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Middle Class Greeks Losing Hope Amid Austerity


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Greece is anxiously awaiting a bailout from its European partners. One reason for the holdup - the Europeans say the Greeks aren't trying hard enough to reform. The Greeks say they've already implemented austerity measures so severe that they are destroying the country's middle class.

Joanna Kakissis has the story of one family in Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The Anagnostopoulos family lives in a three bedroom apartment in a modest neighborhood in central Athens. Their quiet street is lined with pastel-colored apartment buildings, a few scarred by graffiti. Dimitris Anagnostopoulos is a tall, jovial man of 60. He works as a tax collector and, ironically, taxes in Greece have gone up on everything in the past year.

Because of austerity measures mandated by the European Union and International Monetary Fund, taxes on goods and other necessities have gone up 23 percent. There's also a steep new real estate tax tacked onto utility bills. Dimitris bought his apartment for cash and doesn't have a mortgage, but he still has trouble paying those new taxes.

DIMITRIS ANAGNOSTOPOULOS: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Our salaries have been cut between 40 and 50 percent, he says. Imagine living on a decent salary and then, suddenly, it's cut in half. He says the middle class is disappearing. His wife, Angeliki, says they worked hard to get to the middle class. She runs a small linen shop that's suffering because of the recession, which is now in its fifth year.

Her shop is on a busy street that was once a vibrant shopping district. Now, half of the stores are boarded up. More than 111,000 businesses closed in Greece last year. Angeliki says she only gets a couple of customers a day.

ANGELIKI ANAGNOSTOPOULOS: (Foreign Language Spoken).

KAKISSIS: They all want to talk, to tell me their problems, she says. They don't have money. They want discounts. She lets them bargain her down. Dimitris and Angeliki lived frugally, like most Greeks of their generation. They saved and avoided credit cards. They sometimes splurged on a beach vacation or a night out at the theatre. Now, they avoid buying meat. It's just too expensive. And they don't drive anywhere because the price of gas has skyrocketed.

They stoke the fireplace to avoid burning heating oil, which has also gotten more expensive. They'd planned to retire in his ancestral village in the Peloponnese. Now, that plan is off because his state pension has been cut.

ANAGNOSTOPOULOS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: If you get 200 Euros or even 500 Euros in a month, what's the point, he says. You can't live on that. We've worked all of our lives at least expecting to live on our pensions.

They weren't expecting to have to help their grown sons. Thanassis and Sotiris are both college educated and employed in the private sector. Their salaries have been cut by 30 percent. Thanassis, who's 28, works as an accountant. He helps with bills and is trying to save money. He says inept politicians spent decades turning Greece into a debtors' prison. Now, he says, it's run by international lenders.

THANASSIS ANAGNOSTOPOULOS: They brought us to the edge and now they tell you either you're going to fall on your own or we're going to push you.

KAKISSIS: He says the choice is between poverty with the euro or more poverty if Greece has to revert to the drachma.

ANAGNOSTOPOULOS: With all that's happening, they don't let us dream anymore. The fact that we are living with our parents and we are almost 30 - I think (unintelligible). We can't afford to stay on our own, to make our own family.

KAKISSIS: His brother Sotiris works as a bank teller and fears a run on the banks. People are already lining up to withdraw Euros, he says.

SOTIRIS ANAGNOSTOPOULOS: Even if it's 3,000 Euros – yes, they take it. Then most of them put in the bed in their houses.

KAKISSIS: Which is a temptation for thieves and thieves are a growing problem in the neighborhood. Just a few weeks ago, they broke into the apartment building basement storage unit.

ANAGNOSTOPOULOS: (Foreign Language Spoken).

KAKISSIS: They stole a jug of olive oil, Dimitris says. Can you believe it? They do it out of desperation because they just can't find work, but I hate that now we're scared even in our own homes.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.