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Yes or no on bailout referendum, how should Greece vote?

On Sunday, Greece will vote on whether to accept Europe’s latest bailout package and tougher austerity measures, and polls show the public closely divided. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Athens. Judy Woodruff discusses possible outcomes with Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy and Research.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Greece is bracing itself for an uncertain future as voters prepare to go to the polls this Sunday to say yes or no to a bailout package with strict conditions.

    The latest surveys show the country is almost evenly divided. And, today, Greek prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged voters to say no to what he says amounts to blackmail from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

    Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant begins our coverage from Athens.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Tonight’s no-rally began with clashes at the bottom of Constitution Square. It was instigated by black-clad anarchists who are frequently involved in street battles with the police.

    This was a minor confrontation in comparison to others that have happened in five years of austerity. One old man berated the police as they backed away. In Athens’ market district, the day began with a struggle to earn a living. Greeks are caught between a rock and a hard place as they try to decide which way to vote in Sunday’s referendum.

  • MAN:

    No.

  • MAN:

    All Greece should vote yes.

  • MAN:

    My opinion is no.

  • MAN:

    No.

  • MAN:

    Yes.

  • WOMAN:

    I vote no, because I want to be proud of myself. It’s a difficult vote. And I think that now will give us hope for the future and for our children.

  • MAN:

    Big yes. Yes.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    On either side of the divide, Constantine Alexander, the executive chairman of the Balkan Economic Forum, an international business development project, and a butcher from the Athens meat market.

  • CONSTANTINE ALEXANDER, Balkan Economic Forum:

    I know that Greeks right now have a difficult choice to make. They have a choice between the — an austerity program that will be very hard for them for several years, or actually going bankrupt and facing a situation that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.

    So, the choices are not good, but one of them is better than the other. I learned from Nelson Mandela of South Africa that if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Greek-American George Gilson, a journalist who covered Greece for years, is a victim of the crisis. His newspaper went under two years ago and he’s been unemployed ever since. To make money, he scours junk shops looking for hidden treasures.

  • GEORGE GILSON, Greece:

    I wouldn’t like with that yes-vote to legitimate five years of inhuman, punitive, vindictive policy that has nothing to do with Europe, that has nothing to do with sound economic policy, and that has nothing to do with getting Greece out of this crisis.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    The no, or Oxi, campaign’s banners are most prominent, especially at the Athens Polytechnic, which is a symbol of national resistance to oppression.

    But center-right lawmaker Harry Theocharis, Greece’s former chief tax evasion investigator, believes Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is misleading the country.

  • HARRY THEOCHARI, Former Secretary General for Public Revenue:

    I believe that this is their plan A, to go against Europe and take our banking system away from the euro system and change currency towards the drachma. But that’s going to be very, very painful severance.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    At the no-rally, a puppeteer made light of the battle between the two sides. Down below, in main subway station, the crowds were jam-packed and chanting no. Just a stone’s throw from the no-rally, the yes side held its own gathering, in a last-ditch attempt to sway voters.

    There are many Greeks who are worried about the depths of divisions that may occur as a result of this referendum. This is a country with a history is turning in on itself, and some people are afraid the levels of hatred may reach those which existed at the start of the civil war 70 years ago. Others are also concerned that there might possibly be social unrest, and we have seen an example of that tonight — Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thank you, Malcolm.

    And let’s look at what Sunday’s vote could trigger with two different views. Jacob Kirkegaard is with the Peterson Institute for International Economics. And Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic And Policy research.

    And we welcome you both.

    You just saw again just how divided the Greek people are.

    Jacob Kirkegaard, to you first.

    What’s better for Greeks’ future, a yes or no vote?

  • JACOB KIRKEGAARD, Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics:

    Well, I think we need — in my opinion, there’s no doubt they should vote yes, because I think we need to make clear that this is not some abstract vote about austerity or not.

    This is about really stemming what is now an accelerating national emergency in Greece, where you are starting to see food shortages, you’re starting to see medical supplies run low. And the banking system is just teetering on the brink of collapse, and which has now been closed for a week. And if there is no yes-vote, then the banking system will in my opinion slide into a complete collapse.

    We will face significant depositor bailing and other things. So, this is really about saving the Greek economy and therefore the future for the Greek people.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark Weisbrot, what should the people of Greece do?

  • MARK WEISBROT, Center for Economic and Policy Research:

    Well, I would go for a no-vote, because you have to look at who is responsible for this mess, who is responsible for six years of depression, who is responsible for the banks closing right now.

    It’s because the European Central Bank decided last Sunday to limit the amount of emergency liquidity assistance, so that the banks wouldn’t have enough money to open. And they did this very deliberately, I think, to intimidate the voters into voting yes.

    Everything that comes out of the mouths of the European officials right now is trying to scare and intimidate people to make them feel this pain and tell them this is what you’re going to get if you vote no. This is what you’re going to get if your government is audacious enough to insist not on everything they want or even half of what they want, but just a deal that allows the Greek economy to recover and unemployment to come down.

    That’s really all that they have been asking for. And the European authorities have been stubborn and frankly pretty mean about it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Jacob Kirkegaard, what about that, this argument that Europeans, Central Bank and others, are just asking too much of the Greek people?

  • JACOB KIRKEGAARD:

    Well, there’s no doubt that Greece has been through a tremendous economic crisis in the last five years.

    And there’s also no doubt that this has been associated directly with the IMF, the Troika program. But we have to look at the starting point of this program. In 2010, when the bailout was initially launched, Greece had a primary deficit of more than 10 percent of GDP, which means that if you hadn’t had a bailout at that point, you would have faced even greater amounts of austerity at this point.

    And then the other thing that I would highlight is that, from the perspective of the Europeans, you cannot expect other European taxpayers to continue to pour money into Greece unconditionally. That’s not the way international bailouts work. And it’s not the way the European bailouts will work either.

    And irrespective of what the Greek voters choose on Sunday, I think we also need to recognize that European voters elsewhere in the Eurozone will have an equally legitimate democratic right to say no to continuing payments to Greece. And, unfortunately, I think that’s what may well happen if the Greeks vote no.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Excuse me.

    Mark Weisbrot, what about his earlier point that the rest of Europe cannot be expected to continue to bail out and support a Greek economy that hasn’t tightened its own belt?

  • MARK WEISBROT:

    Well, they have tightened their belt. They had six years of depression. They have got 26 percent unemployment. They have got 60 percent youth unemployment.

    They have cut their imports by 36 percent, one of the biggest adjustments in the world. Last year, they had the largest cyclically adjusted primary budget surplus in Europe. So they have done the adjustment. They have gone through hell. And where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

    The European authorities are not offering anything. And it’s becoming more and more clear actually — and I have been writing about this for a while — that the real goal of these authorities is to really get rid of the Greek government. That’s what they’re trying to do. And that’s why they won’t allow the economy to recover so far.

    And they’re the ones inflicting the damage, OK? It’s not the Greek people that are responsible for the bank closure right now or for the recession going on this long. You know, one way you can see it…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, let me just get Jacob Kirkegaard to respond to what you just said, no light at the end of the tunnel, that the European Union — the European Union, the International Monetary Fund just keeps on asking more and more and more.

  • JACOB KIRKEGAARD:

    Well, I think — I mean, light tend of the tunnel, I mean, the Europeans have already restructured existing Greek debt at least three times.

    And it’s very clear that they will have to do so again. There’s no doubt that everyone in Europe, including in Germany, including in Finland and elsewhere, recognizes that the money lent to Greece will not be repaid as they are currently structured.

    Restructuring will have to happen. The question is whether or not you want an unconditional restructuring or whether you want a restructuring based on a Greek economy that actually has a chance to grow afterwards.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Just quickly, go ahead.

  • MARK WEISBROT:

    Grow now, that’s the thing.

    They have already — the European authorities have already and the European Central Bank have pushed the economy back into recession this year. And they started doing that just 10 days after Tsipras was elected. And they didn’t have to do that. The economy was going to grow by 2.5 percent this year.

    So, you have these people trying to blame the Greek government for it, and that’s what this referendum is about is really whose fault is it and how are they going to get out of the recession? Almost every economist you talk to knows that these economies have failed.

    And they failed in Europe. I mean, Europe has twice — the Eurozone has twice the unemployment than we do. Why is that? Because their Central Bank didn’t do its job. That’s the difference.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You want to respond?

  • JACOB KIRKEGAARD:

    Well, I would just say that it is certainly the case that Greece was on track in late 2014.

    And if you read the recent IMF report that came out on Friday, that’s what it said. Greece was on track to exactly grow. And then this government was elected, surrounded with significant political uncertainty, and promised to basically blow up the program as it existed. If you — Greece was on track in 2014. And it wasn’t the Europeans. It was this government in Greece that decided to take everything on track — off track.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, there’s much more to discuss here, but we’re going to watch that vote on Sunday, and certainly be reporting on the aftermath afterwards.

    We’re going to thank you both for now. Jacob Kirkegaard, Mark Weisbrot, thank you.

  • MARK WEISBROT:

    Thank you.

  • JACOB KIRKEGAARD:

    Thank you.

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