Athens, Greece – While many Greeks display rock-star idolation for their left-wing government as it squares off with Europe, Thanos Balasopoulos isn’t one of them.
The 26-year-old London School of Economics graduate passionately expressed his opposition to the way the newly elected Syriza government is handling debt negotiations among Greece and the country’s lenders since it came to power last month.
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“I disagree with Syriza completely and not emotionally. There is a humanitarian crisis, wages are too low, pensions are too low, unemployment, poverty… But when you negotiate, you do it with numbers, not emotions,” he told Al Jazeera.
Balasopoulos has reasons to be angry.
The people agree with Syriza, because the people are going hungry. We're living off the pension of my mother, who is now 90. There can't be anything worse, we've got nothing left to take from us.
“I was working on some projects where investment came mainly from abroad, but they all froze because of the elections and uncertainty,” he said. “I don‘t think anyone watching from abroad will keep investing his money under these conditions.”
‘Breath of Dignity’
But on Wednesday, as thousands took to the streets in Greece and abroad in solidarity with Syriza under the banner “A Breath of Dignity”, Balasopoulos stood with the minority of voters who do not have faith in 40-year-old Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his team in their effort to reduce the country’s debt burden and end austerity in Greece.
The country’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis were in Brussels, attempting – some say in vain – to broker a deal that would allow them to do just that.
Recent polls show of Greek voters think Syriza is doing the right thing.
What’s even more impressive is that this appears to be cross-party support, with about 43 percent of New Democracy voters also backing the new government.
More than 10,000 people gathered outside the Greek parliament and on Syntagma square on Wednesday to show support. It was labelled by some as “the “, the 2011 anti-austerity movement that gave rise to Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain.
Standing in front of parliament guards on a freezing cold winter night, Yiannis Yiatravanis, a 62-year-old engineer, was adamant the government is following the right path.
“The people agree with Syriza, because the people are going hungry. We‘re living off the pension of my mother, who is now 90. There can‘t be anything worse. We’ve got nothing left to take from us.”
His words repeat a trope made familiar during the five-year-old debt crisis and austerity measures that resulted in the gutting of the Greek welfare system.
Worst of the crisis
There were others in the crowd on whom austerity has taken a much heavier toll than long-term unemployment. Vasiliki K was forced to leave work two years before her pension came into effect.
She stood in front of the Unknown Soldier monument that decorates the entrance of parliament. “I’m 67 and I’ve seen a lot of political upheaval – nothing like this though,” she said, asking that her surname not be used.
Vasiliki’s story brings up the worst of the Greek crisis – the thousands of suicides brought on by hopelessness.
“I lost my son three months ago,” she told Al Jazeera. “He was unemployed for five years.”
Standing on the side of the road, among a group of friends sipping raki, Yiorgos St, 59, a retired telecommunications technician, gives his reasons for braving the bitter cold.
“A brake had to be put on everything we were going through at some point. It’s not about ideology. It’s about dignity, freedom, democracy… The people we elected are trying to do exactly that every day,” he said, noting this is the first government to actually negotiate, a sentiment echoed by many in the crowd.
Yiorgos confessed he wasn’t always a Syriza voter.
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He used to vote for the Communist Party, while most of his friends jumped in to say they used to vote for socialist PASOK “that unfortunately betrayed us”.
They all agree that what made them switch was “they were lying in our faces – and the indignity”.
Images of solidarity from all over Europe came through and people in the crowd proudly displayed them on their phones for those standing around them.
The cold became almost unbearable. Some people were determined to wait until the Eurogroup session, which might determine the future of their country, was over. But most headed home before any announcements.
One hour after midnight it was clear the negotiations hadn’t brought any results, and would continue the following Monday.
More demonstrations will certainly be held between now and then. As pressure from Europe increases, so may the supporting crowds.