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The Greek drama

Interview: Klaudia Prevezanos / kbmJuly 9, 2015

Greek author Petros Markaris deals with the crisis in his mystery novels, featuring detective Costas Haritos. He tells DW why Greece must stay in the eurozone and how the situation is impacting daily life.

Petros Markaris, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Tejido
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Tejido

DW: The Greek finance crisis and negotiations with the EU and the IMF have been going on for months, and now the possibility of Greece leaving the eurozone is on the table. It's a stressful time for many people. How are you dealing with the current situation?

Petros Markaris: I have to say that, especially in the week ahead of the referendum [on July 5, 2015], I was afraid of losing my head. As a Greek, I can understand the mentality of the Greeks who are saying "no" to the austerity plan, but also don't want to leave the euro. It's more difficult for a clearly thinking European to understand that. Many of the Greeks who voted "no" hoped that they would get better conditions. But the economy has totally crumbled over the past five months and in the last week in particular. Banks have temporarily closed, and Greeks can only withdraw 60 euros ($67) in cash per day. Under these conditions, the austerity measures can't be tightened. You don't have to be a top economist to understand that.

How has the crisis influenced everyday life in Athens?

Those who've lived in Athens for over 50 years like I have can immediately see how the city has changed. The streets are empty. Yesterday I went down a main street downtown and thought, how can I let my Detective Haritos get stuck in traffic, which regularly happens in my novels. There is no traffic on this important main road. The people and cars are gone.

In the referendum last weekend, a majority of Greeks voted against the EU's proposed reform plan. But you support the EU's proposal. Why?

A "yes" would not only have strengthened Greece in its negotiations with other countries, but also the inner workings of the political party. Syriza consists of very different factions, which Alexis Tsipras doesn't yet have a grip on. A "yes" would have helped the party. The Europeans would have interpreted a "yes" to mean, "We want to stay in the EU." Now we have a "no" to the reform plan, but also, "We still want to stay in the EU." That's a much weaker statement that will make it more difficult to convince the Europeans.

What advice would you give the Greek government?

You were so dumb to just erase five months of negotiations. The situation has gotten much worse. Wake up already before it's too late. It can't be that this country goes back to drachmas. And if it does, the bomb in the government's hands will explode. What Prime Minister Tsipras sees as strength - the clear "no" to EU plans - will be weakness tomorrow.

The Europeans made a mistake at the very beginning. They should have told Giorgos Papandreou's government and the following governments, "Dear Greeks, without reforms, there won't be any money." Instead the EU accepted that the Greek government came again and again with countermeasures that mainly consisted of tax hikes. The Greeks could not afford these taxes. Greece's financial policy has ruined the middle-class most of all. We are a country that doesn't have major corporations like Italy or France. The entire Greek economy is carried by small and mid-sized companies. And when these companies and the middle-class are brought down, you can't expect the economy to pick up.

But after months and months of talks, wouldn't the clarity that the Grexit would bring be better than an eternity of unresolved negotiations?

The Grexit would mean a return to drachmas and a totally lamed economy - with a country that doesn't yet know what that would really mean. The poorer people and average citizens would suffer drastically from inflation.

What is your impression: Are many Greeks still preparing for the Grexit and national bankruptcy?

No, not at all. Except for a minority that really believes that things would be better in Greece with drachmas, the majority is still hoping for better conditions from the EU and for the possibility to stay in the eurozone.

After the crisis meeting on Tuesday, negotiations have continued and the next crisis meeting is set for Sunday, July 12. The situation is changing constantly. But as of now, how do you think things will progress?

I don't know whether the next crisis meeting will be the last. But I do know that if the negotiations continue without a result, the consequences for Greece and the Greek economy will be much more devastating. It must end. The patient is on its death bed and we're discussing treatment. Tsipras has to present a feasible plan. The Europeans are also being very strict, of course. But if this plan, suggestion or offer from the Greek government can form a basis, then a short-term solution can be found. We can't hope for a long-term solution at this point. And we urgently need a break so that we can go on. The EU is prepared for a Grexit, but in Greece we are not. Without a plan on the table, I think that the EU will say on Sunday, "That's it."

Greek author Petros Markaris was born in 1937 in Istanbul, Turkey, and lives in Athens. With his novels about the Athens police detective Costas Haritos, which address the current developments in Greece, Markaris has achieved international fame. He has a particularly strong fan base in Germany. Markaris is also a renowned playwright and screenwriter and has translated numerous German works by Bertold Brecht, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and others. In 2013, he received the Goethe-Medaille.