The morning after: Cheers fade as Greeks face reality

Agence France-Presse
The morning after: Cheers fade as Greeks face reality


The banks are now reportedly almost depleted of cash after panicked customers rushed to hoard money in the lead-up to the referendum

ATHENS, Greece – After jubilant celebrations by ‘No’ voters, Athens returned to a reality of ATM queues Monday and the shock news that the finance minister, champion of the victorious anti-austerity camp, had quit. 

Sunday’s scenes of cheering outside parliament faded as fears spread that the country’s banks could run dry within hours or days, forcing untold numbers of companies to go bust.

Those out for a coffee in the morning sunshine were worried that new efforts to strike a deal with the country’s international creditors may not come in time to prevent Greece running out of cash – or the talks could fail entirely.

“I’m very afraid we will get no cash any more in the coming days. They really have to fix it, end of this week at the latest, otherwise it’s collapsing,” pharmacist Lambros Vritios said of the banking system. 

Capital controls imposed by the government last week mean locals can only withdraw 60 euros ($67) a day, but even that restriction – aimed at averting financial disaster – has not stopped a run on money.

Vritios said he had been to several ATMs but found them empty. “It’s really crushing me,” he said.

Cash running short

The banks are now reportedly almost depleted of cash after panicked customers rushed to hoard money in the lead-up to the referendum, which was called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in a bid to break an impasse with the austerity-hungry creditors. 

The Greek Banking Association said last week its members had just enough liquidity until Tuesday, when the government had promised the banks would reopen.

But Giorgos Stathakis, Greece’s economy minister, told the BBC the capital controls could stay in place until Friday.

Greek banks were on the verge of collapse, he said, with its future in the euro being determined in the next 48 hours.

Greeks were divided over whether the European Central Bank would inject emergency euros into the country’s banks — or whether the country’s perceived nemesis, Germany, would make them suffer.

“The situation is very confusing. I really don’t know what is going to happen,” said Nikos, 47, who works in a luxury watch shop and fears the referendum result may be “misunderstood” by Europe as a vote to leave the eurozone. 

“I don’t think the banks will open tomorrow… we owe money to our suppliers and we can’t pay them. As long as we have stocks, we can sell, but we cannot pay salaries,” he said.

‘He told the truth’ 

The news that Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s head had rolled to appease the country’s international creditors was welcomed by some, who said his flamboyant and unorthodox ways had not helped bailout negotiations. 

“Varoufakis is a revolutionary, someone very dynamic with a very important university background. But he is not a politician. He doesn’t know how to negotiate,” said Irene Roka.

“He had good ideas but he wasn’t very diplomatic… he was very cavalier in negotiations,” she said.

Sofia, 37, said she thought his exit “is going to help” reboot negotiations, despite a ‘Nein’ from Germany which saw the bailout referendum as a nail in the coffin of debt talks.

“I think he’s a bit arrogant. He should have been more balanced. I hope there is going to be an agreement that is the best for everybody,” she said.

But Charalampos Aroutzidis, 30, said he was sorry because he liked Varoufakis. “He is not like the ones before him. He is different and he wanted the best for Greece.”

Kiosk owner Miltiadis, 30, who was passing the time debating Greece’s future with his customers, agreed: “I liked Varoufakis, he always told the truth.”

“He told them we have no money left, and that’s the way it is. Now that he’s gone, probably they’ll fix it — and kill us,” he said with a bitter laugh, adding: “I’m very nervous regarding the eurozone summit tomorrow.”

Tuesday’s extraordinary summit in Brussels is expected to draw up the roadmap for Greece – but might see it driving the country off the eurozone cliff in a Greek exit, or ‘Grexit’.

Doctor Elizabeth Drakopoulou, who works at one of the city’s hospitals, said the bank closures were squeezing a population already ground down by five years of austerity.

“I don’t think banks will open this week. It’s very bad for the economy because nothing runs.”

Her main concern, though, was the effect the capital controls were having on the elderly and vulnerable, with alarming shortages of vital medicines in some pharmacies. –

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