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Metro station in Athens. Photo: Nick Barnets
Image: Nick Barnets

Dismay and relief in Greece

Nick Barnets, Athens
July 13, 2015

Greeks begin the new week weary after following a crucial nighttime meeting to decide Greece's fate in the eurozone. Many are relieved to see the threat of a "Grexit" reduced, but remain anxious, says DW's Nick Barnets.


It was a long Sunday night in Athens as many stayed up till morning to await the decision of the European leaders' summit. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras submitted to the demands of creditors for more austerity, going against the principles that brought him to power five months ago.

As anonymous sources leaked bits of information from the talks, including more demands on top of those Tsipras presented, many Greeks began to show their dismay through social media, putting the hashtag #ThisIsACoup at the top of Greece's Twitter trends for several hours.

The week began with the streets of Athens still quiet for a Monday. Aside from tourists and those who are lucky enough to still have jobs, many have stayed home, being extra careful to spend as little cash as possible, with capital controls continuing to limit ATM withdrawals to 60 euros per day, and many only dispensing 50 euros due to a lack of small bills.

The talks in Brussels ended by mid-morning and a deal was announced. But many already expected the result and reacted with either disappointment, relief or a mixture of both.

Uncertain consequences

“This is a horrible deal; Tsipras just handed them a blank check. Who gave him the right to hand us over like this?” says Maria Roumeliotaki, a pensioner who lives in a working-class neighborhood in Athens. Maria's pension has been reduced twice, down to 540 euros a month. With a mortgage, food, utilities, and several grandchildren she's taking care of, she's struggled to make ends meet ever since the cuts began.

She believes Tsipras should have walked away from the summit, even if it meant Greece exiting the euro. “We won't have any money left to pay for anything. They won't be happy until they take everything from us,” she laments.

Dimitris Ranios, who is also a pensioner, says he wants Greece to stay in the euro, but is worried about the political implications of this new deal. "Tsipras will have problems after this is over because of dissent in his own party. I hope we don't go back to elections again," he says.

Man waiting next to train in underground station Photo: Nick Barnets
Life goes on for Greeks weary after a long nightImage: Nick Barnets

Youthful optimism - and anger

Young Greeks continue to be among the hardest hit as the Greek crisis drags on. Many see more of the same as a disappointment - as something that will continue dwindling their hopes for a better future.

But some are still optimistic. Kostas Albanoudis, a 20 year-old from Thessaloniki who just finished his compulsory military service, has been keeping a close eye on the latest developments. He says things are difficult but he still has hope for the future. "If we have patience, courage and strength, we can get through this. Why? Because this is Greece, that's why."

Other young people, such as 21-year-old Fotis from the city of Volos, are angered by the prospect of yet another bailout loan memorandum laced with even more austerity, especially after a referendum was held to denounce precisely that. “The referendum turned out to be just for show,” he says. "They're making fools out of us. We should be united in resisting these bailouts; only then will they cease to exist.”

Anxious times for small businesses

Small businesses are a big part of the Greek economy. Many of them have been hit hard in recent years, but especially so since the banks closed and capital controls were implemented in the past two weeks. Tax increases that are part of a new bailout proposal for Greece stand to hit the income of many small businesses across the country.

Christos and his wife Betty own a small café in the central Athenian neighborhood of Exarchia and also stayed up late into the night, listening to the radio and waiting to hear whether or not European leaders would come to an agreement to keep Greece in the euro. “I am happy that Tsipras fought hard for the last five months not just for a deal but for some sort of solution. He unfortunately came up against a wall,” said Christos, as he opened up his café for the day while listening to the radio for the latest updates.

Man standing next to taxi on Athens street. Photo: Nick Barnets
The streets of Athens are quiet as another week of capital controls and bank closures beginsImage: Nick Barnets

“I feel this is a bad deal, and many do,” he adds. “But many of us here in Greece have become numb, and don't feel much different than we did before this European summit. This deal had measures, but in a negotiation concessions are to be expected.”

Panayiotis, who owns a small organic grocery store in Athens, lays blame on both decision-makers and the Greek people, saying: “Despite what happens, we need to stop acting like children; we're adults aren't we?”

He hopes more level-headed thinking will get Greece out of the economic doldrums and bring back the hope for prosperity again. “I hope we never find ourselves in this situation again to be so in debt and have creditors have so much power over us. We have to be strong and get ourselves out of this mess now.”

Whether or not the Greek government can survive the mounting pressure of passing tough reform bills and quelling internal dissent within the party, many are happy that it appears Greece may be saved from the brink of total collapse, but at the same time feel disillusioned that Tsipras was unable to get a solution to the economic decline that resulted during the last two bailout loan agreements .

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