As an American living in Greece, the outcome of tomorrow’s bailout referendum will surely impact my life, though I am not eligible to participate. Not being inextricably bound to the outcome, I am largely exempt from both anger and dejection. However, I don’t possess enough distance to be smug about the outcome. And I partake of the general anxiety. This last is hard to guard against. It seems to seep in from under the doors.
But mostly, I am perplexed. As far as anyone can tell, the people who tomorrow will vote “Yes” are acquiescing to a different proposition than the one that those who vote “No” are rejecting. In other words, there isn’t just one referendum going on tomorrow. There are two. Probably more.
According to a poll from yesterday, Greeks are evenly split on the ostensible question. At the same time, most of them (~74%) wish to remain within the European Union and the single currency. But no camp has emerged in favour of building on this consensus and re-casting the referendum so that (at least!) the two answers are mutually exclusive. I would have thought that to be the minimum requirement for calling one in the first place.
Both the Greek government and the European powers-that-be claim that at stake in this nascent, inarticulate question is the very future of the country, though they don’t agree on what they mean by that. Isn’t it rather callous to abandon a country to a game of chance? It smacks of something Kafka or Beckett would have cooked up on a particularly surly day.
Maybe that is precisely the intent. I’ve had a quip, generally attributed to Mao Zedong, stuck in my head all week:
There is great chaos under heaven — the situation is excellent.
Following Slavoj Žižek, I read this as the uplifting (rather than menacing, which is also possible given the context) possibility of exploiting disruption to open up a space for a new politics. I’m guessing that Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, had something along these lines in mind when he proposed the referendum.
The excellence of this situation remains to be determined. One thing is clear. Tomorrow the Greeks are not called upon to decide. They are called upon to guess.