Anger and a sense of helplessness reign in Greece | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 11.10.2011
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Europe

Anger and a sense of helplessness reign in Greece

Are more cuts coming? Will I lose my job? Who can lead us out of this crisis? The troika has tentatively approved a new batch of bailout loans for Athens, but Greeks still have many unanswered questions.

High school students chant slogans outside the Greek Parliament during a protest in central Athens

Greeks are angry and not sure where their country is headed

Inspectors from Greece's international lenders - the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) - have given a tepid approval for Greece's next tranche of bailout cash.

Known as the troika, the inspectors on Tuesday said Greece should get the 8 billion euros ($11 billion) it says it desperately needs by early November.

Yet a sense of helplessness continues to dominate the country, underscored daily on television as the media bombards the viewer with every scenario of a Greek bankruptcy.

At an event this past weekend in Thessaloniki, vicious insults and yogurt were thrown at Greek Interior Minister Haris Kastanidis. This kind of attack is not rare and has in fact become the norm here in Greece. Few politicians from the governing Panhellenic Socialist Movement party, or from those previously in power, the New Democracy party, risk being seen in public anymore.

"They're all rotten, part of the corrupt system that has gotten us into this situation," complains a respected Greek economics journalist. Asked who is then left to lead the country out of the crisis, she shrugs her shoulders. She doesn't know.

Riot police clash with protesters during a rally outside the Finance Ministry in central Athens

Much anger has been directed toward those who led Greece into the mess and those trying to save it

Amidst the uncertainty, the fact that Greece's future is being decided by powers abroad has given rise to a series of conspiracy theories.

"Germany owes us 115 billion ($157 billion) in war reparations," says one such theorist, Dimitris Theodoru, a tavern owner. "A country that gave birth to a civilization is being pushed around by a country that started two world wars."

Theodoru's finger-pointing at Germany is not limited to historical crimes either.

"Is Greece partly at fault too?" he asks. "Of course, we are not free of blame. Do you know why? Because we allowed [German industrial giant] Siemens to do business here for so long."

Theodoru's reference is to allegations of corruption on a major scale perpetrated by Siemens in Greece.

Conflicted Greeks

Surprisingly, Theodoru has a positive view of the troika inspectors who have demanded ever more austerity measures from the Greek government in return for bailout cash.

"They're doing their job. They're doing what has to be done," he says. "They're supposedly doing a good job. But it's a dead end."

Head of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, and Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos

ECB head Trichet and other lenders have tough demands for Greece's finance minister

Theodoru is not alone in his support of the so-called troika. Surveys indicate that a large majority of Greeks are against the austerity measures, but almost just as many are against breaking off talks with the international lenders.

Such ambivalence is now seen in everyday life in Greece. With increasing frequency the government announces new tax burdens, public servants must come to terms with a 20-percent salary reduction and youth unemployment is up to 40 percent.

Yet during last week's general strike just 16,000 people in Athens and 10,000 in Thessaloniki attended the unions' demonstrations. As usual, those who did show up were almost exclusively state employees.

Everyday penny-pinching

The salaries of those working for private companies have thus far remained relatively stable. Increased taxes, however, means less money in the pocket, something hotel employee Tassos Lekkos says will have an impact on the country.

"I try to live as simply as possible," says Lekkos. "I don't go out as much anymore, I've limited what I'm willing to pay for clothes to absolute minimum and I've even reduced my social obligations. What does that mean? I always find an excuse to avoid meeting up with people because it always means spending money."

The Ermou shopping street

The Ermou shopping street has much fewer customers

The once-bustling shopping street of Ermou in central Athens is now half-empty on a Saturday afternoon. There are few customers inside the shops. This is the new normal. Many shoppers now avoid the supermarkets in their neighborhoods, heading instead to the city's covered market a few streets over from Ermou.

"We make our profit by selling in large quantities and not through the typical commercial price," says Jannis Tsubis, a butcher at the market. "We sell meat at 1.50 euros a kilo instead of 4 euros a kilo. Our revenue is up 10 to 15 percent. That's a pretty good figure when you think that in a lot of other industries revenue is down 50 percent."

Tsubis may have figured out to make money during the crisis, but he doesn't have the bigger answers Greece needs. Asked what the future held for his country, Tsubis just shrugs his shoulders. He has no idea.

Author: Panagiotis Kouparanis, Athens / hf
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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