A child holds up a sign reading "No to Fear" in Greek during an anti-austerity demonstration in Syntagma Square in Athens. Photo: Yannis Behrakis
As Greece prepares to vote in a historic referendum, a slightly surreal calm has descended over Athens. The optimistic attitude of many activists in the NO camp, especially, contrasts sharply with the ruthless propaganda war of the Greek and international media — not to mention the terror campaign waged by EU officials and the Greek opposition.
For a full week now, the big corporate TV stations here have been bombarding Greeks with images of pure panic and impending catastrophe: shuttered banks, lines in front of the ATMs, empty supermarket shelves, pharmacies running out of drugs, scuffles between protesters and police. On top of this, they have repeatedly shown inconclusive polls that show the vote to be on knife’s edge.
The international media have in many cases ended up uncritically reproducing this narrative of fear and uncertainty, often without double-checking basic facts or warning their viewers and readers about the political agenda of their sources.
Let there be no mistake: the Greek economy is in deep trouble at the moment. The financial system is on the brink of collapse and trade and production have ground to a screeching halt. While food has been exempted from import restrictions and the country still has six months of fuel reserves and four months of pharmaceuticals, there is no denying that Greece is hanging by a thread.
Obviously the media have a responsibility to report on this impending economic meltdown. The problem, however, is the particular way in which the unfolding situation has been portrayed — especially when it comes to the role of the political, financial and media establishment in creating the crisis.
The implosion of the Greek banks was triggered by the Eurogroup and the ECB in a very deliberate attempt to financially asphyxiate Greece and terrorize its citizens into voting yes to further austerity, or even to overthrow the Syriza-led government and bring about technocratic regime change, as the President of European Parliament Martin Schulz openly suggested.
The Greek and international media, for their part, have been fully complicit in this effort. Over the past week, they have tried everything in their power to undermine the calm and peaceful conclusion of the historic democratic process that is currently underway in Greece. The thing is: among large segments of the population the strategy simply isn’t working anymore. After years of vicious propaganda, large parts of society have long since tuned out. Many people simply refuse to give in to the fear and the lies.
It’s not like the other side hasn’t tried hard enough. On Friday evening, for instance, an incredible document was leaked: a step-by-step instruction sheet that New Democracy — the main right-wing, pro-austerity opposition party — had sent to the country’s biggest TV stations.
The document urged editors to show lines in front of ATMs (as this tends to boost the yes vote); to play into the fears of women and pensioners (who are identified as the most vulnerable groups); to avoid asking who is responsible for the bank shutdown (and to ask only under whose government they were closed); and most importantly to fabricate polls showing a lead of at least 5-10% for yes.
Remarkably, the country’s thoroughly corrupt pollsters did not even manage to conjure up the latter: the best they could come up with were polls showing a virtual tie between the two camps. As a friend who used to work as a pollster put it: “Obviously they didn’t get the numbers they wanted, otherwise they would be splashing the figures all over the front-pages and TV screens by now. Clearly they are hiding the real results because they don’t want to further boost the NO vote.”
In this climate of fear and doubt, Friday evening’s NO demonstration in Syntagma suddenly revealed a very different side to the deepening crisis: the face of hope. In sharp contrast to the images of panic and anger on the TV, the NO demonstration relayed a message of popular empowerment and mobilization. Those who were present encountered an exhilarated and incredibly dense mass of hundreds of thousands of human bodies packed all the way from Parliament to the edges of the square, spilling over into all the major side streets.
Not only was the gathering truly massive, it was also very good-spirited and dignified. Bringing together ordinary folks, families with children, older people and the youth, the rally was the clearest expression yet of the unexpected popular backlash to the terror campaign unleashed by the creditors, the opposition and the the media. The fear that the Greek and European establishments tried to project onto society has bounced right back at them.
Later that night, people came home to news reports putting the official number of NO protesters at 20.000 — conveniently the exact same amount as the much smaller yes demonstration in front of Kallimármaro stadium, where the turnout was actually so disappointing that organizers decided to leave the doors to the stadium shut, out of fear of not being able to fill the place.
The bizarre thing is that leading international media, including The Guardian, ended up uncritically reproducing the same laughable numbers, highlighting the two “similarly sized” demonstrations as further evidence that the outcome of the referendum remains on knife’s edge. Luckily these reports were quickly undermined when spectacular drone footage emerged of the OXI demo, revealing what some experienced Greek activists described as easily one of the largest — if not the largest — demonstrations of recent decades:
Perhaps the grossest distortion of all, however, concerns the very question of the referendum that Greeks will be voting on today. Both EU leaders and the Greek opposition are adamant on this point: a NO vote is a vote to take Greece out of Europe. This is why the yes campaign’s slogan is “We stay in Europe.”
This in/out narrative is extremely deceptive. Clearly, no one is going to take Greece “out of Europe” (whatever that may mean). In reality, what is at stake in this referendum is, first of all, the way in which the Greek crisis is to be resolved, and secondly, what kind of Europe we want to live in. Do we want to live in a Europe that humiliates weaker countries, threatens their socially progressive governments, and asphyxiates their societies when they refuse to implement foreign diktats? Or do we want to live in a Europe that defends democracy, pursues social justice, and breaks down borders through international solidarity?
This is what Sunday’s referendum is truly about — and the Greek and European establishment are both terrified of the prospect that voters might choose the latter. After the huge NO demonstration on Friday night, a friend who is subscribed on a mailing list with organizers in the yes-camp reported a striking conversation in which the yes-campaigners expressed their shock at the size of the NO demo and the incredibly enthusiastic welcome for Prime Minister Tsipras. One of them simply concluded: “we’re f*cked.”
Of course it remains to be seen how the Greeks will vote today. Still, the NO camp appears to be hopeful, which in this climate of terror should be considered a victory in and of itself. Many have already refused to give in to the blackmail and manipulation. As Greece prepares to celebrate democracy in the very place where it was born, there are strong signs that the fear is already changing sides.
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/greece-referendum-fear-campaign-media/