“Finally, he did something! I don’t know if it is good or bad, I cannot think of the consequences right now, but Tsipras finally did something,” Nikos tells me Saturday afternoon, a couple of hours after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a Referendum on creditors’ proposals.
I asked around among relatives and friends what do they think about the Referendum and not all people share Nikos’ excitement. Uncertainty for the future, fear of a possible Greek exit from the euro zone, fear of the Unknown has been pushing the Greeks to withdraw money from the ATMs on Saturday. But then there are these people who have nothing on their bank account to withdraw. Bank accounts drained long ago, lives closed.
Nikos is a 57-year-old salesman on freelance contract was recently complaining about the stalemate in negotiations that “have paralyzed the Greek economy.” He was the first I called on today to take the pulse as sentiments are running high. He feels kind of relief because he sees some movement. “Tsipras had to options: either to withdraw or to capitulate. He chose the middle way, a referendum. At the every end, we, the citizens, share responsibility as well.”
Nikos tells me that he did not go to the ATM to withdraw money. He doesn’t have a lot of money anyway and he thinks withdrawing money under these circumstances is bad for the economy.
Also Costas is against the idea of going to the bank and withdraw money. “It’s the panic, people don’t know what will happen tomorrow, on Monday, next month. But it is ill what they do, they harm the country and the economy,” says the 50-year-old. Andreas is the owner of a very small business of disinfection and has been struggling with the economic crisis of the last five years. He saw his revenues dramatically shrinking, his clients debts to him growing and his own debts to the state and social security funds increasing. He would have shut down his business long ago, but “then what? I’ll go jobless without social security, without anything,” he says adding he is obliged to continue his own personal fight against recession. “It’s a matter of surviving in crisis, a challenge,” he adds and says that the idea for a referendum is “good. It is important that people directly decide on such crucial issues.” Costas is optimistic that there will be still a solution.
His partner Anna, 47, says she would have loved to go to the ATMs and withdraw money… “Only that I have just two euros on my bank acocunt, just to keep it open,” she adds laughing. Anna has been jobless for the last four years and is scared. “I’m afraid that with the referendum we could return to drachma, I’m very concerned” she says that “a return to drachma would create turmoil, no pensions and drugs for my parents, And then what?,” she wonders.
Web developer and IT-all-rounder Simos, 30, says that he agrees with the referendum. “Very clever idea to end the impasse. Let the people decide and put an end to this theater in Brussels.” The SYRIZA-voter laughs when I ask him if he went to withdraw money from the ATM today. “Money at the bank? Not me! The €600 net I get every month is just enough to cover my expenses of rent, utilities, food etc for three weeks.” The rest he needs to end the month comes from the parents and the granny’s pension.
“The referendum? Excellent idea,” says Elisavet, “What’s the worse that can happen? That I get poorer? I’m already poor,” stresses the 59-year-old. She was forced to go into early retirement after she lost her job as graphic designer 10 years ago and closed her small accessories shop in 2011 due to the economic crisis. For two years she lived on the ‘never to pay back loans” by her relatives, now she gets 400 euro per month, advance payment of her pension. “No, really, I don’t care what will happen. As a country we are officially bankrupt, austerity cannot continue like this, I may never get my regular pension. After five years of economic distress and media propaganda and blackmailing and threats and everything, I am literally fed up.”
Giorgos disagrees with the referendum saying that it will lead the country into troubles. “More insecurity, more instability, for sure. Look at the queues outside the banks. Is that what the government want?” The 40-year-old works at a big insurance company and says he did not go to withdraw money from ATM today, because “I went to the bank two days ago and picked up more than 5,000 euro. Just to be sure for a couple of days,” Giorgos says and adds “I have two small kids to feed and obligations to meet.”
“Referendum? You know what? I don’t trust any politician. Nobody. Ours [the Greeks] say this, the others [creditors] say that. I like that Tsipras goes abroad and tells them what he thinks, his opinion but what about us? Do they want us to go hungry and join the soup kitchens like the others?” Argyro seems to be against everybody: the government, the creditors, the austerity, the pension cuts. “I heard this morning on TV that people were standing outside the ATMS and told my daughter-in-law to go get 100 euro. But she had to wait for more than 20 minutes at the queue, so I called her and told her to leave.” Argyro is curious to see if her husbands’ pension will be on their bank account. “We’re supposed to be paid on June 30th,” she says. Argyro is 80 years old.