Greek Austerity Cuts: The Vast Majority Of Greeks Do Not Want The Country Outside The Euro
Alex Papasimakopoulou is a half-Greek, half-British PR working in the music business. Having spent 15 years in the UK, the 38-year-old moved back to Greece two years ago and has witnessed first hand the country’s decline into riots, burning and violence. She lives in central Athens.
What’s the general mood in Greece following Sunday night’s riots?
The general mood is one of depression. We’ve seen some really bad riots in Athens, particularly in 2008 when the police shot a young boy, but what we saw on Sunday was worse than anything before.
We’ve never seen destruction on this scale. On Sunday, everything was going up in flames. Bookshops, banks, cinemas, stores – it seemed more callous, but also more organised. It was mobs out to cause chaos. With the economic situation, everyone is having a really hard time, but whatever little hope people had left, I think that went on Sunday.
Was the rioting confined to around the parliament?
The centre of Athens is pretty compact. Usually the protests are around the main square, but yesterday it seemed a lot more spread out than normal but it is still only certain parts of the city.
One of the problems yesterday was that the police seemed to take the decision to only protect the parliament building. What they are trying to avoid is images going around the world of the parliament on fire... But that’s what most people in Greece want to happen.
The other problem is the police. They’re suffering with decreasing salaries like everyone else. If they keep getting pushed, I think even the police are going to say ‘this is not worth it’. They sit there for hours and get everything thrown at them. At some point these guys who are earning 600 euros are going to give up. It’s a worry.
What are the affects of the austerity cuts on everyday working and middle class Greeks?
They are horrific. The basic salary used to be 750 euros. With the cuts it’s going to go down to about 600 euros and that’s for people already in employment. For young people entering the workplace it’s even worse – they’d be lucky to get 400 euros and on that they simply cannot survive.
Young people will have to stay with their parents. They may never be independent. That’s what people are finding so depressing – no one can see a way out. Living with these type of cuts is just unsustainable. Also, on 400-600 euros no one is going to be able to buy anything, the knock-on effect is going to be huge, whether it’s tourism to retail to restaurants… I’ve got friends in the bar business, and most of them don’t think they’ll still be gone by autumn.
Do you think the government will be overthrown?
No one can see any light at the end of the tunnel so it could happen. The EU has been promising for the past two years that they will follow up the austerity measures with some investment in Greece but that hasn’t happened yet. If that were to happen we could see an upturn, but it’s only been promises as yet.
What’s the general feeling towards the EU?
A lot of the protesters tend to be from far left groups. They tend to be more vocal. They’re not representative of Greece as a whole. Most of the polls show that the vast majority of Greeks do not want the country outside the euro. We’re already the poor cousins of Europe. We don’t want to go further behind. The problem is people see the EU only cutting and not helping the economy.
Do you think there’s a lack of sympathy around Europe for the Greek situation?
I think a lot of the British media prints stuff that’s just not true. A lot of it is racist - the Greeks being lazy and just sitting around drinking coffee. If you look at the EU statistics, the Greeks are some of the hardest working people in the EU. I think a lot of Germans have the same impression – just because the weather’s hot and we can drive to the beach at the weekend, they think our lives are drastically easy.
Yes, there’s corruption in Greece, but there’s corruption all over the world. The Greek people are very aware of the country’s problems, and thy want the government to change it… that’s why they’ve put up with the austerity measures for so long.