whose founding principles have nothing whatsoever to do with blackmailing and ultimatums. And today at this hour, the entirely of Europe, has their eyes turned to you, turned to Greek people, turned to the 3 million poor people, 1.5 million unemployed people.
Today, today the entire planet has eyes turned to Syntagma Square, small and big squares of our country. They have their eyes turned to the place where democracy was born. It is in this place that we will give an opportunity to democracy to come back, to come back to Europe, because we want Europe to come back to its establishing principles, to the principles that it has been casting aside for so many years in order to implement […] programs of austerity forcing peoples to make choices against their will. Citizens of Athens, Greek people, on Sunday all of us united will send out a message of democracy and dignity to Europe and the world over. We are sending again a message of hope to the peoples, because on Sunday we are not merely deciding on Spain and Europe, we will be deciding to live in Europe with dignity, to work and to make progress in Europe, to be equals among equals in Europe.
[Chants of oxi! oxi!]
And believe me, nobody has the right to threaten that they will detach Greece from its natural geographic place, nobody has the right to threaten that they will divide Europe. Greece, our homeland–Greece was, has been, and will go on being the cradle of the European civilization. It was from this land that according to mythology Zeus took Europe. And it is from this precise place that the technocrats of austerity want to rape Europe again. So we shall say no, we shall say no to them on Sunday. We will not let Europe be in the hands of all those that want to take it away from its democratic tradition, its democratic […], its establishing principles, its principles of democracy, solidarity and mutual respect.
Citizens of Athens, men and women of all ages, you have gathered here today flocking to Syntagma Square, flocking the streets of Athens and other big cities, defying the crescendo of scaremongering and the terrorism of the past few days. Citizens of Athens, the Greek people, the Greek people have many times throughout the course of its history proven that they know how to return ultimatums. On certain occasions ultimatums can be returned. The brightest of leaves and pages in the history of this place, and the most glorious of leaves in the history of our people were leaves and pages of virtue and of courage, so I’m calling upon you to write historic moments, uplifting moments of freedom again, I’m calling on you to say no to ultimatums, a big and proud no, to turn your backs to those people that terrorize you on a daily basis.
And on Monday, on Monday no matter what the outcome of the democratic process of the popular verdict be, the verdict of this process that somebody feared and wanted to prevent, no matter what the outcome is on Monday, we should say a definitive no to national division. No matter what we decide on Sunday, on Monday Greek men and women have nothing whatsoever to divide them, together we shall fight united to construct a Greece that will be far better than the Greece that was destroyed after five years of destruction.
Family, I appeal to you to shut your ears to the sirens of scaremongering, to decide with your hearts and your minds, to calmly decide, to decide for a Greece which will be proud in a democratic Europe, for a people, a small people that has been fighting without swords and bullets, but a small people that has been fighting having in their hands the most powerful of weapons on the planet: fairness. We are right, fairness is on our side. We are right, nobody can hide this, nobody can hide that we are right. Citizens of Athens, Greek people, freedom takes courage and virtue. You, we, all of us, have both virtue and courage, and we are free, we are breathing the air of freedom. No matter what happens, we are the winners, we shall be the winners. Greece has won, democracy has won, blackmails and threats have been defeated. Farewell, be strong. I’m proud. With pride and dignity, we will write history, our people will progress, will go ahead, Greece and the Europe of democracy and solidarity. Farewell.
And this was the song played as Tsipras left the stage, “Children in the Square”
Side note: this is the function of a public square, that element of civic planning that Vancouver authorities have not just gone out of their way to provide, but have actively blocked over many decades.