Watching developments in Britain, my mind goes back to the near-fatal and certainly costly Greek summer of 2015. The turmoil surrounding the bailout referendum called by the leftist-led administration of Alexis Tsipras now feels like a distant memory, or rather like a nightmare one would rather forget.
All’s well that ends well, a cynical observer might say. Indeed, Tsipras managed to perform his political somersault – “kolotoumba” in Greek, a word which entered the international lexicon of political terms as a result – and win a re-election.
Greece’s partners and foreign lenders started to take him as a serious interlocutor after the referendum, and certainly after his re-election.
They were not exactly sure how he was able to pull the whole thing off, but they did not really care either. After all, they had accomplished their main objective, which was to prevent the political dissemination of SYRIZA clones, as well as the signing and implementation of yet another memorandum without too much in the form of social turmoil.
All that, however, came at a hefty price. The economy had just started to grow a bit and exports were picking up. But that came to an abrupt end with the wave of uncertainty and capital controls.
We also paid a heavy price because Greek society was divided like never before in its recent history. This will be documented by sober historians in the future, and so will the tools that were used to intimidate people who held a different view.
Looking back, and at the same time seeing what is happening in Britain, the “Menoume Evropi” campaign by Greeks who supported the yes vote in the 2015 referendum, was worth it, despite the cost.
The pro-Europe folk proved to be on the right side of history. They had to face a tsunami of hatred, slander and sentimental nationalist populism powered by conditions of extreme partisan polarization.
An interesting question is what the outcome of the Greek referendum would be if it were held today, if people actually possessed the knowledge that they do now.
No one can answer that question. If you take a realistic approach, the No vote led to a worse deal than before and it actually damaged the national interests.
But if you look at the whole thing sentimentally, it was an outburst that was needed after all the pressure – and which didn’t really mean much in the long term.
Only time will tell what that traumatic experience taught us, if anything, as a society.