A new era begins


As we sat down at what is becoming a regular Monastiraki haunt for me, Maria saw on Twitter that the PM Alexis Tsipras was about to address the Greek people.

We were returning once more to the restaurant where Maria had described to me the violence she witnessed during protests in Greece in 2011. We came here shortly after the 25 January election when there was a rare sense of optimism in the air, and later in March, when, like all Greeks, Maria was playing the waiting game.

Now, as we sat eating souvlaki and tzatziki, Maria was reading from her Twitter timeline, telling me there was talk of bank closures and credit controls. Then reports of Tsipras’ speech began.

When the announcement came that the banks would be closed Monday – and possibly, it was being said at that time, for a week, it was still a great shock. Maria, visibly reeling, was trying to make sense of what might lie ahead, considering all the possible scenarios, from panic buying in shops, looting, an increase in robberies, and then the impact it might have on the referendum on 5 July. Greeks have to vote in their home town, but how would they be able to vote if they couldn’t get home to vote?

Tsipras urged the people of Greece to keep calm, and later, on Twitter, said:

How the Greek people react in coming days is of paramount importance, but there is a sense, too that the country – and Europe as a whole – is on wholly new territory.

“It’s a new era, we don’t know what will happen from moment to moment,” said Maria. “But the Greeks are resilient. Tomorrow, there may be panic, the next day, we may say ‘what the hell’. Although perhaps the fact that we laugh things off is a problem, perhaps it stops us getting angry.”

As some people on Twitter started talking about a Syriza-led rally in Syntagma Square on Monday, Maria said what mattered a great deal to the Greek people was their dignity: “If you cross that…”

This was evident European Council President Donald Tusk told Tsipras that the “game is over,” and the Greek PM replied: “Greece has 1.5 million unemployed, 3 million poor and thousands of families that live with no income, solely on their grandparents’ pension. This is not a game.”

In this new era, perhaps Tsipras’ warning “not to underestimate the point to which a nation can reach when humiliated” takes on added significance.

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