Business World

Saturday 24 February 2018

'If we stay in the euro, they'll keep destroying our lives'

A woman holds a sign during an anti-austerity protest in central Athens last night
A woman holds a sign during an anti-austerity protest in central Athens last night
People queue for free food in the Greek capital
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

With the future of Greece resting in the hands of European leaders, ordinary citizens once more took to the streets of Athens hoping to make their voices heard in Brussels.

But unlike the crowds who had flocked to Syntagma Square in their tens of thousands over the past fortnight, this rally for Oxi voters saw crowds of just hundreds attend. The small outcome left some dejected, but they vowed they would continue the fight for the whole of Greece - those who did not share their views and those too battered to keep up the fight.

"People are tired and they want it all to stop but this is not the answer. The No vote was not a Yes to Europe and it is being treated that way," said Aleana (35) who joined the crowd with her parents.

The country had voted overwhelmingly in favour of no further austerity just one week ago, but the elation of the victory rally in Syntagma Square last Sunday was a far cry from the meagre turnout evident last night.

Yet for those who did attend, their anger was palpable and among group after group the new rallying cry was full autonomy.

"We need to leave the euro and the European Union. We have realised we don't have any future there. I am very upset that our 'left' government is ignoring the voice of the people. We voted down the previous agreement and this one is much more harsh," said teacher Tania Vezou (34).

Others agreed, insisting Germany could keep its temporary Grexit plans and that Greece would be better off alone.

"If we stay in the euro, they will keep on destroying our lives. There is no chance of getting out of this nightmare," said Yanni (24), who works in marketing.

Many Greeks had struggled to swallow the stringent bailout proposals passed by their government on Friday night, albeit without the support of a significant number of Syriza members including two ministers.

For a lot of Oxi supporters the new austerity programme totalling €13bn, including tax hikes, pension cuts and raising the retirement age, flew in the face of the referendum vote. Initially, Syriza managed to keep the majority of people with them by insisting it would provide longer-term financial supports for the country.

But over the weekend, as it became clear that Europe wanted a lot more concessions than those put forward, the air of disappointment turned to one of anger. And that anger was directed at Syriza.Describing the European leaders as "blackmailers and b******s", teacher Dimitris Vourakis (57) added: "If this goes ahead, it will be the political end for [Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras.

"We are seeing the government of the left implementing the policies of the right. People in Greece are used to fighting and will not give up."

His mood was echoed by that of Maria Xifara (34) who works in a bank. She said she had seen the effects of the austerity on a daily basis for six years.

"If this goes on, there will be a rebellion. I think the government did not understand what we voted for. A lot of people want Greece to get out of the euro and begin their own economy again. If we get out we can begin exporting again and producing, we cannot produce anything while we are in the EU," she added.

However, many ordinary Greeks gathering in Syntagma yesterday evening did not share the view of the protesters. They quietly went about their evening, but at every turn the talk remained Brussels, Merkel and Grexit.

"We are unhappy that the deal is stricter, Tsipras should have agreed a week ago, now we are much worse off. People begin to realise this and that is why so little are here," said stall worker Dimitris, gesturing at the small demonstration making its way around the square.

Greeks have already accepted that, regardless of a deal, they would be facing ongoing banking restrictions for the foreseeable future. Economy minister Giorgos Stathakis warned the people that capital controls could last for at least two months.

But as they faced into a possible third week of massive instability, many were praying that the deal would be accepted whatever the terms.

"We cannot continue like this. People are not living. Every day businesses must close because of these limits. The government has lied to the people that this would be a better deal for less. I don't think that is possible," said Constantin Lympouridis (39) a financial adviser.

Reports in the Greek papers expressed fears of rising social tensions and some in the Oxi camp have already warned of industrial unrest if Greece remains in the euro. "People don't want any more discussions or negotiations. Now we just want out. If this does not happen there will be strikes, demonstrations and all that goes with it," added Maria.

Meanwhile, the Greek government is expected to hold a reshuffle this week to replace two ministers who did not vote with the government's bailout plan.

Oxi voters are demanding nothing short of an election.

"Tsipras has not listened to us so we need a leader who will," said Katerina.

But just tables away the call was more measured. "We hope this Government will work to fix the problem and that means getting rid of ministers who don't want what is best for Greece. Europe no longer trusts us and we must fix this first if we are to fix this country," said Georgious.

Irish Independent

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