Thousands of Greeks rallied in Athens’ Syntagma Square on Monday demanding their government find a solution to their debt crisis that would allow Greece to remain in the Euro. The protest highlights the persistent demand from the Greek people that they remain within the Eurozone, even as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ negotiation tactics put that reality in jeopardy.
The rally, informally named “Menoume Evropi,” meaning “We Live in Europe,” featured thousands of EU supporters waving Greek flags alongside EU flags and calling for the nation to remain part of the European Union coalition. Protesters held up signs reading “No to division, yes to Europe” and “No to Austerity, No to the Drachma,” referring to Greece’s currency before the euro. Highlighting how broad the support for the euro is in Greek society, members of a number of political parties–from center-right New Democracy to center-left Pasok and smaller left-wing party The River–attended the event.
While many protesters made clear their support for the euro was not a vote of support for any austerity measures that would require Greeks to pay the government more money, reports on the ground made clear that many at the rally were losing their patience with Tsipras. “We stand by Tsipras, we try to support him, but it has gone too far and it has to end,” one man told Euronews, “He should sign, return and then discuss finding a solution on how to organize our country. Enough is enough.”
Others were more stern towards Syriza’s attitude in negotiations with the EU. “The game this government is playing has done nothing but damage to the country,” a student protester told Reuters, noting it was the first time he had come to such a rally. Reuters reports also significant resentment at the rally at Tsipras’ overtures towards Russia, with people holding up signs reading, “Yes to the Euro/No to the Rouble.”
The Greek government announced Monday it believed it was “very near” an agreement that would allow it to continue in the Eurozone without having to default on a June 30 payment of 1.5 billion euros, which it currently cannot meet. “The next 48 hours will be decisive,” asserted Greek government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis Monday. EU commissioner Pierre Moscovici similarly told a French radio station Tuesday that he was “convinced” June 30 would not be the end of Greece in the euro, and an agreement would be reached.
Much has been made about the loud and unpredictable Greek left. They put Syriza in power, after all, and even after doing so, have made headlines with belligerent protest behavior aimed at the ruling party for not being quite radical enough. Greek leftists have stormed Syriza’s offices, demanding terrorists arrested for failed attempts be freed. They have overrun the Greek Finance Ministry objecting to the Greek government discussing their debt with the EU at all, much less trying to find a way to pay it back. They have interrupted notoriously intransigent Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’ dinner, demanding he stop being so easy to negotiate with.
A recent poll found that Greeks by and large still support the euro, making the rally, to some extent, representative of the nation as a whole–much more so than the myriad of raids and protests by anarchists who oppose Syriza for being too right-wing. The poll found that 63% of Greeks have a “positive opinion” of the euro, while nearly the same amount, 62%, stated they felt the country would be worse off should the euro be replaced by the old drachma.
But the protests this week in Athens insisting that Greece remain a part of Europe is a reminder that most of the country is to Syriza’s right, not its left–which is not to say that Greece is a right-wing country, hardly. Greece is arguably a center-left country, even as the center-left party, Pasok, has lost support almost entirely. Pasok’s collapse, a product of former Prime Minister George Papandreou’s disastrous tenure, has forced voters to choose between Syriza and the center-right New Democracy, which had its chance to fix the debt problem before Syriza did, and failed. Greece nonetheless remains a center-left country ruled by the radical left, literally, and a growing sector of the nation is getting tired of watching far-leftists bullied into irrational political behavior because the anarchists are louder than most of the country.