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Greece heads to crucial referendum

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Greeks head to the polls on Sunday for a referendum that could have major repercussions for Greece and for the rest of the eurozone.

The Greeks will vote on whether their heavily indebted country should accept the latest proposed deal put forward by its creditors. Since that would mean more austerity and reform in return for more loans , but with no debt relief, the government in Athens is urging the country to vote no.

For such an apparently critical poll, you would expect a fairly stark and straightforward question in the referendum:

Should the plan of agreement be accepted, which was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund in the Eurogroup of the 25th of June and comprises of two parts, which constitute their unified proposal?

The first document is entitled “Reforms For The Completion Of the Current Program and Beyond.” And the second “Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis.”

YES? or NO?

Not exactly snappy, is it?

This ponderous, dull and baffling paragraph has nevertheless galvanized Greece into two clearly defined camps: YES and NO, or in Greek: NE and OXI .

According to the opinion polls, each side commands roughly the same level of public support; the referendum is too close to call.

Thousands attend a pro-NO rally in front of the Greek parliament in Athens on Friday.

“I’m going to vote yes,” says telecom engineer Efrosyni Pavlakoudi. “A no vote would be saying ‘no’ to any further help from our European partners. Our banks – which are closed and running out of cash – would collapse. It’s a matter of life and death for us and our country.”

Pavlakoudi also believes that after a “no” vote, Greece would be forced out of the eurozone, which would be “disastrous.”

But the word “no” or “oxi” has a special resonance in Greece, and does not have as negative of a connotation as elsewhere. It carries powerful overtones of national pride and defiance. There is even Oxi Day, which commemorates the resounding answer that Greece delivered to an ultimatum from the Italian dictator Mussolini in 1940. Greece’s radical Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has even tried to appeal to the same spirit of wartime resistance.

“No” voters, like Elena Christidi, a psychologist, believe that the referendum is about national survival and the cohesion of Greek society. Christidi regards austerity as a dangerously corrosive force that must be combated— and by voting “no,” she says Greece can strengthen the government’s hand in the negotiations with the creditors, get a better deal and uphold Greek social values.

“We cannot just forget our values and the human factor,” she says. “I’m voting no because I want to tell the rest of Europe that we reject austerity and the unemployment, the poverty and the misery it brings. We cannot go on cutting our social payments. We cannot go on thinking only about numbers.”

But in the end, it’s numbers that will determine Greece’s fate. The country’s shuttered banks are reported to be down to their last half billion euro. If there’s a “yes” vote on Sunday, they could get the cash injection they need. If it’s a “no,” the banks could run dry, Greece may be forced to launch its own currency and the country could face a very perilous future.

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