How the bailout is viewed in Athens

Meat market in Athens Life is carrying on in Athens despite the economic crisis

Pick your way through the smart coffee houses of central Athens and you'd almost forget that Greece is suffering its worst economic crisis since the Second World War.

Drinks are flowing, tables are full - life carries on here.

"We've been around for thousands of years," engineering graduate Costas tells me, sipping on his strong cappuccino. "We'll get through this."

Greece is a resilient nation, well-versed in surmounting obstacles through its history. But that resilience is being sorely tested now.

For Greeks have been living with punishing austerity for much of the past two years: unemployment has reached record heights at over 21%, and the economy contracted by 7% in the last quarter of 2011.

And now, with the bailout deal approved in Brussels, the cuts are set to get deeper still.

It has been a fraught few weeks in the run-up to the eurozone meeting.

Start Quote

These cuts are not helping to kick-start the Greek economy and they are a great burden for the average citizen - but this is the lesser of two evils”

End Quote Evangelos Antonaros New Democracy MP

Athens saw the worst rioting in years as parliament passed the latest austerity package; there were furious words exchanged between Greece and other eurozone governments, mistrustful of this country's commitment to reform; endless deadlines came and went as Greece teetered towards bankruptcy.

Finally, the country was pulled back from the brink and the bailout will soon start to flow.

There is palpable relief within the government, but the national press is reserving judgement.

"We have a heavy price to pay for being given another chance," writes the left-leaning Ethnos daily, talking of a "great burden" now on the country's shoulders.

"But this bailout is not enough - we must have a policy to promote growth too."

"It's not easy for the Greeks to accept such a steep decline in their quality of living," says a commentary in the centre-right paper Kathimerini. "We are approaching a major split in society that could lead to civil conflict."

Tasos Stavropoulos Tasos Stavropoulos lost his job last year and is now homeless

The government is acutely aware that support for the bailout and the austerity measures is costing it dearly in the opinion polls.

Evangelos Antonaros, a coalition MP with the New Democracy party, tells me he has real doubts about whether the measures demanded by the bailout can work, but the alternative would be worse still.

"These cuts are not helping to kick-start the Greek economy and they are a great burden for the average citizen", he says. "But this is the lesser of two evils.

"If we had gone bankrupt, Greeks would have lost everything. Now they have lost a lot. That's a huge difference."

But it's a hard argument to sell to the victims of this crisis, who already feel they have lost all they had.

Tasos Stavropoulos was fired from his job as a waiter last September - when his restaurant closed - and then evicted from his home when he could no longer afford the rent.

Since then, he's been living between the streets and a cramped hotel room that he shares in central Athens.

"The government will just take this new money and put it in their pockets", he tells me. "It won't go to those who need it.

"Things are going to get worse here - it will take ten years for this country to rise up again."

On the streets of the capital, opinions are split. Agelos Sotirchos works his way through the city's meat market, stopping to buy what he can afford.

Vasilis Bouzianis Vasilis Bouzianis says it would be worse for Greece to go bankrupt

"The measures are just going to make us sink further into recession," he says. "We'll be worse off this year than last."

"I think it is the only solution at the point we have reached in Greece", says Vasilis Bouzianis, another customer. "It's up to us to make things better in the future.

"There are a lot of difficulties for all the people; we lose more money, we pay more taxes, but if we went ahead with bankruptcy, the problem would be much bigger."

Greeks are growing ever more doubtful that the path ahead will lead them out of this crisis.

Their country is on course to suffer the worst recession in modern European history.

The waiting game of the past few weeks may have come to an end and Greece may have earned some valuable breathing space.

But many feel that this is simply kicking the can down the road - that Greece will be unable to reduce its debt to a sustainable level and that this country is still on a slow march towards an inevitable default.

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