Greece holds its breath

Fear and uncertainty around failing economy reach a crescendo as election approaches.


    All around me are the signs of a society under stress.

    When I pick up a Greek newspaper I read about a man who shot dead a robber who broke into his house in a suburb of Athens.

    Two hundred local residents gathered the next day at a nearby courthouse to support him, chanting "Innocent!"

    On the radio, I hear about suicides - "an average of three per day," says the report. And then there are the brutal, premeditated attacks on immigrants by racist gangs. There have been several of those in recent days.

    Earlier this week a group of 10 men, armed with baseball bats, forced their way into a house and savagely beat four Egyptians who had been asleep inside.

    What's happening to Greece?

    A foreign journalist tells me that she finds people often break into tears halfway through her interviews.

    The following morning, I interview a young woman, Eleni, who is desperate for work, and has sadly accepted the fact that she must leave the country of her birth if she is to fulfil her ambitions, and not let her life pass her by.

    Eleni regrets getting into debt in 2007, when it appeared that her gym business was expanding.

    "I worked hard, things were going well, so I took out another loan to open new premises. Then, suddenly, everything slowed down," she says.

    Her living room is clogged, incongruously, with expensive running and fitness machines that cost her thousands of euros, and which she cannot sell. Now tears well up in Eleni's eyes.

    I meet an old friend, with relatives in Germany, who tells me that his family has helped colleagues move many thousands of euros into new bank accounts in Munich. The reason?

    Greeks have realised that a euro in a Greek bank account is no longer as valuable as a euro in a German bank account.

    That's because if Greece is forced out of the currency zone, or if a Greek bank collapses, customers may find they can't access their assets, or that its value would drop dramatically.

    'Future at stake'

    There are occasional winners amid the frightening economic decline.

    On the second floor of an anonymous building on a grimy street in central Athens, I meet an intelligent, friendly man who runs a German language school.

    His classes are filling up, with professional, serious-minded Greeks who have decided to emigrate, and who have heard that there are jobs in Germany.

    "The people who come here have to learn quickly, they can't waste time because their future is at stake," he explains.

    "In the old days, our clients were students going abroad to study. That's changed, because Greek students can no longer afford to travel. Now we have doctors and engineers, and they have decided to leave the country permanently."

    The fear and uncertainty reaches a crescendo as the election approaches.

    Nobody knows how Greece will vote, and nobody can predict the exact consequences of the decision.

    Nick Malkoutzis, writing in the Guardian, the British newspaper, describes it as an agonising choice between the corrupt and failed parties who got Greece into this mess, and radical alternatives that could lead the country to disaster. 

    Paul Mason, on his BBC blog, writes about the potential impact.

    On Sunday night, leaders from across the world will be waiting to hear the results from Athens. The future of the euro could be decided here.

    US President Barack Obama's prospects of re-election could also be damaged.

    For Greeks themselves, there are few consolations. Whatever the outcome, they face years of hardship, and will have to learn to live under strains and pressures that nobody could have imagined just three years ago.

    Follow Barnaby Phillips on Twitter: @barnabyphillips



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