Greeks in denial as world warns of drachmageddon

IN A land of ancient mythology, modern Greeks have created some new myths about their near-bankrupt country’s future as an integral part of a Europe that will never kick them out.

Cassandra-like warnings from abroad that Athens cannot stay in the euro while rejecting the terms of its international bailout are widely disbelieved.

In Berlin yesterday, Alex Tspiras, the leftist leader many observers outside Greece see as being the chorus of this denial, once again warned that austerity championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel could bring down the entire eurozone. A threat he believes is enough to make sure support of Greece continues, no matter what.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

He said that insisting on “wrong solutions” might eventually force Greece out of the 17-nation eurozone – which “would represent a much greater danger for the euro”.

His view is one supported by the Greek public at large. In what many foreign partners see as the great Greek paradox, opinion polls show over 75 per cent of Greeks want to stay in the euro, but two thirds oppose the terms of the €130 billion (£104bn) bailout, a lifeline which came with salary, pension and job cuts.

“There’s a lot of money in this country, they just need to tax the rich and it would solve so many problems,” said seamstress Argiro Maniati, 55, this week.

It is the support of such people that gave Mr Tspiras, 37, and his radical Syriza coalition, second place in this month’s abortive general elections, and now has them leading polls ahead of a rerun on 17 June.Frankfurt and Brussels say it is impossible for Greece to have one without the other: no bailout means no euro and a return to the drachma – “drachmageddon”, as some Greeks call it.

“Empty threats!” said Nikos Sokos, 29, who works in a café in Athens. “There’s no way they’re going to kick us out. There won’t be a eurozone if they do that.”

Observers of the Greek scene say there are serious risks if voters carry such myths to the polls.

“It’s a grand illusion,” said Theodore Couloumbis of the Eliamep think tank. “Parties must pose the basic question– in or out of the euro? It will be tragic if we are thrown off the European bus because our politicians can’t send the right message.”

At Makis Deligiannis’s patisserie on a busy Athens street corner, cake stands are half-empty. People don’t buy birthday cakes as they used to, sales have dropped by half and he will vote for an anti-bailout party. “No-one can force us to leave the euro. Now that they have us, they’re stuck with us,” he said.

“If they change the laws to force us out, then there will be no eurozone. They’re just barking to scare us but they’re the ones who are scared,” he added.

Greek officials have admitted the state will run out of cash next month. The EU and IMF have warned Athens will get no more funds unless it meets fiscal targets and pushes reforms, including finding about €11bn worth of cuts by June.

Many Greeks mistrust such prophecies. Like in Aesop’s fable The Boy who Cried Wolf, they have heard warnings before that cash was running out. “Even if we go bankrupt we won’t leave the euro. They’ll have a bankrupt country in the euro, which means others can go bankrupt and the eurozone will blow up,” said Thanasis Zahariadis, 47.