While European leaders and pundits debate Greece’s fate in or out of the single currency, a sombre mood blankets the debt-strapped country as it continues to be pounded by its unprecedented financial woes.
The harsh austerity measures that are being implemented in exchange for international loans are driving more and more ordinary Greeks towards the edge of depression and suicide.
Yesterday, a 60-year old unemployed musician thrust his 90-year old mother off their rooftop in central Athens before jumping to his death himself, witness said. A neighbour told Greek television that the pair had financial problems and were living off the mother’s pension.
While the exact reasons for the deaths have yet to be determined, domestic news bulletins and analysts are worrying that this sad tale could be an example of the kind of hardship being felt by ordinary Greeks that could worsen further if the country leaves the euro.
Diamantis Dalabiras, 29, who works for an international telecommunications firm, said leaving the currency would be catastrophic. “The country would be like an orphan without a home,” he said. A return to a national currency would make life for Greeks even harder in a country reliant on imports.
“Our economy and life will become much worse,” he said. “We won’t be able to buy anything… I’m also worried my company will decide to relocate.”
Kiriakos Lolos is trying to grasp the effects a return to the drachma would have on his family company that imports furniture from Italy, China and Russia. “I am very scared as I don’t know what will come next, whether we’ll have money or not, whether they’ll be chaos or not,” he said.
The financial crisis and heavy taxation have all but wiped out the family business that was set up by his father in 1960. These days, Mr Lolos pays his employees and monthly taxes of €8,000 (£6,400) by using up his savings. He worries his company will not be able to make it to the end of the year. “As an importer, I’m better with the euro but these days people can’t afford to buy anything, so I really don’t know what’s best for us,” he said.
Some economists argue a devalued drachma could attract tourists and boost an industry that employs one in five Greeks. But according to the Association of Tourism Enterprises, a departure from the euro “can only be negative”. George Drakopoulos, the director general of the association, said that a cheap currency won’t necessarily make the Mediterranean country a low-cost tourist destination. “We will have hyperinflation and things will not become cheaper because we import most things and most businesses have loans which they’ll have to cover,” he said. Tourists have become increasingly weary to visit a country rocked by economic, social and political turmoil.
With the country mired in a deep recession and unemployment at historic highs, the finance ministry warned it could not collect taxes as Greeks struggle to pay. “These people will only be able to stand again if there’s growth and employment,” Nikos Lekkas, head of planning and controls for Greece’s internal revenue service, said. “There will be a social explosion if we go on like this.”
Chrysa Evaggelou, an accountant, said most of her clients could not pay their taxes. An unemployed builder she advises, for instance, is asked to pay €17,000 – money he does not have – because of property he owns. “Clients leave my office either swearing, with a headache or with depression,” she said.
Nathalie Savaricas, The Independent