No one smiles anymore
Fear, hope, and facing the unknown. During a tumultuous week for Greece, Neos Kosmos talks to Greek Australians across the Hellenic Republic
Tuesday 28 June:
Greece has ground to a halt; most flights in and out of Athens' Eleftherios Venizelos airport have been cancelled; ferries are at their moorings in Pireaus - the lifelines to the islands cut.
From the Ionian to Alexandroupoli; from Thessaloniki to Kythera and Kastelorizo - the Hellenic Republic is closed for business.
Meanwhile, the Greek Parliament begins its debate on the swathe of new austerity measures that must become law, if Greece is to receive further vital bailout funds. Those not on strike go about their business as best they can. As they did, Neos Kosmos spoke to Australians of Greek descent who live and work in Greece whose lives and livelihoods depend upon how the current crisis unfolds.
Rosalyn Geranikolas from Perth has been in Greece for 32 years. The owner of four hotels in Rhodes and Kastelorizo, Geranikolas says visitor numbers remain unaffected by the crisis and that visitor numbers have been on the increase as the season begins.
"The economic situation has affected us in the sense that there's no credit available anymore - you have to pay 50 per cent when you order and the balance before you receive the goods. If another government comes in, I really think there's not much else they could do; we're in too far. It's up to the people to pull their socks up."
Would you consider leaving Greece? "No, definitely not; a soldier never leaves his place of battle! I believe the Greek people have realised it's up to us now. The austerity measures are hard, but it's something we all have to do. The worse thing we could do is pack up and leave."
Barbara Samantouros, originally from Brisbane, is the finance manager of AGREK, an agricultural products company in Chalkida.
"People are very pessimistic at the moment; they feel they can't take on this extra burden and I think the government could have found other ways spread out the pain," says Samantouros, who has lived in Greece for 25 years.
"They could have done more to repatriate funds that have gone out of the country. Something's got to be implemented, but everything's being done at the last moment. It hasn't been well thought-out."
As for her own company's prospects and the agricultural industry as a whole, she's more upbeat.
"People are looking at the agri sector in a very optimistic light. The future for Greece depends on tourism, shipping and agriculture."
Have you considered leaving because of the uncertainty? "I've thought about it," but it's not to our advantage at the moment; we're trying to do our bit for Greece. We believe there's a future here."
Con Kehagias has run his graphic design company in Thessaloniki for 15 years. Originally from Coburg, Victoria, Kehagias left for Greece as a 13 year-old.
"I don't agree with what the government are doing. The politicians don't care about the people; they're putting so much pressure on, and the people are going to suffocate. The EU and IMF are economic assassins; they're not helping Greece at all."
Kehagias' radical interpretation of the issues; the motivations of the various forces at work in the Greek crisis are worryingly common, though, like many who have strong opinions, he supports anti-government protests but admits job cuts, such as those that will affect Greece's public service, are overdue.
"That has to happen," says the designer, who is now seriously exploring the idea of migrating back to Australia. "I'm married and have a little boy who is four years-old. Here the education system is awful. I see how I grew up in Australia and I make the comparison. I want to come back. Here wages are going to go down; people won't have what's necessary for living. No one smiles anymore."
Wednesday 29 June, 9.00 am, Syntagma Square:
Members of the Greek Parliament run the gauntlet of protestors wishing to obstruct the ongoing debate before the fateful first vote to endorse the government's new 28 billion euro austerity plan. As the day goes on, clashes between the riot police defending the parliament and masked stone-throwing activists grow ever more violent.
Sotiris Stregas, a sales rep for a dental products company has lived in Athens since 1990.
"It's a 'Catch 22' situation; we don't want these things imposed on us, but if things aren't imposed, then we'll never ever see a brighter day. People don't know what is going to happen tomorrow," says Melbourne-born Stregas, who is married and has two teenage daughters.
Though accepting of the need for an imposed solution, the urbane salesman, who was brought up in Sydney, doesn't believe that the medicine Papandreou is prescribing is the answer.
"I don't believe they should be increasing taxes; I think that's counter-productive. Businesses are closing, so the pool from which you can get tax is decreasing."
Stregas will stay in Greece largely because of his wife's wishes not to migrate. He believes elections are just around the corner and that going to the polls will offer new possibilities to resolve the deteriorating situation.
"This government is faltering. I believe the politicians from the main political parties cannot give us a solution. Whatever new government is formed cannot have any connection with governments over the last 20 years. I don't want the same people to govern us again. The politicians who brought us here cannot give us a solution. I would prefer foreigners - Germans, Australians, or Greeks from overseas to come in and help out. It would probably be our best chance."
Diana Athanasiou is an English language teacher in Epirus who has been in Greece since 1988. "I don't think Papandreou has a choice; he's like a puppet. Greece isn't governed internally, it's governed externally.
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