Greeks brace for more pain
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Sitting in his coppersmith's shop in Psyrri, the main tourist shopping area of the Greek capital, Athens, Apostolos Liamiras takes stock of the depressed situation he and his country have found themselves in.
Business is down — the high-spending customers that once flocked to the area have been replaced by backpackers on a tight budget. Greece, meanwhile, has lurched from crisis to crisis, dependent on billions in loans to survive.
As the country's Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, heads around Europe for top-level talks on Greece's attempts to right its finances, austerity-weary Greeks back home are preparing themselves for new pain amid fears that they may be kicked out of the 17-country group that uses the euro.
"It would have helped if we hadn't entered the euro," Liamiras says. "Leaving it won't do any good."
The multi-billion euro international loans that Greece has been relying on have come with tough conditions which have led to harsh cuts in government spending and benefits. The economy, left reeling by the austerity measures, has slumped into a four-year recession. And it looks as though there will be more pain to come.
If the debt inspectors overseeing Greece's loans decide that it has failed on key reforms, vital funds could be halted. This would push the country to default on its debts.
A bust Greece might well be forced to leave the euro and go back to its old currency, the drachma, to pay its way. Many Europe-watchers fear this could plunge its country into abject misery — the new drachma would rapidly lose its value, inflation would vaporize savings and the price of basic goods would rocket.
Here are the views of four Athenians on the planned new cutbacks and on Greece's future in the euro. Their remarks have been edited for clarity.
Dina Bika, 44, runs a coffee-bar in the Psyrri tourist district of Athens and has seen a massive drop in business. She thinks Greece's days in the eurozone are numbered:
The new measures will just protract the time it takes for us to return to the drachma. I don't think they will work.
So it would be better to get to the inevitable — it's like in America where you can spend 20 years in death row and then end up in the electric chair. Why wait 20 years, for a pardon? I don't think we'll get it.
(Leaving the euro) would teach us to function in a more responsible way, both as individuals and as a state.
(Greece's creditors) seem to be toying with us. When you have 10 children to save, you help the strongest ones and toss whichever is weakest off a cliff.
I think they will save those countries that they want to save, and we are just like a guinea pig that will die during the experiment.
People really aren't in the mood to react, most are focusing on how to make an extra euro a day just to survive.
Over the past six years, our business has dropped eighty percent. Most shop owners spend their time just waiting for a customer to come in.
Coppersmith Apostolos Liamiras, 26:
I don't think there's any chance of our leaving the euro, that would make things very hard not just for Greece but for the rest of Europe too.
We are already suffering (from the crisis) and that's our own fault, not the Europeans', due to the policies we followed for ages.
I believe the series of austerity measures will continue. In any case I don't think they have been properly planned, with specific improvements in mind. They are passed out of necessity, because (the government is) obliged to do so.
But I don't think people will take to the streets right now. I'd give it at least another year.
Dimitris Dedoussis, 20, works in a corner shop near Syntagma Square, the focus of previous anti-austerity protests. He expects Greeks to fight back:
The new measures will have great consequences and will create broader problems, mostly for us, the middle classes.
So far (people) have managed because they had some modest savings set aside, or by borrowing. But I don't think people will be able to meet the new demands.
Sooner or later they will take to the streets because we can't continuously bear the brunt of the financial crisis.
I think they will not be able to push us out (of the eurozone) easily, and that they will seek ways of extracting the last euros left in our pockets.
Yiannis Darmanis, 70, owns a second-hand shop in the Psyrri area. He says Greece's crisis is the worst he has experienced in his lifetime, but expects the country to stay in the euro — unless a revolution breaks out:
And then there will be no turning back. What does somebody with nothing — no food, no money to pay their bills — have to lose?
The new measures seem to me inevitable. But I still hold out hope, because we Greeks have learned to hope and be patient.
As things haven't come to the point where the Europeans kick us out ... we Greeks will wait and see what happens with the new measures.
The evil is not just in Greece, it's spread throughout Europe, but they picked Greece — which is just three percent of the eurozone — as the sacrificial victim. You can handle three percent, but you can't handle the remaining 97 percent. They shouldn't think we are naive.
I spoke to a couple and the man said: "My wife has lost her job, I have lost my job, we have stopped our children's private tutoring and I am waiting for Greece to burn down so that I can make a living off its ashes."
God alone knows what is going to happen.