The Greek day of decision has arrived, and with it so did the Greek finance minister at his local voting booth...
... who then proceeded to enshrine today's referendum vote as a holy moment for Greece:
"Today, after five years of failure, the Greek people have the opportunity to decide on the last ultimatum of the Eurogroup, the institutions and our partners. This is about a holy moment. A moment of hope for the whole of Europe. A moment that gives hope to Europe that the common currency and democracy can co-exist, and they do co-exist "
His boss, Tsipras, who has framed the referendum as a matter of national dignity and the future course of Europe, was less religious: "As of tomorrow we will have opened a new road for all the peoples of Europe,” he said after voting in Athens, “a road that leads back to the founding values of democracy and solidarity in Europe.” A ‘No’ vote, he said, “will send a message of determination, not only to stay in Europe but to live with dignity in Europe.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras waves outside at a polling station in Athens, Greece July 5, 2015
The backdrop is all too familiar to most: Greeks are voting whether to accept or reject the tough terms of an aid offer - which has since been withdrawn - in a referendum that will determine their future in Europe’s common currency. As Reuters puts it, "held against a backdrop of default, shuttered banks and threats of financial apocalypse, the vote was too close to call and looked certain to herald yet more turbulence whichever way it went."
While Syriza's position is clear, it is now up to the people. Some want a clean break: "I voted 'No' to the 'Yes' that our European partners insist I choose," said Eleni Deligainni, 43, in Athens. "I have been jobless for nearly four years and was telling myself to be patient ... but we've had enough deprivation and unemployment." Angry and exhausted after five years of pension cuts, falling living standards and rising taxes, Greeks now face closed banks, rationed ATM withdrawals and the prospect of the country literally running out of cash.
Others want to remain under the control of the Eurogroup, even if it means no hope of a long-term recovery, as long as it makes the current pain bearable:
“You call this dignity, to stand in line at teller machines for a few euros?” asked pensioner Yannis Kontis, 76, after voting in the capital. “I voted 'Yes' so we can stay with Europe.”
Pensioners besieging bank gates to claim their retirement benefits, only to leave empty-handed and in tears, have become a symbol of the nation's dramatic fall over the past decade, from the heady days of the 2004 Athens Olympics to the ignominy of bankruptcy and bailout.
Anxious Greeks rallying for a 'Yes' vote say Greece has been handed a raw deal but that the alternative, a collapse of the banks and a return of the old drachma currency, would be far worse.
The ‘No’ camp says Greece cannot afford more of the austerity that has left one in four without a job.
The polls close at 7pm local time (noon Eastern) at which point one of two things will happen: as we get a clear picture of whether the Nais or Oxis are in front, it will either mean that the ECB's decision on what to do with the ELA's all important collateral cuts becomes front and center with Europarliament president Schultz threatening Greece that as soon as they vote No, they will have to go back to the drachma, or else the Syriza government will have to resign.
“If they (Greeks) say ‘No’, they will have to introduce another currency after the referendum because the euro is not available as a means of payment. And how are they going to pay salaries? How are they going to pay pensions?”" Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said in remarks broadcast on Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio on Sunday.
As Reuters notes, If Greeks vote 'Yes' to the bailout, the government is likely to fall -- triggering a new chapter of uncertainty as political parties try to cobble together a national unity government to keep talks with lenders going until elections are held.
European creditors have said a 'Yes' vote will resurrect hopes of aid to Greece. A ‘No’, they say, will represent rejection of the rules that bind the euro zone nations, and may dash hopes of a negotiated deal to keep Greece within the euro.
The worst case may be the lack of a decisive outcome: An inconclusive result may sow further confusion, with the potential for violent protests. "The nightmare result would be 51-49 percent in either direction," a senior German official said. "And the chances of this are not insignificant."
For now, we wait as do all of the people shown below, whose last remaining asset may be hope.
Reuters photos from across Greece:
A woman enters a voting station before casting her ballot during a referendum in Athens, Greece, July 5, 2015. REUTERS
A young boy (C) kisses a ballot as he exits a voting booth with his father (R) at a polling station during a referendum in Athens, REUTERS
A woman casts her vote in the village of Meyisti, on the Island of Kastellorizo, which is the most easterly of the islands in Greece, REUTERS
People prepare to cast ballots during a referendum in Athens, Greece, July 5, 2015. REUTERS
Maps of Greece hang on the wall next to a voting booth in a polling station at a school's classroom in Athens, Greece July 5, 2015. REUTERS
A woman prepares to cast her vote in the village of Meyisti, on the Island of Kastellorizo, which is the most easterly of the islands in Greece, July 5, 2015. REUTERS
People exit mass in the village of Meyisti, on the Island of Kastellorizo, which is the most easterly of the islands in Greece, July 5, 2015. REUTERS
Voting officials check people's identification in the village of Meyisti on the Island of Kastellorizo, which is the most easterly of the islands in Greece, July 5, 2015.REUTERS
A Greek Orthodox priest exits a booth holding a ballot at a polling station in Athens, Greece July 5, 2015. REUTERS
A tattered Greek flag flutters in the village of Meyisti on the Island of Kastellorizo which is the most easterly of the islands in Greece, July 4, 2015. REUTERS
* * *
Real-time updates during the voting day:
France, where Marine Le Pen aka Madame Frexit has sworn France will be next to leave the Eurozone unless her demands are met, is getting nervous:
French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron says “it would be a historic error to crush the Greek people” in the event of a no vote in Sunday’s Greek referendum. Europe and Greece need to find a compromise on reforms in the country and debt relief whatever the result of today’s referendum, "We need to rise to the occasion. To the Greeks, we speak of responsibility, but we all have responsibility."
Former UK Chancellor Alistair Darling joins the IMF chorus seeking debt haircuts:
"By extension, it'll be yet another break on what is a very slow recovery in the global economy. Now in my experience, if you want to sort something, you've got to sort it properly. It's been five years now since the Eurozone tried to sort out the Greek problem. It's manifestly failed to do so. To my mind, unless they take the decision they've got to take to write off substantial amounts of Greek debt, and then to put in place a programme that has got to be delivered in turn by the Greek government, this is going to continue."
Yanis Varoufakis has underlined his promise to quit if Greece votes 'Yes'. Asked if he would really resign if the outcome of the referendum was 'Yes', he told the German newspaper Bild:
"Absolutely. There will not be a majority for 'Yes"
Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann says the German central bank's remittance to Wolfgang Schaeuble's finance ministry will be reduced to zero in the event of a Grexit, Bloomberg reports, citing Handelsblatt.
Handelsblatt says Weidmann told cabinet meeting of German govt last Wednesday. Finance Ministry currently estimates EU2.5b of annual profit from Bundesbank.
Former Greek PM George Papandreou chimes in why he is voting Yes, despite getting sacked for threatening to conduct precisely this kind of referendum:
"For the big changes, it is of strategic importance to stay in the hard-centre of the eurozone in order to conduct those big changes in the most effective way. The negotiation is not a dice in the hands of a government in a difficult position. It is the every day, continuous, consistent and systematic negotiation for Greece's voice to be heard - the Greek voice to be heard."
A young Romanian explains why a fresh start is the only hope for Greece:
I was born in the year communist Romania went bankrupt - 1982. The austerity that followed in order to pay the whole 20% of GDP of debt destroyed the country's economy, made the population poorer and isolated the country. The debt was paid until 1989. Only way out for Greece is vote Oxi-No.
For some, there is no change at all:
My partner and I are on Tilos, a fairly quiet and isolated island, which we return to every other year. The only bank machine is giving plenty of money, locals are stoic, there is little evidence of problem. The pharmacy is "lighter" than in recent years, food and drink prices are similar to previous. One noticeable difference is reduced tourism, which makes locals appreciate tourism.
A Greek, Julius Haralampou, tells BBC how he feels:
Like in the US, the Greek media is also controlled by just seven oligarch families, thus swaying public opinion in a way that leads to the least amount of losses for the wealthiest:
* * *
Greeks wait in line to vote in referendum. It's calm. Apprehensive., pic.twitter.com/2AHy8LAQ2q— Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) July 5, 2015
Very important day, with the #GreekReferendum not only deciding the fate of their country, but perhaps setting a precedent for the Eurozone.— David George (@DaveGeorge96) July 5, 2015
Angry voter: The ballot paper is a lie.It says yes/no to a deal offer from our creditors but this is really about yes/no to the euro #Greece— katya adler (@BBCkatyaadler) July 5, 2015
Young Greeks' anger at creditors clear at one Athens polling station. "Of course I voted no, what should I say 'yes, please finish me off?"— NikiKitsantonis (@NikiKitsantonis) July 5, 2015
Another young Greek said voted 'no' because "I've got no money, I've got no job, the creditors have destroyed us, the only answer is 'no'."— NikiKitsantonis (@NikiKitsantonis) July 5, 2015
Older Greeks worried about pensions, savings. One Yes voter: I worked all my life for what I have, I'm not going to let Syriza take it away— NikiKitsantonis (@NikiKitsantonis) July 5, 2015
Unofficially, the "Oxi" vote seems to be in the lead:
Expect the first official estimate of what path Greece has chosen around 9pm local time, 2 pm Eastern:
@funandtalk First official estimate based on around 10% of vote due at around 9pm local time— NikiKitsantonis (@NikiKitsantonis) July 5, 2015