As Government Hunts For A Solution, Greeks Anticipate Catastrophe

As Government Hunts For A Solution, Greeks Anticipate Catastrophe

1:59pm Jul 09, 2015
People read the front pages of various newspapers hanging at a kiosk Tuesday in central Athens. European leaders have set a Sunday deadline for Greece to reach a deal on debt repayment and austerity measures.
People read the front pages of various newspapers hanging at a kiosk Tuesday in central Athens. European leaders have set a Sunday deadline for Greece to reach a deal on debt repayment and austerity measures.
Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters /Landov

European leaders have given the Greek government an ultimatum: Sign up for tough reforms by the end of this week or leave the eurozone. Banks have been closed for more than a week, and now there's a real possibility they could fail — and that Greek depositors could lose everything.

Giorgos Pathiakakis, who founded his sports academy in a middle-class Athens neighborhood 15 years ago, says the bank closures have stalled his business.

"We don't use cash cards in my business, and we don't use electronic banking," says the 40-year-old father of three. "We used to send a fax to the bank, and then the bank would pay our suppliers, our contractors, our employees. But for the last 10 days, we haven't been able to do anything."

Like many Greeks, he's withdrawing the daily limit from his bank — 60 euros, about $66 — to pay for bills and groceries.

Pathiakakis never thought Greece would get to this point, and he blames both the Greek government and eurozone leaders for leaving Greeks in the lurch.

"They were playing tug-of-war, with each side pulling as hard as it could, without giving each other even a little bit of space to figure things out," he says. "It's clear that neither side was thinking of us, thinking of the havoc this would wreak on society."

Pathiakakis voted no in last Sunday's referendum, but says it was in no way a vote against the euro — just a plea for less austerity. Taxes imposed by eurozone lenders for this year would claim nearly all the money in his safe deposit box at the bank.

He's terrified he's going to lose everything, no matter what comes next.

"Any new bailout agreement is going to probably going to destroy my business, forcing it to close in two years, maximum," Pathiakakis says. "But the other option, the drachma, it's an unknown. I have no idea what will happen. But I sense it would be terrible for Greece to leave the eurozone. I want to stay."

At a cafe a few blocks away, everyone is talking about what's going to happen next: Will Greece go bankrupt? Revert to the drachma, the currency the country used before adopting the euro in 2001? Will the government pull a rabbit out of its hat at the last minute?

Evangelia Kalogeropoulos, a retired accountant, is sour on the euro. She says she voted no in Sunday's referendum because she feels like European leaders have used austerity to impoverish everyone she knows.

"They've destroyed our dignity," she says. "I told myself that I'm going to vote no, knowing full well that the next day I may die — but I'm going to die with my head held high."

Kalogeropoulos is struggling. Her bank account is empty after she paid her monthly bills, and her pension, about a thousand dollars, won't be deposited until the end of the month — assuming the government even has the money for it.

"I'm on my own, so I could make it on this pension if I didn't have bills to pay, but I owe so much to banks right now" — about $60,000, she says, mostly from the mortgage on her house and some credit card debt.

What's going to happen, she wonders, if her pension fails to come through: "Am I going to be forced to ask for money from friends who have money? Will I keep borrowing forever?"

It's possible that soon, there won't be any cash left to borrow. Some analysts predict that Greece's banks could run out of money as early as next week.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

European leaders have given the Greek government an ultimatum - sign up for tough reforms by Sunday or leave the eurozone. Lacking cash, Greek banks have been closed for more than a week. And there's a very real possibility those banks could fail, with Greek depositors losing everything. From Athens, Joanna Kakissis reports.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Two boys are kicking a soccer ball in a fenced-in field at the sports academy Giorgos Pathiakakis built from scratch 15 years ago.

GIORGOS PATHIAKAKIS: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Pathiakakis is 40, a stocky father of three. His academy is in a sleepy, middle-class neighborhood. He leads me into his office. He's friendly, but clearly tense. The bank closures have stalled his business.

PATHIAKAKIS: (Through interpreter) We don't use cash cards in my business, and we don't use electronic banking. We used to send a fax to the bank and then the bank would pay our suppliers, our contractors, our employees. But for the last 10 days, we haven't been able to do anything.

KAKISSIS: Pathiakakis's never thought Greece would get to this point. Like many Greeks, he's withdrawing the daily limit from his bank account - 60 euros, about $66 - to pay for bills and groceries. He blames both the Greek government and eurozone leaders for leaving Greeks in the lurch.

PATHIAKAKIS: (Through interpreter) They are playing tug-of-war, with each side pulling as hard as it could without giving each other even a little bit of space to figure things out. It's clear that neither side was thinking of us, thinking of the havoc that this would wreak on society.

KAKISSIS: Pathiakakis voted no in a last Sunday's referendum. But he says it was in no way a no to the euro. It was a plea for less austerity. Nearly all of the money that's in his safe deposit box at the bank is supposed to go to taxes this year, most of them imposed by eurozone lenders.

PATHIAKAKIS: (Through interpreter) Any new bailout agreement is probably going to destroy my business, forcing it to close in two years maximum. But the other option, the drachma, it's an unknown. I have no idea what will happen, but I sense it would be terrible for Greece to leave the eurozone. I want to stay.

KAKISSIS: Pathiakakis says he's now terrified he's going to lose everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: At a traditional cafe a few blocks away, everyone is talking about what's going to happen next. Is this the end? Will we go bankrupt? Will we revert to the drachma, the currency before the euro? Will the government pull a rabbit out of its hat at the last minute and save us? Evangelia Kalogeropoulou, a retired accountant, is sour on the euro. She says she voted no in Sunday's referendum because she feels like European leaders have used austerity to impoverish everyone she knows.

EVANGELIA KALOGEROPOULOU: (Through interpreter) They've destroyed our dignity. I told myself that I'm going to vote no, knowing full well that the next day I might die, but I'm going to die with my head held high.

KAKISSIS: Kalogeropoulou is struggling. Her bank account is empty after she paid her monthly bills. Her pension, about a thousand dollars, won't be deposited until the end of the month. She's not even sure the government has the money to pay it.

KALOGEROPOULOU: (Through interpreter) I'm on my own, so I could make it on this pension if I didn't have bills to pay, but I owe so much to the banks right now.

KAKISSIS: She owes about $60,000, most of it is the mortgage for her house, though some of it is credit card debt.

KALOGEROPOULOU: (Through interpreter) So what's going to happen then? Am I going to be forced to ask for money from friends who have money? Will I keep borrowing forever?

KAKISSIS: She says it's possible no one will have cash. Some analysts predict that banks could run out of money as early as next week. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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