The Greek perspective

Crowds of protesters gather at Athens' central Syntagma square, on October 20, 2011. Clashes have broken out in central Athens between rival groups of demonstrators, amid a second day of mass demonstrations against a new round of austerity measures being debated in parliament. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades outside parliament as several hundred masked youths attacked peaceful demonstrators from a Communist-backed trade union who had tried to isolate them from the rally.

Kai Ryssdal: Don't look now, but there are problems with the Greek debt deal that was supposed to be worked out by tomorrow. It's the same problem, actually, that there's been for months now: Exactly how big a loss banks are going to take on Greek debts that will likely never be paid back.

Question is -- didn't anybody see this coming? Didn't anybody in Greece -- or elsewhere -- realize know the status quo couldn't last. Following our jaunt out to Athens yesterday -- Georgia, that is -- we wanted to get a sense of how that question's playing in Greece.

Antonis Papayiannidis is the publisher of the Greek journal Economic Review. We reached him at his home in the original Athens. Good to have you with us.


Antonis Papayiannidis: Hello.

Ryssdal: First of all, your sense of how things are going in Greece, what's the mood?

Papayiannidis: The mood is scared and scary at the same time. There is a wave of fear about things happening and things that are going to happen to us after the decisions of the European mechanisms trying to salvage something out of the Greek economy.

Ryssdal: Let me ask you about that because one of the reasons we called is to try to get a sense of whether or not people realize the model the Greeks have -- good pensions, earlier retirement -- whether they knew that that just wasn't sustainable in this economy?

Papayiannidis: No people in Greece did not realize that the whole model of development that was followed in Greece, which was based on debt building up, was not sustainable. Greeks thought that we lived at the fringes of Europe with a moderate lifestyle that would be better year after year.

Ryssdal: Do you expect -- whether there's a bailout or whether there is a default -- do you expect any changes in Greek culture in the attitude that people have?

Papayiannidis: Changes in culture do not occur easily or even abruptly. But also, the political system of Greece, which is very much a "Club Med" mentality, they promise to their voters handouts and a rosy future. So they have to turn around and make themselves into stern disciplinarians. It's not done within a generation of politicians.

Ryssdal: Do you think though that the Greek people understand why Germany and France -- and others in the eurozone -- are so questioning of a Greek bailout?

Papayiannidis: No, they don't really understand because in fact Greece has been promised a solution provided the Greek people would endure some pain. Then pain comes and further pain is heaped upon the older pain and nothing seems to have changed. So we feel betrayed both by our political system and by our allies and friend in Europe and by ourselves. But this last point is a little difficult to digest, isn't it?

Ryssdal: Yes, it is. It's like looking in the mirror and realizing you don't like what you see.

Papayiannidis: Yes, and if the mirror gets more and more warped as the time passes, you have also the tendency of saying that it's the mirror that is wrong, not yourself.

Ryssdal: Let me ask you then, once you fix the mirror, assuming we can -- and I say we because it becomes conceivably a global problem -- then what happens?

Papayiannidis: Well, I think that we are going to have a hard landing followed by exiting the eurozone, which will be quite a disaster -- both for Greece and for the eurozone. And I don't have very tender feelings for the eurozone, but I do have quite tender feelings about my country.

Ryssdal: Antonis Papayiannidis in Athens, he's the editor of Economic Review in Athens. Sir, thank you very much for your time.

Papayiannidis: Thanks indeed. Bye.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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