Athens… the winter of discontent

The first chill of winter is beginning to descend on Athens, it threatens to be a long hard one for the Greeks, Harvey Mann speaks to the locals during a visit to troubled Mediterranean country.

I HAVE made many visits to Athens over the years, I was there for the Olympics in 2004.

At the time the police chief in charge of the security, boasted to me of the billions of Euros being spent by Greece on the Olympics.

A year later, back in Athens, I saw many of the venues used in the Olympics were decaying, boarded up and redundant, graffiti sprayed, with weeds growing through the cracks in the concrete making it the most expensive rockery in the world.

Today the streets around the parliament are still scarred with signs of the violent battles between protesters and police.

Soldiers with riot shields still patrol, blood had been shed by both sides and more battles could come.

As we arrived in Piraeus Prime Minister George Papandreou had resigned. Tall and elegant he was a statesman and could dish the dirt with the rest of the jugglers that make up the shambles of a Eurozone leadership.

Papandreou had been offered a reduction in the money that they owe to the IMF. Then he wavered telling the shocked G20 leaders that he would have to offer Greece a referendum. Now Lucas Papademos is Prime Minister. What sort of magician will he turn out to be?

In the famous Plaka area in the heart of Athens I find out for myself how the Greeks feel about a new government and what future if any,Greece has.

Stavios aged 50 is a waiter in the Plaka area, his eyes are blazing in anger, ” the whole of Greece is angry,” he says.

“Why didn’t our government and the EU commissioners not see that our economy was too weak to join the Euro?

“Some Greeks can retire in their early 50s with a full pension, this is a madness that has led us to this disaster.”

Meanwhile, Ellen aged 22, manager of a boutique near the Plaka said “the whole of summer has been dead. What tourist would want to come to Athens while people are fighting with the police, throwing petrol bombs and pieces of concrete?

“My friends have no money some live on €400 a month, they can only shop in the markets for food that is almost rotten and buy second hand clothes, the winter will be long and cold”.

Nineteen-year-old Matta studied Spanish philosophy at the university of Athens is now working in a gift shop.

“My friends are leaving Greece to go to America, or anywhere, just to get away from Greece the future is not looking good, many of young people have no work, I think Greece should return to the Drachma it will help the economy, with the Drachma we would have a better exchange rate”.

“what will I do in the future, I don’t know I wish it was that easy.”

Georg aged 30, owns the jewellery shop Geo in the Plaka, “We must stay with the Euro. Our problem is that we don’t have anything to export, olive oil, olives? that’s about it, it’s a mess whatever government will rule us.

“Many Greeks don’t pay their taxes. When an elderly member of a family dies the family register the death, then pay the official not to send the death notification to the pensions department, so the family can continue to receive the pension illegally; this is Greece!”

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