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Anguish, anger and apathy as Greece votes

Agence France-Presse
Greece is broke. To avoid bankruptcy it has been forced to secure two international bailouts worth a total of 240 billion euros ($314.0 billion), it is in its fifth year of recession and one in five workers is unemployed

ATHENS, Greece – “The most important index is happiness, not money,” businessman Pedros Koroneos says with a smile as he watches two young women alight from a taxi on a gloriously sunny May morning in Athens.

Strolling around the Greek capital’s chic Kolonaki district, full of people like Pedros in his mirrored sunglasses and smart shirt sipping chilled frappe coffees and buying shoes, you could be forgiven for believing what he says.

But the 39-year-old’s happy-go-lucky demeanour and Kolonaki’s expensive boutiques belie the reality of a country staring into the abyss as it goes to the polls on Sunday.

In fact Greece is broke. To avoid bankruptcy it has been forced to secure two international bailouts worth a total of 240 billion euros ($314.0 billion), it is in its 5th year of recession and one in five workers is unemployed.

The price for Greek people has been enormous, and if the EU, IMF and two main parties that have alternated in power since the end of the military junta in 1974 have their way, they will continue paying for many years to come.

Even in Kolonaki, they have felt the pinch.

“Wages are half what they used to be, so people are spending half of what they used to, so right now turnover is down 50%,” Panos Ioannidis, 41, the owner of an upmarket 112-year-old flower shop, told AFP.

“If in June wages go down another 30%, we are expecting the worst.”

Even Koroneos, whose business interests include a small firm making pipes, has not been immune.

“My factory employed 35 people. I paid 1,000 euros per person, now I pay 600… Now I have 10 people,” he says.

He is philosophical but others are very angry at the political elite they say has brought the country to its knees after decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and cronyism.

On Sunday, opinion polls suggested, many voters will shun the two main parties, the left-wing Pasok and New Democracy, and support instead a potpourri of around 30 other parties spanning every conceivable political ideology.

The extremes include unreconstructed communists who never broke with Moscow, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn that wants to mine the Turkish border again to keep immigrants out, and the misleadingly named Greek Ecologists, who are pro-nudism.

Many of these smaller parties want to tear up the country’s agreements with the troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank that bailed Greece out.

Some go further still.

“We need to break from this corrupt political system of lackeys of foreign imperialism,” says Petros Alachmar, 31, an activist from the far-left Syriza party, which was expected to win around a dozen seats, polls show.

“The chaos wouldn’t be on our side. Chaos would be in the minds of those who decide in Brussels and in Germany, the foreign financial capitalists,” Petros, who speaks four languages and has a masters in finance, told AFP.

But surveys show that despite Greece’s difficulties, a huge majority of more than 70% want to stay in the eurozone and the European Union.

Flower shop owner Panos thinks that Greece should be cut some slack on the austerity measures and that giving the country more money would be cheaper in the long run than letting it return to the drachma currency.

“If we leave the eurozone, the eurozone is going to collapse…. Nobody wants to collapse the eurozone, not the Germans, the Dutch, Spain or Italy,” he says.

“Our problem in Greece is very small for the eurozone. It is better to lose something than lose all the eurozone.”

Businessman Pedros, formerly a New Democracy voter but who now says he is considering voting for one of two small parties, agrees.

“It is nor just Greece that has problems, it is the whole world… Greece is like a mouse in a laboratory. Spain has the same problems, like France, Portugal…. The system has to change from inside,” he says.

And he thinks that despite what he calls a “different mentality” in Greece compared to countries like Germany, his country has something to offer in Europe. It is Europe’s diversity that makes it great, he says.

“Greek has very very good scientists, the best in the world, it has art. Europe must take the good things from all countries, not everyone can be the same.” – Agence France-Presse