What the euro crisis means to Greeks

As the crisis in Greece appears to get worse each day, we spoke to our colleagues at MSN Greece to see what is happening in the country and get an understanding of how normal Greeks feel about the crisis.

Alexandra Papageorgiou is an editor with MSN and is based in Athens, these are her thoughts on what is happening in the country at the moment.

How are the Greek people feeling about the failure to form a government and the subsequent second election?
Probably the most suitable words to use in order to describe how people are feeling are: "completely mixed up". Some people are very angry, disappointed and frightened because the political parties did not manage to work together and the country is currently in the state of a wayward boat. There are others who believe in the dissolution of bipartisanship and the rise of the left wing parties and they are excited and quite hopeful that the second round will bring them more votes. In any case, the most dominant feelings are restlessness and concern.

Do Greeks believe they can retain the euro even if they don't impose the austerity measures demanded by the EU?
Yes, there many people who believe that the effort the old government made to lighten the measures was not enough. They also believe that Greece is the guinea pig of Europe, since it is trying to figure out how much pressure a country can withstand. They also believe that the EU will not have any benefit if Greece does not retain the euro so they might be willing to modify the upcoming measures.

There seems to be no hope for the future for any person of any age.

How do people view the Drachma?
There is a mixture of extreme positions. Some people see the Drachma as the solution to the crisis in terms of getting back the control of the currency and getting out of a loan-dependent situation. Others are petrified at the thought of it: what will the value of the Drachma be? How will this affect the value of salaries, loan rates and the prices of the products?

How has the crisis affected the normal Greek on the street?
Fortunately, in the last few months we have not experienced any more violent demonstrations in the city centre but, because of the continuous strikes of public transport and civil servants, people have a hard time going to work or, for example, having something related to public insurance done. The crime rate has increased making people afraid of walking in the centre of Athens and many people are now paying a lot of attention to safety measures (house, car, etc). Many neighbourhoods and streets that were previously full of buzz are now quiet and empty because a great number of shops have closed down.

We're hearing news about millions of euros being withdrawn from Greek bank accounts since the election at the beginning of May. Is there a growing sense of panic?
Unfortunately during the elections and especially after the results were announced, most of the political parties began making statements about what they are going to do in order to get Greece out of the crisis. Some of them made it quite clear that they want Greece out of the EU, others that they will denounce the Memorandum and in order to find the money needed they will use private bank deposits, impose State control to the banks etc. The next day many of these statements were explained and were considered as misunderstood but it's obvious that panic had been spread and will keep spreading until the second round of elections.

A pedestrian passes a plaque of a Greek one-drachma coin, which was replaced by the euro in 2002AP Photo, Thanassis Stavrakis

We've heard stories of austerity suicides and children being given up for adoption. What differences would you notice on the streets compared to before the crisis?

Homeless people numbers have definitely increased in the last year but sometimes what we see on the street does not reveal all the truth. Many people may not be sleeping on the street but simply have no money to pay for electricity, food or water. Children are indeed given for adoption but only in order to cover the cost of food and education. Their parents are not just giving them away to another family, they are not capable of providing them with the basics because they are unemployed. Young people from 20 to 30 years old still live with their parents because of unemployment, unable to fend for themselves and have their own family. Old people don't have money for medication or even food, so provision of free food to people in need has dramatically increased. Practically there seems to be no hope for the future for any person of any age.

Greeks are famously proud of their country and everything Greek, are attitudes changing amongst the population?
Surprisingly not. Greeks consider it's the political system that brought things to this condition. They do not see it as a result of their mentality or culture. They get extremely angry when someone blames "the Greeks" in general and always try to explain that not all Greeks are lazy. Unfortunately, last year the number of young Greek immigrants increased dramatically. Most of them are well educated, hardworking and leave Greece in order to find a job. In most cases they are proud of being Greek, they wish that one day they will come back and live their lives in the country they love.

Greece is a very popular tourist destination for many people. Have you noticed tourism dropping off? Do you have a message to people who might be concerned about visiting Greece?
Unfortunately, there has been a substantial decrease in hotel bookings within the previous week, clearly showing how worried tourists are. The message would be a very simple one - let's encourage people to travel this summer to Greece and enjoy its rich beauty, culture and hospitality and help the country's efforts towards economic recovery. And keep in mind that Greece is not only the sea, the sun and bouzouki. Choose a smaller island, walk around the villages, try the local specialties, go to local festivals. Greeks will always open their hearts and offer the best they have if they see you're interested to listen to their story.

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