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Greece, having avoided Grexit, ponders Brexit

Greece avoided a Grexit in 2015. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

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This week the Brits will vote in a critical referendum on whether to pull out of the European Union. A vote to leave — a vote for “Brexit” — would shake the 28 nation bloc to its foundations.  This time last year it was Greece that  teetered on the edge of departure from the EU — or Grexit — but to the relief of many Greeks, their country pulled back from the brink. So what do the Greeks feel about Brexit? 

“If Brexit happens, I will be terrified,”  said telecom engineer Effrosyni Pavlakoudi. “ There would be so much turbulence in the markets and the whole European system. I think Greece would suffer more than anyone. Definitely more than Britain. Our economy is still in recession and very vulnerable.”

Effrosyni Pavlakoudi – a telecom engineer. 

But Pavlakoudi  does not believe the Brits will vote for Brexit.  Neither does Philipp Brinkmann, boss of the Athens-based online travel company, Tripsta.   

“I’m a natural optimist. I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Brinkmann said. But he’s puzzled that there should be so much hostility towards the European Union in Britain. 

“London is such a cosmopolitan city.  I don’t think there’s any other city, not New York, not Paris, not Brussels, that has shown that it can be so truly international. It’s interesting that so many people in Britain, which has the most international city, now want to leave the EU,” he said.   

The bloc is certainly not popular in Greece, either. A recent poll revealed  that only 27 percent of Greeks view the EU in a positive light, although a majority still favors continued membership.  

Not Spiros Kontogiannis, the owner of a flower shop in central Athens. He would like Greece to leave the EU and thinks that Britain would be better off out, too.  Kontogiannis feels bitter that  more than 60 percent of Greeks voted to reject austerity in a referendum a year ago and yet the EU went ahead and forced Greece to submit to deep budget cuts and painful reforms.

“They want people to work like slaves, feeling that they are alone, they are threatened, they have no future,” he said.

Like many Athenians, he blames the EU for Greece’s stratospheric unemployment rate – 51 percent for young people. Psychologist Elena Christidi  also argues that the EU is dysfunctional and she would welcome Britain pulling out as a form of shock therapy.

Costas Papadopoulos – CEO of a publishing house.  

“I’m pro-Brexit.  Because there must some change in the European Union so we can rethink Europe. We need a totally changed union. We need a kind of revolution.”  Christidi said.   

That’s not a remedy which Costas Papadopoulos favors. He’s the boss a large publishing house — Dioptra- and he fears that Brexit could lead to the unraveling of the whole union with bad results for Greece.

“By the skin of our teeth we stayed in. If England goes away we could be out ourselves.  And if we’re out ourselves, I don’t think we will survive to be honest,” he said.

But Papadopoulos does not blame the Brits for holding a referendum.

“I really appreciate mature procedures. And even though this could go against me and my country, it is a mature procedure. It’s democratic.”

If the Brits do vote for Brexit this week and they get it, Brexit backers  will hail it  a triumph for democracy.  But as the Greeks know only too well – from their own referendum a year ago — there could be profound economic repercussions. 

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