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Europe

Greece: a people's fate at stake

The Greeks appreciate the referendum on how to proceed in the debt crisis. But it could end differently from what Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is hoping for. Jannis Papadimitriou reports from Athens.

Thanassis Antoniou has long made his decision: "I will definitely vote against the lenders' suggested austerity measures, and I think that doing this is more Europe-friendly than anything else," the two-time father said with utter conviction. His reasoning: "If I vote yes, I'll definitely be poorer a year from now than I already am now. That's really not a European perspective."

After all, Antoniou said, the Greeks consider Europe a synonym for affluence and democratic culture. And if Californians can even vote on the legalization of cannabis, there's no logical reason why a European people shouldn't have a referendum on their own future, according to the family man.

The Greek parliament seems to agree. On the night to Sunday, after a turbulent 14-hour debate, parliamentarians decided on a

referendum

that will be held on July 5. It will let citizens decide on the agreement with the creditors.

During his speech in parliament, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was unusually pugnacious, saying that he wasn't going to ask Mr. Dijsselbloem or Mr. Schäuble for permission to hold a referendum in Greece.

Thanassis Antoniou. (Photo: Jannis Papadimitriou)

Antoniou will vote 'No,' just like Tsipras suggested

Antoniou openly said he was sympathetic to the leftist government party Syriza - but also to Europe. European integration was the fate of Greece and that shouldn't be put at risk, the employee at a publishing house from the central-Greek port of Chalkida told DW. But he also emphasized that the European idea shouldn't be reduced to a currency.

"Europe to me stands for a culture of tolerance and shared values," the 48-year-old said. "But it also means living in dignity and without economic hardship."

Getting one's priorities in order

Achilleas Kirkiotakis is also in favor of the referendum, just for different reasons. He believes it's time for the Greek people to take responsibility and come to a clear decision - be that for the euro or for a return to the drachma.

The cab driver has to fight for his economic survival every day and prefers to tune out the fear for his future.

"I'm now at an age where you take control of your own life and still have many years on the job ahead of me," the 33-year-old said to DW. "I can't afford to give in to fear, even though I am currently in debt. But who doesn't have debts today?"

Kikiotakis advocates for more humility and realism in times of crisis.

"If you ask 1,000 Greeks if they are doing ok economically, you get the same answer from all of them: things are going badly," he said. "But you have to get your priorities in order and put your own needs on the back burner for a while."

He was working very hard, Kikiotakis proudly said: he was behind the wheel up to 14 hours every day, including the weekend.

Thanassis Antoniou has worked countless 14-hour days. He enjoyed previous jobs with publishing houses or in journalism, but the 2008 crisis hit him head-on. Ever since then, he's been stuck in precarious working conditions.

"In 2010, I was unemployed for a while, and after that there were only jobs with less responsibility and a lower salary," he said. Despite his bitterness, the two-time father says he's committed to Europe. But: "Should the Euro strangle Greece and not leave the people in this country any room to breathe, we would have to think about leaving the eurozone. But I fear that this would be a defeat for Greece and for Europe as well."

Greeks standing in line at a bank. (Photo: Jannis Papadimitriou)

Greeks have to Queue at ATMs. Worrying about what is to come, many withdraw as much money as they can

According to a survey by the Athens weekly "To Vima," 47 percent of Greeks are in favor of the most recent austerity measures the international lenders suggested. Only 33 percent oppose them.

Tsipras' negotiation tactics divide the people: 48 percent of those asked believe their prime minister is doing well, 50 percent judged him negatively. Only 26 percent of participants in the survey were in favor of severing ties with the lenders.

Alexis Papachelas, director of the Athens daily "Kathimerini," is worried. It was unheard of that the Greek finance minister was prohibited from participating in a discussion held by his European colleagues, Papachelas said. The analyst warned on Greek TV that Greece basically already had one leg outside the eurozone.

"I hope the EU partners understand that this is not about one government or even a prime minister, but about the fate of an entire people," Papachelas said.

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