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Athens cafes abuzz with political talk ahead of elections

By Irene Chapple, John Defterios and Christine Theodorou, CNN
updated 11:11 AM EDT, Sun June 17, 2012
Kiki Sarakinou says the situation in Greece is very sad, and very bad. She sits in Kolanaki, one of Athens most affluent areas, where business has dropped by half in the last year. Kiki Sarakinou says the situation in Greece is very sad, and very bad. She sits in Kolanaki, one of Athens most affluent areas, where business has dropped by half in the last year.
Athens cafes buzz with political talk
Athens cafes buzz with political talk
Athens cafes buzz with political talk
Athens cafes buzz with political talk
Athens cafes buzz with political talk
Athens cafes buzz with political talk
Athens cafes buzz with political talk
  • Greece is voting in its second election in six weeks
  • The first poll was inconclusive, and talks later failed to deliver a government
  • In both upscale and edgy cafe hubs of Greece's capital, Athens, business is down
  • Greeks want to stay in the euro, but say austerity measures have made life tough

Athens (CNN) -- Kiki Sarakinou doesn't think the Greeks owe their European peers anything. "Whoever lent us money, we don't owe them anything," she says. "They owe us."

Because, she says, Greece gave Europe culture, thinkers like Aristotle, Socrates, "all the philosophers and mathematicians."

Despite that, Sarakinou will vote for New Democracy, the pro-austerity party in this weekend's elections. "Because there is no option," she says. She is afraid of a return to the drachma -- the currency Greece had before it entered the euro -- the specter of which looms large over the vote. "It would be chaos if we went back to the drachma."

Sarakinou is sitting outside Cafe Peros, a resplendent figure enjoying the country's cafe culture in Kolonaki, one of Athens' most affluent areas.

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Sarakinou could be seen as one of the lucky ones. Her husband, a lawyer, has passed away but she is able to support herself independently. Yet "every day is disappointing," she says. "[The country] has just collapsed."

She calls the situation "very sad, [and] bad." The country must take an "honest fight" to corruption to bring itself out of the crisis, she says.

Kolonaki is populated by the city's elite. It is a place where businessmen, politicians and actors gather to chew over the country's political and economic crisis with cigars, espressos and cold beer.

Its wealthy clientele has ensured it is slightly shielded from the crisis, and the square remains buzzing with families, businessmen and the elderly, relaxing into the hot Athens evening.

Yet the area is far from immune. Restaurant manager Dimitris Konstantopoulos says business has dropped by half since last year, and numbers of staff have been cut from 60 to 29.

Human cost of Greece's crisis

This time last year the square would have been full, Konstantopoulos says, because "it is the best area in the Mediterranean." But nowadays, people are staying at home, he says; they have no money. "This is a problem."

Just down the road, past Athens' central Syntagma Square, the focus of anti-austerity protests over the past two years, is Psiri, an edgy area which was known as the "Soho" of the city before the crisis hit.

Here, restaurant worker Mario Makris simply drops his thumb down when asked how business is.

"Business has dropped by over 60%," he says.

But Makris says he will vote for New Democracy, because a swing to the left -- which has enjoyed as surge of support on the back of Greeks' despair after almost three years of austerity -- would take the country to hell, he says.

Austerity drives up suicide rate

Restaurant owner Paul Papageorgiou says the area has changed, but he blames immigrants -- another ferociously debated topic on Greek streets -- for the country's problems, rather than the financial crisis.

His family has spent decades here, and he has seen it slump from its vibrant years in the early 1990s to an area he says now suffers from crime and is home to drug dealers.

On Sunday, Papageorgiou says, he will vote for extreme right wing party Golden Dawn, one of several fringe parties to benefit from voters' dissatisfaction with traditional political groups in the last election.

Greek citizens -- and the rest of the world -- will have to wait and see if those same extremist parties will play a key role in the country's political future, be it inside or outside the euro.

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