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Monday, July 6, 2015

"Endaxi" and the Greek "No" Vote


(I'm writing this from the Greek island of Chios, home to my wife's family, and my adopted second home for nearly 15 years. I offer this observation not as an expert on Greek politics or culture, but as a political scientist who has enjoyed many a day in the generosity and warmth of that culture).

While walking with my father-in-law along the main harbor today he was telling me about WWII when Chios was occupied by the Germans (he was a young boy at the time and remembers it vividly). The harbor was bombed by the allied forces, the people were starving, Red Cross food drops were bombed out of fear the Germans would use them. Mainland Greece and the islands were divided among Axis powers. It occurred to me during that talk that I better understand the reaction of the Greek people to all that is going on as well as the overwhelming "No" vote. Look at Greece in the 20th Century, war with Turkey, the Greek genocide, the war with Italy, the German invasion and occupation, the communist v anti-communist civil war after WWII, the (re)return and then (re)rejection of the monarchy.

The history of Greece in the 20th Century is one of upheaval, struggle, and crisis - but especially of survival. Through it all, Greece persevered. There was always a tomorrow and it was better than the dark days that preceded it.  There is a word in Greek that pops up in nearly every conversation - "endaxi." Roughly translated means "ok" or "alright," but is better understood as equivalent to "everything is alright" or "it will be ok." I can't tell you how often you hear "endaxi" in conversations. The word is more than an expression, it's an attitude that permeates the culture. "It's alright, it will be ok." So as Greece teeters on the brink of a Eurozone exit, as banks remain closed and people stand in lines for their $60 Euro withdrawal limit, and as they vote "oxi!" overwhelmingly rejecting the Eurozone's proposal for a path forward, there is among all of the concern and confusion the sense of "endaxi." It will be ok.

I hope it's true. The unfortunate downside to the "endaxi" attitude is a feeling that nothing need be done. That it will be ok, with or without my help. This why it's easy for a demagogic leader like Tsipras to convince people that they could vote "No" with no consequences. That Greece is the victim of Europe's selfishness. "It will be ok, you don't need to do anything - endaxi."

We'll know soon enough if "endaxi" is a blessing or a curse.