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A reality check on the Greek bank run

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Kai Ryssdal: It’s Wednesday the 16th of May and let’s stay with the calendar here for a second because we now know the next key date in the European debt crisis. June 17th it is. There was word from Athens this morning there’ll be another round of elections that Sunday.

Also today, this tidbit — that according to the Greek Central Bank, almost a billion dollars has been pulled out of local accounts this week. “Bank run” is the phrase a lot of reports have used, which is a loaded term when an economy is fragile like the Greek economy is.

So we called around a bit this morning to get a reality check. We reached former teacher, former aid worker, presently unemployed Theodora Oikonomedes in Athens.

Theodora Oikonomides: Right now I’m in the streets near the central square in my neighborhood where there are six different banks and I just went and checked all of them because there was this rumor that people are rushing to the banks to take their money and that there was no money left in the ATMs. Of the six banks, all of cash. There’s a total of nine ATMs and there were less than one customer per ATM when I got there.

Ryssdal: Well what’s going on because, of course, as you know the big Greece story today is that there’s this huge bank run and a billion dollars has left the country?

Oikonomides: Well that’s something that I wouldn’t know because, of course, if people are transferring money abroad that wouldn’t be visible from the street level. But this fear mongering that people are rushing to the bank right now and taking all their money and that banks are going to collapse within the next two hours, it’s certainly not true in my neighborhood in Athens. I don’t know if it’s true in the rest of Greece.

Ryssdal: Now I have to tell you I’m a little surprised to find out — given the economy there in the five years — that people still have a lot of savings that they can take out of the country.

Oikonomides: The people I know don’t have any savings. This is why, anyway, they wouldn’t be able to run to the bank to take their savings out. Now how many those people who still have savings are I wouldn’t be able to tell. I really don’t know many of them.

Ryssdal: What’s it been like the past 10 days since the election that didn’t really fix anything? And now another election coming up on the 17th of June, what’s it like?

Oikonomides: Everyone was talking about politics. It was really intense. There is just a simple reality that is visible in any street of Athens — austerity is not working. It’s not working. The economic situation of the country has not improved. We have a social disaster on our hands and we have a political system that’s falling apart.

Ryssdal: So when you go out with friends for a cup of coffee or for dinner — assuming you can still do that — what do you talk about? Is this the topic of conversation incessantly or do you talk about regular stuff?

Oikonomides: It’s almost incessantly. This is the topic of conversation: politics. And what is going to happen and how the economy is evolving. I mean, OK, occasionally we’ll talk about our boyfriends or about what we had for lunch, but I would say a good 99 percent of our conversations is about what’s happening to our country.

Ryssdal: Yeah. Theodora Oikonomides, we reached her literally on the streets of Athens, Greece. Thanks a lot.

Oikonomides: Thank you.

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