Greeks in crisis

A street-level view of of the Greek debt crisis

Marketplace Staff Jul 13, 2015

Greece has finally settled on a deal that keeps the country in the eurozone and out of a sudden banking collapse. The agreement in Brussels on Monday calls for a lifeline from Europe’s wealthy powers in exchange for budget cuts and tax hikes; Greece must pass those reforms by Wednesday. Although Greece may have avoided total economic collapse, there will be a long period of adjustment for Greek citizens who already have been living with austerity measures for five years.

In Athens, there’s no immediate sense of crisis. There are lots of crowds — window shoppers and people in cafes. But most of them are not Greek. They’re tourists. Look past them to the shop owners and local workers, and you find a lot of anger, resignation and the overwhelming sense of uncertainty about their post-bailout future. 

“It’s a very, very tough deal,” says Anastasia Giamali, a Syriza party member who writes for the affiliate paper The Dawn. She is unhappy with the deal because it goes against the wishes of the Greek people, expressed in the July 5 referendum, when Greeks overwhelmingly rejected European creditors’ bailout terms.

It’s a product of blackmail. There was no consent by Syriza for such a thing,” she says. 

Spiros Koloniadis

However, she stands by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “Our prime minister did his best to avoid the Grexit, and that’s all there is to it. He did his best to keep the country within the European Union.”

Syriza came to power at the beginning of the year with an anti-austerity stand and the motto, “Hope is coming.” Giamali isn’t sure if this has been achieved, but she knows they’ll keep trying.

“This is an ongoing battle. This is an ongoing war,” she says.

Spiros Koloniadis, who owns a flower shop beneath Parliament, also draws parallels to war, but is more circumspect about his own future. 

“I don’t think that we have a sovereign nation anymore,” Koloniadis says. “I think that the historian of the future will have to write many pages about what happened actually in Greece.” He isn’t sure what his next steps are, but he thinks he will stay in the country.

“Migration is like escaping from the war,” he says. “I really don’t know. Right now, I’m a little bit confused and very disappointed … very. I will fight … with my heart.”

Over at Zolotas Jewelry House, a 120-year old upscale jewelry store in Athens, business has gone from one extreme to the other. Marianne Le Clere Papalexis is the owner there. She is a posh Frenchwoman who married a Greek man 40 years ago and stayed in the country.

Business had been slow, she says, but everything changed after the banks closed. For the first three days, there were no people, no phone calls. It was like a cemetery or a desert, she says. Then, on the fourth day, people started showing up and buying like crazy. They wanted to get real assets — gold and art — for potentially worthless cash.

“They know that it’s going to be a real good investment for them. In a way it’s sad, because you see that people are really upset that they cannot touch their own money,” Papalexis says. She expresses concern for the Greek government.

“It’s the only thing we’re talking about,” she says. And yet, she believes that the real struggle will not be visible to most because of communication differences. “A Greek person … he will show when he’s happy. He’s going to dance and shout, but when there is a bad story, he will never show, never tell you.”

But Vassilis Anastassopoulos is a little more forthcoming about his predicament. Anastassopoulos is 32 years old, married, with a 10-year-old boy. He works at Bairaktaris Tavern, a restaurant in Monistiraki Square that has been around for 135 years, where he’s sliced gyro meat for a decade. At this point, he has basically given up.

“I hoped to make a future for my son, because I don’t have a chance anymore,” he says. “I stopped thinking about a pension. I stopped thinking about a better life. The only thing I hope for now is for my son to have a better life than me.

An ATM in Athens.

“Maybe he will not stand in the heat nine hours a day. Maybe he will not need to have two jobs to have a normal life … maybe,” Anastassopoulos says.

At a cash machine in Athens, Corinna Kozala is waiting in line to withdraw $66 for rent. It was her second ATM of the morning; the first one ran out of money. With banks low on cash, Greeks have been limited to $66 withdrawals per day since June 29.

“Even with an agreement, when the banks open, they cannot just give out money to everyone who wants it,” Kozala says. She wants Greece to stay in the eurozone but believes that either option will lead to the same results.

“It’s either we’re out and we will suffer, or we’re in and we will suffer.”

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