USA Today: Two years after the bailout, life in Greece has gotten more miserable
ATHENS — Two years after an international bailout that was supposed to lead to an economic revival, conditions here have only worsened and life for Greeks has become one of constant misery.
The economy is stagnant, unemployment hovers around 25% and is twice as high for young adults, taxes are rising, and wages are falling. Half of Greek homeowners can’t make their mortgage payments and another quarter can’t afford their property taxes, according to the Bank of Greece.
“All these years, I’ve heard dozens of promises from the current and the previous governments on creating new jobs and bettering conditions in the country, but I never believed anything of what I heard,” said Nikos Theodoridis, 57, who became homeless during the economic crisis that began in 2007.
“Homelessness and the crisis are still here, despite all that politicians are saying,” said Theodoridis, who makes a paltry living hawking magazines on the street.
On July 5, 2015, voters soundly rejected the terms of a proposed bailout with international lenders because the plan demanded too much austerity. Yet, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza Party ignored the referendum results and signed a third bailout deal that would provide nearly $100 billion in loans the country desperately needed to avoid collapse.
Tsipras, whose party gained power on a pledge to resist further austerity requirements, reversed itself and adopted more budget and pension cuts. In June, he negotiated the latest payment of $9.7 billion.
Many Greeks now are resigned to living in poverty under the deal. “It’s our fault,” said Vasiliki Gova, 52, a cleaning woman who gained national attention by staging a two-year protest outside the Ministry of Finance where she had been laid off from her job. “People were looking for hope and put all their hopes on politicians. But no messiah will come save us.”
“We did get rehired (by the ministry), but as new (contract) employees, ” she said. “Our decades of work don’t count now, so we’re only getting the lowest salary again.”
Gova said her 28-year-old son, an underemployed musician, still lives in her home because he can’t afford to move out.
One block from the Maximus Residence, the prime minister’s home, homeless people sleep in Zappion, the city’s central park.
“It gives me goose bumps just to enter this park,” said Theodoridis, who used to sleep here, too.
For more than 30 years, Theodoridis had a good-paying job in port construction, but in 2009, nearly all construction in Greece came to a halt. No one wanted to hire a man in his 50s, he explained.
“In just six months of being unemployed, I spent all my savings and so I had to give up my apartment,” he said. Theodoridis packed what could fit into his car and left his home, first sleeping in his car until it was towed, and then sleeping in the park.
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