ATHENS (Reuters) - Greeks expressed their misery on Monday at the erosion of their daily lives by austerity measures demanded by international lenders in exchange for bailout funds, ahead of a key parliamentary vote on extra property tax.
Greece said last week it would deepen pension cuts, extend the painful property tax and put tens of thousands of workers on notice to secure new aid and save the nation from bankruptcy, causing more pain for an increasingly embittered electorate.
“The drip-drip torture cannot continue,” Dimitris Lintzeris of the ruling socialist PASOK party said, adding he would vote for the change in the property tax on Tuesday but was not sure about approving further cuts.
“There will be more votes and for that I can’t tell,” Lintzeris told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
Greece is on the front line of the euro zone debt crisis and its population has endured several rounds of harsh belt-tightening over the past 1-1/2 years.
“It hurts a lot, our pockets are empty. We are cutting down on expenses every day,” said 50-year-old postman Costas Apostolou after dropping off envelopes at the entrance of a building in central Athens.
“They have cut my salary by about 15 percent. Will these measures get us out of the crisis? I don’t think so,” said the father of one in Syntagma Square, the epicenter for protests against cuts and where bloody clashes took place in June.
This week transport and taxi unions plan to stage more strikes, causing commuter chaos, slowing down business and hitting Greek’s important tourist trade. Big national strikes are planned by public and private sector unions in October.
“These transport strikes are unbearable. We all have problems, we shouldn’t be taking it out on each other,” said Maria, a 24-year-old teacher.
“EXPLODE, TAKE TO STREETS”
All Greeks are complaining about the effect of the cuts. Some say it’s not fair, others blame the world banking system and some are making plans to get their money out of the country or emigrate to start a new life.
“It’s very bad. We built our lives differently, with bank loans and cards. Now they are cutting our salaries, and business is dropping. How will we pay?,” said Kyriaki Alexiou, a 50-year-old doctor, adding:
“This is not getting us anywhere. If they don’t do something to fix this, people will be hungry. They will eventually explode and take to the streets.”
The taxes, plus job and pension cuts, have helped push youth unemployment to 40 percent and hammered small business owners. Stocks and property are worth a fraction of their former value and Greeks worry about the effects of more cuts on the economy.
Conversation in Athens’ restaurants, bars and down at the beach constantly comes back to default, recession and the strategy to deal with Greece’s colossal 350-billion-euro debt. Television chat shows often descend into rows over austerity.
The country also remains bitterly divided between private sector workers who say a bloated state bureaucracy is strangling Greeks and public servants who say the biggest problems are political corruption and tax evasion.
“I want to believe things will improve, but Europe is too slow. We’ve made many mistakes but it’s not only our fault,” Alexiou said. “Banks used to push us to take loans and now they claim they don’t have money.”
Writing by Peter Millership; Editing by Rosalind Russell