(The Guardian) — A phalanx of former prime ministers have emerged to urge the nation to vote yes in Sunday’s referendum over reforms that would ensure continued financial assistance for the country.
Breaking five years of self-imposed public silence, the former conservative leader Costas Karamanlis implored Greeks to avoid “recklessness and division” by voting to belong to the European family. The EU may have made “serious mistakes” in the crisis, he said, but it was vital that Greece remained in Europe’s hard core.
“Staying within the European family is imperative not only on economic and social grounds … it is, foremost, imperative on national [security] grounds,” he said.
“By pushing Greece out of the European context, we expose the country to dangers. This should not happen in any way. Those who, with good intentions think that by voting no on Sunday, they strengthen the negotiating position of the country are making a mistake … no will be interpreted by the whole world as a choice of withdrawal from the heart of Europe. It will be the first step towards exit.”
The intervention, buttressed by similar appeals from Antonis Samaras and Constantine Mitsotakis, also former conservative premiers, added unexpected gravitas to the campaign now being waged by those who believe Athens must remain in the euro, at any cost.
“We need people and it’s a good thing he did finally decide to speak,” said Thanos Veremis, an emeritus professor of political science at Athens University. “A ‘no’ at this point would be terribly destructive. It would take Greece out of the euro and then gradually out of Europe itself.”
Karamanlis’s uncle, Konstantine Karamanlis, oversaw the country’s entry to what was then the European Economic Community in 1981. The politician is also reputed to have good relations with the radical leftists now in power even if, ironically, during his five-year term in office – beginning in the golden year of the 2004 Athens Olympics – Greece’s deficit soared.
The hiring of an estimated 150,000 civil servants, under a government that took clientelist politics and profligacy to previously unseen heights, is widely blamed for the country being forced to seek financial rescue from the EU and International Monetary Fund in late 2009.
With polls showing the outcome of the referendum as being too close to call, the appeals by all three former leaders quickly elicited fury from a government openly urging Greeks to reject reforms it says will only exacerbate the nation’s economic death spiral.
Prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party has denounced what it says are deliberate efforts to intimidate voters into supporting the yes campaign, with the Greek government insisting that Sunday’s referendum is not about the euro.
“We are watching a crush of former prime ministers and political figures rushing to defend a yes vote,” the government spokesman Gavriel Sakellarides said in a statement.
“That’s their right. However, it is also the right of the people not to forget them. They are the same people who got us to this point, who got the country bankrupt and who have agreed to the austerity that has brought this country to its knees for the last five years. People will decide undistracted from blackmail and unprecedented propaganda.”
Athens mayor, George Kaminis, said voters had been posed with a false dilemma that lay behind a question, which was not only unclear but lacked legal validity because the proposed cash for reform deal was no longer on the table.
“The real question is whether we want Greece in or out of the European Union and the eurozone,” he told reporters.
With tensions mounting, Syriza party supporters accused municipal authorities of waging a campaign to rid Athens of anything associated with the no vote.
“We’ve had a lot of complaints that they’ve been removing no posters,” said Elthina Angelopoulou, who heads the Syriza-aligned bloc in the town hall. “We will go and put them back up. There is so much propaganda against us but what we know and believe is that after five years of austerity we will win.”