Monday, July 13, 2015

Dread And Despair Among Greeks As They Wait To Learn Their Fate

JULY 12, 2015 7:48 AM ET

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From the capital to the countryside, there is pervasive fear in Greece as European leaders in Brussels debate the country's economic fate.


This weekend, the Greek government is in Brussels, negotiating with European Union creditors on its latest plan to reform the country's economy. All eight EU leaders will weigh in on the Greek proposal today. They'll decide whether it's enough to enable Greece to stay in the eurozone and receive a third desperately needed cash bailout. NPR reporters Joanna Kakissis and Eleanor Beardsley are in Greece, where people are nervously watching while their country's fate is decided.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: I'm Joanna Kakissis in Kiato, a small town of merchants, farmers and innkeepers in southern Greece. It's here, at a neighborhood cafe, that I meet Katerina Angelopoulou, a civil servant in the local tax office. In the last five years, Angelopoulou says she's often burst into tears as she watches friends and neighbors come in and beg for guidance because they lost their jobs and don't have enough money to pay their taxes.

KATERINA ANGELOPOULOU: (Through interpreter) When your income goes down and your taxes go up, you can't make it. When two thirds of it will go to taxes, that's a problem because you have other bills to pay.

KAKISSIS: The new Greek plan calls for higher taxes, pension cuts and more harsh austerity measures in exchange for more loans. But now, it looks like European Union leaders don't think the plan is good enough and may just want to pull the plug on Greece altogether. That scares Angelopoulou.

ANGELOPOULOU: (Through interpreter) People feel so insecure now. More than 80 percent of us Greeks - we want to stay in the European Union and keep the euro as our currency. So right now, we just feel depressed - so depressed. I feel depressed.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Athens, the country's bustling capital. Taxi driver Sakis Evgeniou says he understands why Europe needs to be tough on Greece because if it gives in to the left-wing ruling party here, that will encourage other far-left movements Podemos in Spain.

SAKIS EVGENIOU: And after Spain is the elections in Portugal. And the Portuguese, they will ask the same. And don't forget that the third biggest economy of Europe, Italy, has similar problem. And the North Europeans, they don't want to give in. They play hard.

BEARDSLEY: Evgeniou says his own life is getting harder with fewer customers and higher taxes.

KAKISSIS: It's the same story back in Kiato, which is 65 miles west of Athens. As people walk on the beach on their day off from work, they say their lives feel so up in the air. Emily Tavoulareas, a Greek-American digital strategist, has spent every summer here since she was a kid. She's planning her big Greek wedding next weekend in a Byzantine village at the tip of southern Greece. She worries that with bank closures and credit problems, suppliers transporting food inside the country will struggle to pay for gas and cut down on deliveries. She spoke to the owners of a local tavern about a contingency plan.

EMILY TAVOULAREAS: And when I was asking them, you know, how does your food get here, where are your ingredients from, they pointed to the garden behind the restaurant, and they were like, everything's from here - everything from the goats to the cheese to the tomatoes. So, you know, it was in that moment I was like, oh, well, if things really fall apart, then we can just bring everything from here.

KAKISSIS: But Tavoulareas says she's much more worried about how this crisis will affect her family and friends here. She watches some neighbors, a group of retired men, sitting on plastic chairs near the beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: The men spend every afternoon here arguing about how this crisis happened, who's to blame.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Greek).

KAKISSIS: Sometimes one of them breaks the tension by singing bluesy old folk songs like this one, which tells a story of freedom and slavery.


KAKISSIS: "We always talk about what went wrong," says retired bus driver Vassilis Kouboulas, shaking his head. "We should be asking ourselves what's going to happen tomorrow. Will we face tomorrow alone," he says, "or together with Europe?" For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Kiato, Greece.

BEARDSLEY: And this is Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Athens.

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