ATHENS, Greece -- “Syriza’s fight is our fight. If Syriza loses, we all lose ...”
Martina Anderson is a distinguished Irishwoman: tall, blond and a member of the European Parliament who represents the Sinn Fein party. She is at Syriza’s offices in Athens with the other representatives of the left from various European countries, including Podemos from Spain; Nichi Vendola and his followers from the Italian Left Ecology Freedom party; Stefano Fassina and Alfredo D'Attorre from the Italian Democratic Party; the left of the French Socialist Party; Paolo Ferrero of the Communist Refoundation Party; Marisa Matias, the Portuguese MEP of the Left Block; Raffaella Bolini, who represents ARCI (The Italian Cultural and Recreational Association); as well as Maurizio Landini’s Social Coalition, and Luciana Castellina of the Communist party.
Anderson has brought an Irish flag with her; she likes to display it in every photo with her European “comrades,” as they call each other here. They are the sundry left of the Old Continent, reunited in Athens to shout "Oxi!” during the referendum announced by Alexis Tsipras. They’ll either make it or they’ll break it.
This is the breaking point; everything will either start or end here, they say with their fingers crossed as they circle through the rooms of this seven-story palace located in the aptly named Liberty Square. “We have a responsibility; we feel the pressure of it,” a Syriza official smiles but responds nervously to Anderson’s predictions. However, the atmosphere is positive here at the offices of the new leader of the European left: Tsipras, who is not here but at the Old Royal Palaces, which house the Greek Parliament. Meanwhile, the ballots are closing and the stations are running the latest polls, which were not shown earlier to avoid influencing the vote. Everyone is saying “no” to the troika. Even the Greek polling institutes have come to the same conclusion: They agree that the Greeks are voting “no.”
We are in Athens, but the headquarters are Spartan. The air conditioning isn’t working, but nobody in these rooms with their partially white and partially (of course) red walls is concerned with it. Fresh beverages, peanuts, exquisite Greek almonds and other snacks arrive. You munch and take what refreshment you can, with eyes attached to the television.
Besides the polls, the first partial data from the islands is coming in: "No." There is a cry of victory in every language; it is because in some areas the “no” vote has reached 80 percent. “Incredible,” says one Frenchman. We are in Athens and from here, as it seems from what is on the television, Sparta is wavering. It had been expected to vote "yes," but now that prediction is withdrawn: It is a “no” there as well. “We’ve taken back Sparta!” is the cry.
Members of Syriza governing party and supporters of the "no" vote react as they watch the referendum's exit polls.
Argiris Panagopoulos, a Syriza representative who is well-known in Italy because he's fluent in Italian, is watching the television with a satisfied expression. “It means that the decision of the European hawks to confront us has wounded the Greek’s national pride. That is why 'no' is winning. This strategy has not paid off for them,” he explains. “They bet on scenes of panic outside of closed banks and it didn’t happen.”
“This also worked in favor of the 'no' vote,” he continues. “And it has not been easy, seeing that all of the television stations are working against us: Syriza has no friends in the media.” The television is now showing the first remarks of Nikos Voutsis, the Greek minister of the interior: “We are satisfied. The voting operations have worked out as best they could, having had only six days to organize the referendum.”
Anderson smiles: “It is a lesson for us as well” in Ireland, one of the countries in the grip of the troika, causing it to constantly oppose Tsipras. That is not the case for Sinn Fein, or Podemos in Spain, which sees a renewed chance for victory in the next elections this autumn. Even the Italians are lauding the victories here that they do not have in their own country. “Renzi should come to Athens to learn two fundamental things: that there simply is no Europe without democracy, and that the left without social justice is nothing but a house of cards,” Vendola says, referring to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
“The first major crack has appeared in the new Berlin Wall,” he continues. “A clear victory for the people who have refused the ordeal of austerity, and of a government that, singularly in Europe, showed its backbone when confronting political and financial oligarchies.” Fassina states, “Hope has won and fear has been defeated. Thanks to the Tsipras government and Syriza, European democracy has found new life. Renzi should stop aligning himself with the German government and commit himself to Italian national interests. He should officially ask to reopen the Greek negotiations.”
“This could be the act that redefines Europe by reconciling democracy with participation, and power with the choice of the people,” states Arturo Scott, a leader of the Left Ecology Freedom party, already raring to go celebrate in Syntagma Square. He is followed by Loredana De Petris, a senator from Vendola’s party. “An extraordinary result if you think about the conditions in which the vote took place and the obsessive media coverage.” D'Attorre is delighted and, as he admits, a bit stunned. “I came here to show which side I support, but I thought that extortion by the European institutes would win out … instead it failed. It is a moving occasion.”
“Merkel’s economic terrorism has failed,” says Ferrero. “The democracy of the people has triumphed and now the EU accepts that it has to change tactics by ending austerity.”
It is time: Tsipras will no longer pass through Syriza headquarters, so we have an appointment in Syntagma Square. We head out.
The headquarters are almost deserted. Tonia Tsitsovis, a member of Syriza’s central committees, whispers, exhausted and content, “We’re going to the square. When I first saw it filled with 'no, oxi' supports last Friday, I knew that we would win. Still, at my age I’ve seen Syntagma Square full several times. I’ve even seen the Polytechnic Uprising against the colonels there.” That was in ’73. But after 40 years here, you still sense that a strange sense of retribution is proffered by some moments in history, even if it is in unexpected forms.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.