Greece under pressure: Maria McCarthy

Debt-stricken Greece is set to go to the polls again after parties failed to agree on a new government. Our panel of residents in the country explain how people are coping as the crisis in the eurozone grows.

16 May 2012

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy
  • Age: 46
  • Location: Volos
  • Profession: Mother, housewife, occasional teacher and oral examiner for the British Council

I am relieved that the two main parties of corruption and cronyism have not been able to form a government.

But disappointed that the left was unable to unite and form a radical left coalition.

What a ridiculous stance the communist party here hold, unwilling to form a coalition with the rest of the left.

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Raised taxes and cuts in income are a disaster”

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The austerity measures in Greece are catastrophic. There have been three suicides in my town over the last month.

One of the victims jumped off the 4th floor balcony of his block of flats just behind my daughter's nursery school.

He was only 25. It was a very distressing time with the suicides occurring in the build up to Easter which is the largest religious festival in Greece.

The desperation felt by so many Greeks has led to the rise of Neo Nazism with 22 MPs voted in from the Golden Dawn Fascist party.

Hopefully with the new elections, these people will not get any representation in the new parliament.

Alex Tsipras the head of the Syriza party forecast to get the largest vote is right to challenge the 'bailout plan'. Who exactly is being saved by this 'bailout'?

Elections have now been set for 17 June. I hope Syriza gets the majority and forms a government that refuses the troika 'bailout' deal. Raised taxes and cuts in income are a disaster.

I think the constant stream of images showing fierce clashes protesters and police gives the outside world a slightly distorted picture of what it really happening on the ground.

The media is too fixated on Athens-centre coverage. The capital has just over four million inhabitants. That population does not represent the concerns of the entire country.

I'm always surprised when relatives abroad ask me whether I still feel safe to remain here. I do and I assert this fact robustly. It is still safe to walk the streets unaccompanied. There are no mobs on the rampage.

Greece is a wonderful country and the quality of life in comparison to the UK is much better. My children can grow up in a country were issues such as social class do not dominate daily life.

08 May 2012

The leader of Greece's left-wing Syriza party is to try to form a government after parties backing an international bailout deal failed to assemble a coalition.

I didn't vote in the recent election, because as a non-Greek citizen I am not entitled to a vote.

Unfortunately, the way things are now, I have not been unable to buy my two young children beds, let alone Greek citizenship.

I need to buy Greek citizenship to vote at a cost of about 1,000 euros to gain that right.

My Greek husband wanted to vote for a very small party that he agreed with ideologically. I persuaded him to vote for a larger party that also represented his views and so in that way, I influenced the vote.

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I need to buy Greek citizenship to vote at a cost of 1,000 euros”

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I am pleased the two main parties made great losses in this election. They have sucked the country dry over the last thirty years with their corruption and cronyism.

I am very pleased that the left have gained so much - it feels like this is the referendum that George Papandreou suggested in November which sent the world markets into a jitter and cost him his job.

I've heard the left wing party Syriza attracted the younger voter. The austerity measures put into place to 'save' Greece are catastrophic. We have lost large chunks of our income making any large purchase, like beds for my daughters, impossible.

The taxes that have been imposed have closed down businesses everywhere. So many shops are empty now. Unemployment is so high and young people have no hope in finding work when they graduate.

I sincerely hope that Syriza form a government made up of socialists, communists and ecologists. Whether we get the euro or the drachma in, whether we get loans, or default and become bankrupt I believe the European recession will have an effect on all of us here in Greece.

I am hopeful that these elected politicians at last do the work that they are paid for, stand up to the bullies and pull this country up out of this downward spiral.

22 February 2012

As the second bail out for Greece is announced

No bailout for Greece has been issued. Banks and investment funds owned by European and American individuals and governments are being salvaged. None of this money will benefit Greece in any way. The Greek debt should be written off completely.

If the European Union intended to show unity with Greece, then this is the course of action that would be followed through. The way out of a recession is not through austerity; TROIKA policy is sinking Greece into an even bleaker recession. Businesses are closing down, shops are being vacated and professional people are leaving the country.

My personal situation has changed in that as a civil service family, we are 400 euros a month worse off than compared to February 2010. We are living frugally and just about managing to get by. But our savings have diminshed to almost nothing now. I am a highly experienced and qualified English teacher, ex-university English language lecturer and I have been unable to find work that would make a difference to our family's income.

It is Greek children that are having sacrifice imposed on them. Opposite my daughter's school a new soup kitchen is open and as I stand chatting at the school gates, parents arrive empty handed and leave with bags of food. For a population of 144,000, there are now 10 soup kitchens in our seaside city.

The crumbling of state provisions for its citizens is happening so quickly and so thoroughly, that I now fear for my children's future. Already, many children have been through this year's freezing winter in unheated school rooms. Children are turning up to school hungry and teachers are bringing food from home to feed them. We still have an income, a nice warm home and food on our table and I am very grateful for everything that we have.

Recently, we had a birthday party for my two daughters with lots of food and cakes. By UK standards it was a humble affair, we didn't rent a bouncy castle, but everyone was well fed and watered and children whooped happily around the house for two hours. I joked to our adult guests that next year they will get their invites to the party at our local soup kitchen. It wasn't much of a joke.

Greece should follow Iceland's example and take its fate in its own hands. The politicians of Greece are not handling the situation effectively. Greek citizens need to save their own country by intelligent organised united action and it needs to happen quickly.

11 November 2011

As new Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos sets out the priorities of his incoming coalition cabinet.

Lukas Papademos is probably the best-qualified person to oversee the next phase in the administration of bail-out funds.

But the best policy for Greece would be to default on the repayment of its loans, leave the euro and return to the drachma.

The sixth instalment of bail-out funds for the banks will not benefit Greece in any way and will plunge it into worse debt and poverty for a longer time than a return to the drachma would.

At least if Greece defaults on its loans and goes for broke, it will retain sovereignty over its own affairs. 

As it is now, the bailiffs have moved in and are running the country. And there is no political opposition left.

6 November 2011

Following crisis talks, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou agrees to step aside for a new coalition to lead the country.

I was very impressed after hearing George Papandreou's speech to Parliament on Friday.

I think he has a lot to offer to Greece and that it would be a shame to lose him from the government.

I was particularly impressed by his comment that the world is not just about the markets, it is about the peoples of the world.

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George Papandreou has always seemed sincere to me and always genuinely concerned for the state of the country and the well-being of his fellow Greeks”

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It was a great relief to hear a politician talking like that, when all we seem to be hearing about are markets falling and markets rising.

I cannot imagine that Antonis Samaras will be elected as PM. That would indeed be a terrible tragedy.

Greece has needed a coalition government for the last few months, and Mr Samaras's opposition to the government has seemed like a terrible waste of human resource.

The battering Greece has taken over the last 18 months was not helped by Mr Samaras's behaviour, which seemed to be a political game which lacked any sincerity or real concern for the state of the country.

Mr Samaras seemed focused only on his own political career.

George Papandreou has always seemed sincere to me and always genuinely concerned for the state of the country and the well-being of his fellow Greeks.

What I find frightening now is that this coalition government is to exist to issue through the sixth installment, be dismantled in order for a new government to be voted in and to be headed by the vice-president of the European Central Bank Lukas Papademos.

The thought of Greece being run by a banker arranging the selling-off of Greece's assets to vulture funds is a chilling thought indeed.

It reminds me very much of Britain in the 80s. You cannot run a country as if it were a business.

1 November 2011

Six leading members of Greece's governing Pasok party call on Prime Minister George Papandreou to resign after he announces a Greek referendum on the latest aid package aimed at solving its debt crisis.

Prime Minister George Papandreou's shock announcement of the referendum came after Friday's disrupted annual patriotic remembrances of the World War II - where many Greeks, including school children, showed their disdain for the political system and their rage against the state.

It is interesting that the prime minister acted like this after Friday's events and yet he carried on regardless when there were about one in 10 of the population - a million citizens marching up and down the streets of all the cities in Greece two weeks' ago during a 48 hour strike.

Greek finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, was taken to hospital suffering from stomach pains soon after hearing that the PM had acted without consulting him.

Mr Venizelos is a very large man and it was unfortunate that the shock hit him in the stomach. There is a running joke in Greece about the fat members of the parliament. This is because last year, 20 stone Mr Pangalos, the prime minister's left hand man - vice president of the government stated that "we all ate the money".

Now I have just heard that several members of the PASOK government have resigned from their posts, leaving the government with almost no majority, meaning Greece goes to the polls or Greece has a coalition government? We are all on the edge of our seats.

30 October 2011

Reacting to a bailout agreed by EU leaders and French President Nicolas Sarkozy's comments that the Euro for Greece 'was a mistake'

This meeting was not about protecting Greece but rather about protecting the banks that are set to lose trillions of Euros if eurozone countries default on their debts. Shame on the banks for squandering investors' money.

Pension funds are wrapped up in this terrible mess. Are people who have worked all their lives set to lose their pensions?

I do not like Sarkozy's comment about dealing with the Greek crisis. This situation is not a Greek crisis but a crisis of the Western banking system which because of malpractice and dodgy lending is set to plunge the Western world into the Great Depression of the 21st century.

The use of the word contagion I find very misleading. It gives the impression of a diseased country.

In reality, it is not Greece that will bring about the collapse of the European currency or union as it is too small a country and its debt is tiny in comparison to Spain and Italy and their hefty trillion euro debts.

Greeks are blaming the Greek ruling classes and the political system for what is happening and a civil resistance movement is gathering strength and visibility as the annual 28 October Greek National Remembrance Day was stopped mid-way in Thessaloniki. It is a family day out where children and the armed forces march in formation to remember the Greek resistance to the Fascists.

The police threatened to use tear gas to disperse the angry people, but the president of the democracy who was the guest of honour chose to leave instead. What is usually a happy family day, a bank holiday, where children sing patriotic songs at school and perform plays to remember Greek bravery in the Second World War became a day of angry clashes and pupil disobedience.

In one town, pupils turned their backs on the dignitaries as they passed the dignitary stand. In another town, they turned their heads and looked away and in another the children wore black arm bands over their white shirts.

In another town, we saw a woman shouting to one of the politicians who was sat on the raised platform: "How am I going to feed my children on 800€ a month?" That stands out for me because my five-year-old daughter asked me what she was shouting.

I have been trying to protect my children from what is happening and giving my five year old child-sized answers. I trivialized her question by giving a jokey response, but I felt that was an insult to her and told her that the mummy didn't have enough money for her children. Then my daughter went through a list of all the things the mother needed to buy for her children and I was relieved that my little girl had processed as much information as she could take.

From 1 November our income is to be reduced to 1,000€ we think, though no-one has informed us about anything. We are waiting to see.

I have said to my husband that we need to sit down together and do some serious budgeting to see how we can get by on this amount of money. Our talks about emigrating to England are getting more frequent now as we think about what future we are offering to our young children if we stay here.

19 October 2011

The Greek parliament gave initial approval to new austerity measures, as clashes broke out between protesters and police in Athens. A 48-hour general strike paralysed the country and a march by tens of thousands of people outside the parliament turned violent.

"12,000 people in our seaside town of 100,000 took to the streets today. The demonstrations went on for four hours. One finished and a new one started. The local news says it is the biggest demonstration in the history of the town.

"My husband and I were with them. We left our children with their uncle because we were worried about any violent outbursts. It turned out to be a peaceful demonstration with lots of families with children and toddlers and babies in pushchairs. Tomorrow we will take our children with us on their second demonstration this autumn.

"TV journalists are encouraging the public not to be put off by the violent episodes in today's Athens demonstration. They are saying that these incidents are set ups by the government to discourage people from joining the second day of demonstrations tomorrow.

"There was no question about me not attending these demonstrations. I cannot stay at home and watch a televised version of events when I can be involved. I want to see others demonstrating and others to see me and feel a sense of unity and solidarity as we are all in the same boat. A very tiny, very rich minority is gaining from the misery created by the Troika policies. Most of us are not.

"The austerity experiment is failing most miserably and most tragically. Everybody is very open about it and it's a subject you discuss with the stranger behind you in the queue at the checkout or with another mother at the park with the children on the swings.

"I am very interested to see how things will go in Athens tomorrow and if the protesters will manage to change the course of parliament."

13 October 2011

Following news that political rivals in Slovakia agreed to support a crucial bill ratifying changes to the EU bailout fund in exchange for early elections. The bill was rejected only days before in a first vote, after a coalition party and the main opposition abstained.

Slovakia is half the size of Greece and I imagine the value of the euro is much higher there than it is in Germany for example.

I admired Slovakia's decision to vote no. For me this was an honest response to a crooked situation.

Why should they bail out the banks and the businesses which gave dodgy loans to Greece? And Ireland. And Portugal. And Spain. And Italy.

However, the vote was then turned around to support the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), which reflected more the internal power struggles of the Slovakian parliament than their stance on 'saving' Greece.

The leader has been forced to resign and early elections are to be held. This reminds me of the situation here in Greece. Despite the fact, that we are in the eye of the storm of the European economic crisis, the opposition party here still manage to taunt the government with inane comments. It's a tragic black comedy and a terrible waste of resource.

As far as I am concerned, whether Greece gets its next 'bail-out' loan or not, this country is now facing years of high unemployment and for the employed - low income.

Since the most recent austerity measures were put into place my husband has lost one third of his income from the civil service compared to January 2010. He is a graduate accountant. I am a graduate teacher and my work is starting to pick up a little now that people have some idea of what their income is going to be for the next few months.

The bail-out loan is irrelevant for Greece. The best solution is writing off the debts. Let the banks pay for their bad banking practice. Why should poor people in Slovakia bail out the dodgy banks?

3 October 2011

After stock markets fell following news that Greece is likely to miss targets to cut its deficit.

It is not surprising that the austerity measures are not working and that Greece is falling deeper into recession.

This is not a Greek crisis but a crisis of the Western economic system. I hear India is booming. China is certainly not in recession.

Likewise these bailout tranches we keep hearing about are, in truth, bailout tranches for the lenders to Greece, not for Greece.

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People are being very careful with their money”

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From the start of this crisis, I have read that it is inevitable that Greece will default on its debts.

I now hear we will default next month.

We live on my husband's civil service salary which, up until last year, was a very good salary and allowed us to live a comfortable life.

He is an accountant and although we were not rich, we managed to pay all our bills.

Since last year we have lost 4,500 euros from our annual income. I don't know if I will be able to afford to visit the UK next summer to see my family.

It also means that our savings are not growing at the rate they were. Like us, many families are not making any major purchases.

I am also trying to find more English lessons to give, but there is very little private lesson work this year.

People are being very careful with their money.

As a British person, I have the option of returning back to the UK with my family but there we would have to start again.

This is something neither of us wants to do, but of course it is something that we have been discussing now for about a month since my husband's job in the civil service has been under threat.

As I have said before, I will do what is best for me and my family. One thing is for sure, the crisis will pass.

1 October 2011

After the German bailout vote

I have no strong reaction to this vote. None of us will see the money.

It is better to have voted on an agreement to write off billions of euros debt rather than indebt Greece for more billions.

I feel that whatever happens in Greece I will do the best I can for my family and myself. If this means staying in Greece on a lower income then that is what we will do as my husband and I both agree that our town - Volos - is a great place for our children to grow up in.

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I am not confident in the present leaders of the larger European countries, nor do I have confidence in the Greek government”

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You can live on less in Volos with a young family because of the good climate and the fact that we are close to so many beautiful places.

Different grass roots organisations are springing up. I have become a member of a network where you exchange goods and services paying for them with your work or produce rather than money.

This way, if we are on a lower wage, then I will still be able to afford possible music lessons for my children and private health services for myself.

We would only leave the country and return to the UK if my husband lost his job with the civil service and we had absolutely no income and no hope of finding work.

I am not confident in the present leaders of the larger European countries, nor do I have confidence in the Greek government.

But expecting Greece to pay off its debt is unrealistic. The figure is too large. Greece cannot get this amount of money. Large parts of Greek society do not pay any taxes.

The Church is the largest property owner in Greece and yet it is exempt from the new property tax. Yet poor people on an income of 100 euros a week are being expected to pay taxes. Things are not being done properly.

Everything is very uncertain at the moment. We are waiting to see what is going to happen.

29 September 2011

Before the German bailout vote

"I think bailout is the wrong word for this. There is no salvation for Greece in being burdened by more debt. The debt needs to be written off."

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