Monday 11 December 2017

Athens is now a city of two tribes as referendum splits a nation unsure of what the future holds

A woman walks past posters reading ‘NO’ in Athens ahead of the referendum
A woman walks past posters reading ‘NO’ in Athens ahead of the referendum
Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

Citizens in Athens yesterday began their now daily rituals of long queues at ATMs and protests in the street.

This time it was the youth of the country who marched through the capital, yelling in one voice which they said they wanted to be heard as far away as Belgium. Their message was clear - No to Europe-led austerity.

University students and the young unemployed marched through Ermou, one of the largest shopping streets in Athens, before making their way to Syntagma Square where they paused outside Parliament.

Many were part of the Syriza Youth who unsurprisingly supported the party's No stance for Sunday's referendum. But the group of several hundred, chanting slogans that the wealthy must pay, were joined and cheered on by many passers-by, who insisted they had no links to the party.

Pavlos Marinos (24) is a trained teacher who has never been able to secure work since finishing university. "We want the people to know that a No vote is the only way things will change. We need to take a stand," he said.

The young graduate was adamant that a No vote would not lead to a Greek exit from the single currency.

"We will not leave the Euro. This vote will only make our government stronger in negotiating," he added.

For Dunitra Ntauti (22) the pending vote is her way of securing her future in Greece. The economics student, who will graduate next year, says she believes voting No will make Greece stronger. "We can't live on €400 a week and that is only if you can get a job.

"We will negotiate with Europe but we will strengthen our power with a No vote.

"I want to stay in the Euro but I want to be able to live in Greece and make a proper wage," she added.

The referendum may be taking place at short notice but there are plenty of No posters lining the streets of Athens.

Despite the official €60 limit on ATM withdrawals, many machines were only giving out €50s yesterday, due to a shortage of €20 notes. Withdrawals nationwide have hit an estimated €3,000 per second.

As people look at the shuttered banks, locals say they now wonder when they will open and what currency they will dispense when they do.

A growing number fear their leaders may cause the country to leave the Eurozone.

Timos Melissaris, a fund manager, said that the risk and volatility to his industry was unprecedented, with many now believing a return to the Drachma is a real possibility.

He said Tsipras had "no mandate at all" for the decisions he has been making. "His only role from the election was to negotiate with the Eurozone. He doesn't have a mandate to take Greece out of the Eurozone. But we now fear that he has a hidden agenda to take out Greece from the Eurozone," he said.

Mr Melissaris said many now believed the vague wording of the referendum was done to confuse people.

"They basically asked 'do you want more taxes?' - who is going to vote for that? If we go back to the Drachma, they think the private debts will eliminate. This will not happen," he said.

Taxi man Thomas Petsas said a return to the Drachma would be a disaster.

"Many younger people do not remember what it was like. We did not have a better life with the Drachma, it would be a disaster to return."

Opinion polls in Greece report the vote will be close. It's clear many are torn.

Vasa (25) works in a company with strong links to European universities. She said the recent uncertainty over Greece's future could lead to cutbacks for her.

"A lot of companies have stayed closed this week, they do not know what will happen. For my work, it is unknown," she said.

However, the young worker said she could understand the concerns of those calling for a No vote.

"People study for many years but they cannot get jobs. If we vote Yes then the troika will only make things worse here. But a No vote, I don't know. Either way things will be difficult," she added.

Irish Independent

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