How Greeks have stopped dreaming of the future

Greek PM aims for coalition government
Central Athens on the evening of November 4, 2011, as Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou faced a vote of confidence over the euro crisis.

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Story highlights

  • People were out and about in Athens in great numbers, exercising spending power
  • The night before, their prime minister scraped by in a confidence vote in parliament
  • "We need to show the Europeans that we support the euro," says a fisherman
  • "I wouldn't mind going into bankruptcy; the country's lost anyway," says a taxi driver
If the rest of Europe is appalled by the high-stakes political poker played by Greece's politicians, your average Greek can't countenance it any longer.
It is Saturday, the morning after the prime minister's confidence vote scraped through the parliament. A small group of thirtysomething Greek professionals sit in a cafe and talk about everything other than the nation's fiscal and political crisis.
"Each day we discuss what happened the night before. We can't take it anymore, it's enough," says Sophia Tsekoura, 34, an independent consultant. "It needs the opposition parties to cooperate, it would help if they were all on the same side in the same country."
But this is a moment in Greek history where you have to make a concerted effort to forget -- and everyone has a view if a journalist enquires.
"All of us are very disappointed, not about the result of the vote but about the way it was handled," says Tsekoura's friend Anna Virvidaki, 31, who works in a training vocational center. "Unfortunately, the alternatives aren't great, either, so I'm not sure Papandreou going is the right thing. I don't know what the solution will be. It's the Greek mentality which is difficult to change."
Generational divide in Greece
Generational divide in Greece

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U.S. student in Greece during protests
U.S. student in Greece during protests

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Italian youth discuss future of the euro
Italian youth discuss future of the euro

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Athens' main shopping streets are packed. It seems plenty are still keen to exercise their spending power. And it's clear there's still plenty of it about.
The luxury yachts haven't left the marinas. A couple sipping beers onboard one prime maritime specimen don't appreciate the questioning. "We come down here to get away from it, get some peace and sunlight so we don't have to hear about it all the time," one says.
A father-and-son duo fishing nearby are more ready to chat. "We need agreement between the politicians because we need to stay in the euro," says the father, Achilles Rinas. "We need to show the Europeans that we support the euro because we really believe in it and it's our only way out of the crisis."
That's a view the majority share -- but there's increasing chatter about what a return to the drachma might mean.
"It may well happen now," says Alex Papakostas, a 50-year-old firefighter pilot who also owns a couple of small businesses in Greece. "The options we have are either a hard way to go or a catastrophic way. The next 10 to 15 years will be very hard for Greece regardless of which currency it has, but I believe the euro will give us a better future."
When there are no demonstrations on the streets of Athens, the sun, busy traffic and bustling commerce are good at concealing the scale of the turmoil. The main indications of the crisis are only evident in what people have stopped doing.
Taxi driver Irene Tsikimi, who has been driving a cab for five years, says business has shrunk, but the conversations she has with her clients all follow similar lines. "They say there are no politicians they can believe in," she explains. "They don't know who to vote for. It feels like it's a dead end. I wouldn't mind going into bankruptcy; the country's lost anyway."
She says that austerity has impacted her, and her customers, a lot. "Now, not even rich people use taxis," she says, "or just very few. The middle class just don't take taxis anymore. It's a job that doesn't have a future here. "
Tsikimi doesn't believe that Papandreou is the right man to solve the crisis -- but that there is little other choice. "It's not him who's deciding anyway, it's others internationally who are calling the shots."
Yet like other Greeks she still supports the euro because "that was why the eurozone exists, so that countries can support each other under a common umbrella."
The real Greek tragedy plays out behind closed doors, in the home of the pensioners who can't afford to fill their fridge, the public sector parents struggling to pay the bills, or the 820,000 unemployed -- from a nation of around eight million -- scouring the Internet for jobs.
Most people have enough to survive but not to live the life they'd hoped for. This is not yet about a nation of people on the bread line, but about a people whose dreams and future have been taken away from them.