“It’s a good strategy, finally someone raises his voice towards the lenders,” Eleni says as we sit around the table for the traditional Lent lunch on Monday. We nibble from plates and bowls full of raw and cooked seafood and various salads, we bite on crusty Lent Monday bread with sesame, we nip on wine and tsipouro. We taste the delicacies and do the obvious: we talk about Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and the Greek government’s dealing with the lenders.
“Ι am optimist. There is always a risk that we find ourselves outside the euro, but there is a wind of hope that things will get better,” says Nikos, a retired high school teacher.
Everyone who is present shares Nikos’ optimism.
Behind us lie the eurogroup meetings of February 11th and 16th, which many Greeks felt that our euro-partners “flagrantly humiliated Greece” as Anna, the 82-year-old aunt, a retired chemist, puts it and adds: “I feel proud again, we restored some of our lost pride. Now people talk about that Greece doesn’t only bend its head and accepts without objection what the others say and want to impose on us.”
Ahead of us lie the Greek Reforms List, its approval or rejection by the IMF, the EU, the ECB and the Eurogroup. Ahead of us lie our future and the future of the country, the threat if tomorrow (Tuesday) “the ATMs will have cash or not,” as it was stated and warned in Brussels last Friday.
“Showing you’re tough, showing that you insist on negotiations and that you don’t accept everything they say is definitely in important step,” cheers Makis, 20, a student. “People need to take a breath, hope that things can change. We need to prove, we do not go ahead with the head bended.”
The crowd around the table considers as the most important point the fact that Greece managed to change the agenda with its lenders, “to make them accept negotiations,” and “stopped the Troika practice of sending e-mails with austerity demands.”
“This is a crucial U-turn, it helps us most of all psychologically,” says Georgia, 55, a civil servant and she mentions “Greeks are smiling again, have hope.”
How many times I have heard this last sentence since the elections in January, I cannot tell you. It sounds like a slogan, secretly agreed upon among SYRIZA but also not-SYRIZA voters.
Blame the mainstream media
We all agree that it is difficult to understand the fine wording and the nuances of the eurogroup decisions and Greek proposed reforms in terms of real life consequences.
“I don’t understand why some claim the Eurogroup agreement on Friday was not in favor of Greece,” says Yiannis, 60, without a job since four years. “The problem is that the official debated was switched to Winner-Loser, while the real issue was and still is that Greece won time. Call it ‘Bridge-program’ or whatever you want, Greece got 4-months time and that means that no new austerity measures will be imposed for four months.”
The father of two makes the sign of cross and he says laughing “Four months without ENFIA*, that’s something… in fact that’s a lot!”
Martha, 40, complains about the way the mainstream media deal with the issue saying “right after the elections I had hope, I was proud but with all these eurogroup debates and what the media said, … I froze.”
She admits, she does not understand much about economics and that she is obliged to believe what the television channels say. “I have often felt, we were at the edge and have sleepless nights. Now somehow I am kind of relieved.”
Euro vs Drachma
Martha is a middle-class pro-euro supporter who thinks “return to drachma would be a disaster as the same oligarchs will take advantage of the situation.” Also Eleni and Anna blindly want the euro, while the men in our table express different views.
Yiannis says that he favors “the drachma, because there cannot be a currency union without a financial union at the same time,” while Nikos argues:
“Not euro at any cost. However the Greek society is not disciplined enough to spend, let’s say a period of 5 years struggling with the drachma consequences. Therefore, better stick with the euro.”
Syriza betrayed promises?
Nobody from the people around the table feels that SYRIZA betrayed them by agreeing with the Eurogroup.
“We did not vote in order to come to a rift with Europe,” Giorgos, a student of 21 years old, says, arguing “we voted for SYRIZA in order to show them that there is a perspective also outside Europe. I wouldn’t mind if there was no agreement, but as said, people did not vote for a rift.”
They all agree that “no voter believed that SYRIZA would fulfill all its pre-elections promises,” arguing that after five years of loan agreements and three elections, Greek voters are disillusioned.
“The latest after Giorgo’s There is money* in 2009 we stopped believing what politicians promise,” says Eleni, 48, who works at an advertising company.
Martha and Georgia add in one voice: “Well I believe SYRIZA would do half of what its promised”.
And Nikos comments that “the Greek voters got matured after all these crisis years.”
Glezos criticism to SYRIZA
As expected the conversation comes to historic personality of the Greek Left, Manolis Glezos and some other SYRIZA officials and MPs who criticized the government for abandoning its elections promises.
“If they wanted a rift with Europe, a Grexit, they should have joined the KKE*” says Yiannis “but KKE does not allow pluralism, therefore they are with SYRIZA” adds Georgia.
Makis and Giorgos dare whisper that “Glezos and Theodorakis should think of the country’s youth and not only of themselves”, and one of them complains of “old people who are unable to adjust themselves to modern times.”
Eleni jumps to their assistance: “So true, we are not in WWII, we are not in dictatorship times. We have to take into consideration the current situation and act accordingly, make compromises.”
They all agree that if SYRIZA members have objections and problems with the party leadership, they should address the issues within the party and not going public, writing articles and publish them on internet, “the moment the government is at a very critical point of negotiations” with the lenders.
“What Glezos did is unacceptable. It is unacceptable for such a personality respected at home and abroad to undermine the government at this crucial stage,” says Yiannis.
The group is confident that SYRIZA will manage to pass some measures to relief the poverty-hit households.
Top Priorities: Tax evasion & corruption
But main thing is that SYRIZA proceeds with changes that are really important for the country: combat tax evasion and corruption, the chronic illnesses in the country.
“Tax evasion” and “corruption”: They all agree that these should be the government’s top priorities. But also “meritocracy”, “crack down on intermingling of a few families of oligarchs and politics”, “justice”, “fair taxation system”, “have the rich pay their share” and “real structural reforms in the public administration”. “And privatizations that will benefit the people and the society, the public interest, not only the investors,” says Yiannis.
Other SYRIZA voters
Tuesday morning I decide to call around a couple of people I know they voted in favor of SYRIZA in January not because they were leftist but our of anger for the strict austerity.
Several SYRIZA voters who were loyal to PASOK until the crisis broke out, told me that they approve how the government dealt with the lenders, saying “Finally, Greece can show it can resist.”
Upon the question, ‘whether they felt betrayed by the Eurogroup agreement and that Syriza cannot fulfill its elections promises’ the common answer was “Nobody believed that Syriza would do everything it promised.”
“The government needs time, that’s the A and O,” said Giota, 45, a journalist friend. “Think about what the government managed in less than a month in power. First of all, it requested time all with all the necessary compromises. People have been economically suffocating. It is clear that SYRIZA cannot keep up with all its promises, as the economic cost of some of them was not calculated.”
“Who believes nowadays that a party can keep its elections promises?” asked me Eleni, 35, a pharmacy assistant. “But look what happened: Varoufakis stirred up the whole Europe, now other nations suffering from austerity will rise up,” she said with a very bright smile.
Not SYRIZA voters
Interesting is also what a couple of Nea Dimokratia and To Potami voters commented.
“I still do not trust SYRIZA and Tsipras, they can still take us out from the euro. But I have to admit that I am positively surprised that they did indeed fight in Europe,” said ND-voter Kostas, 65, retired accountant.
Roula, 36, who voted for To Potami in the elections, said that she had the impression that “Varoufakis did in Brussels what no other government did during the crisis, that is: tough negotiating.”
At the end of the day (Tuesday afternoon), the Eurogroup turned on the green light for the Greek Reforms List. A friend told me:
“Nοw the real work starts, so let us see!”
Για να δούμε! as we say in Greek.
*names have been changed
*KKE: Greek Communist Party
*ENFIA: Troika imposed unified property tax, irrespectively of the tax ability of property owners and based on pre-crisis “objective values”, while commercial values plunged to 60% during the crisis.
* There is money: Slogan of PASOK and George Papandreou in the elections campaign September 2009. A month after winning the elections, he started contacts with the IMF to bailout Greece.
You may be interesting to read also KTG’s report on Greek voters’ motives, dated 25. Jan 2015, on the elections day: “Anger” pulls the trigger in the hand of Greek voters.