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Zigzag course in Athens

Jannis Papadimitriou, Athens / dbFebruary 7, 2015

Almost two weeks after Syriza's election victory, Athens vacillates between promises and practical policies. Many Greeks are concerned about the future, but they know things can't continue as before.

Alexis Tsipras
Image: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

The new Greek government is sending what appear to be mixed signals.

It promises a compromise with Greece's creditors, but on the other hand, it doesn't want to deviate from demands to renegotiate its debt.

The leftist Syriza party wants to fulfil a key election promise - raising the minimum wage to 751 euros per month -, but only after six months of deliberations instead of immediately. It wants to abolish the TAIPED privatization fund, but that, too, has been postponed for the time being.

Now, Greeks are looking at Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to come up with explanations in a government policy statement scheduled for the weekend. Tsipras also most likely faces a vote of confidence in parliament on Monday.

"The practical constraints of governing will force the new cabinet to a certain degree of moderation," says Athens lawyer Agapi Petropoulou. "That's what most Greeks expect."

Has disenchantment already set in less than two weeks after Syriza's election victory? People are pleased about the political change: it gives them hope, Petropoulou argues. Politicians tend to make a lot of promises during the election campaign, and implement few of them, she said. "But even some change is better than none at all," the lawyer told DW. Previous governments gave people the feeling that nothing would ever change, she added.

Agapi Petropoulou
The political change offers hope, says Agapi PetropoulouImage: DW/J. Papadimtriou

Forced to rethink

The 35-year-old lawyer has also had to change tack in her profession over the past years, and now specializes in legal matters linked to the debt crisis. "Before the crisis, I mainly worked in trade law, whereas today, I mainly deal with debt restricting and bank demands."

The revaluation of the Swiss franc after Switzerland abandoned its cap on the franc against the euro is a problem for home owners who took out a loan in Swiss francs before the debt crisis broke, she said, adding that, as they find it difficult to pay their monthly installments, home owners are hoping they can renegotiate their debt with the banks.

Even in Athens, however, some people still see opportunities in the crisis. Ilias Giannopoulos went to university in Scotland, followed by additional virtual reality training in Barcelona, before he returned to Greece in 2013. Today, the 36-year-old electrical engineer is busy setting up a 3D printing business with the help of an aid program offered by the city of Athens enabling him to offer his services in a freshly renovated, popular shopping arcade through March 2015. He hopes his start-up will be stable by then. "I never regretted coming back to Greece in the midst of the crisis," he told DW. "The feeling of being surrounded by creative people alone gives me hope for the future."

lias Giannopoulos
Ilias Giannopoulos seized the opportunity of a start-upImage: DW/J. Papadimtriou

Round the clock, Giannopoulos meticulously hones his business idea. He has little time for political issues, but in general, he can imagine the situation in Greece changing for the better. "However, it's too soon to say: we should wait at least two to three months," the engineer said. "It will surely be a crucial time."

Hoping for compromise

Agapi Petropoulou also sees crucial months ahead, in particular concerning the talks with Greece's lenders. Many Greeks feel that even a Greek exit from the euro can't be much worse than what they are currently suffering, the Athens-based lawyer said. "Not just the Greeks, but the lenders will also give in on certain points," she said, adding that they must find a compromise. "No one is interested in a Greek exit from the euro."

female protester
Protesting austerity policiesImage: DW/J. Papadimtriou

Meanwhile, many Greeks are taking to the streets demanding a compromise. For the first time on February 5 in Athens, people protested against the European Central Bank's (ECB) tightened course after the eurozone's central bank said it would no longer accept Greek government bonds as collateral for lending money to commercial banks.

"Europe should finally respect us," bristled a protester who wished to remain anonymous. The woman told DW that she is a geologist, unemployed for the past five years. Only once did the employment office have a job in all those years, for a salary of 490 euros ($558) per month. With regard to the change in leadership in Athens, she is convinced: "The new government has restored our pride."