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Greek Voters Give Bailout Referendum A Thumbs-Down

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's hear more now on that big vote in Greece yesterday. Greeks overwhelmingly rejected austerity measures. And here's the thing now. The country could very well be out of the eurozone. Banks in the country appear likely to run out of cash. And yet, in the streets of Athens last night, Greeks were celebrating.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELEBRATION)

GREENE: For more on the scene, we're joined by Joanna Kakissis from the Greek capital, Athens. Joanna, good morning.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK, so given this country is now effectively broke, if that's not going too far, I mean, what exactly are Greeks happy about on the streets?

KAKISSIS: In their minds, they're celebrating the fact that the country, that a majority of Greeks sent this message to Brussels that they want a fair credit deal, that they don't want any more austerity. Greeks say that they want to pay back their country's huge debts, but they can't do it with constant budget cuts and tax hikes that that's what comes with austerity. That just keeps crushing the economy. So they felt like Brussels and Berlin had been ignoring them for five years and just kept pushing a bad policy mix on them and threatening to pull the plug on credit unless they obeyed. And one of the no voters, Christos Spatharakis - he's a 30-year-old electrical engineer from Athens. He told me at the celebration last night that this no was an effort to get European leaders to listen to Greeks to finally give them that honest deal.

CHRISTOS SPATHARAKIS: And I think that only an honest agreement with the Europeans and this government that has a huge support from the Greek people will allow things to change for the better here.

KAKISSIS: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras really tapped into those feelings of indignation, those feelings of exhaustion. That's this sense that Greece matters even if it's such a tiny country in the eurozone.

GREENE: OK, so small country in the eurozone, you say, but how long does Greece have left in the eurozone? There's talk of Greece being out now.

KAKISSIS: Well, you know, we have no idea what's going to happen in the next few days. You know, the government says it has no plans to exit the eurozone and no plans to start printing their previous currency, the drachma. They know what a disaster this would be, that the drachma would be so devalued and people's savings would evaporate, their pensions would be worth far less than before. And so much is imported in Greece, so Greeks wouldn't be able to buy much with their drachmas, like including medicine.

GREENE: You know, you're talking about drachmas, I mean, the Greek currency, that they might go back to if they leave the eurozone. But people can't even really get money out at all right now, right, because the banks are closed.

KAKISSIS: Yeah, that's correct. And people have been remarkably calm considering that they haven't been able to go to banks. They've only been able to get out a certain amount every day. That all could change if there's a signal from Brussels and from Berlin that they're going to pull the plug. People may start running to supermarkets and buying whatever they can and stocking up because they're going to be worried about the return of a really devalued currency. You know, we don't know what's going to happen once that kind of mass hysteria begins.

GREENE: But Greek voters decided that they wanted to take this risk, and they followed their prime minister's lead, who called for them to reject this austerity deal. So what does he do now?

KAKISSIS: Well, he says he wants to immediately return to the negotiating table, like now. And he says he's ready to work on a fair deal with the eurozone, that he's got this mandate from the Greek people to find other solutions other than more austerity measures, and he really wants to talk about debt relief. But, you know, it's really an open question at this point if Brussels wants to talk, if Berlin wants to talk, if the other eurozone countries really want to deal with this anymore. They may just not come to the table at all, and then this whole referendum may end up blowing up in Mr. Tsipras's face.

GREENE: The prime minister of Greece you're mentioning there. Joanna, quite a chaotic and uncertain scene in Greece but a lot of celebration. That's Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Thanks, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.