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'He's either mad – or a genius'


As fast as the headlines exploded yesterday, they were swept away by developments in a country that thought it had exhausted its capacity for "chaos" and "crisis".

Along with chiselling marble from the facades of Syntagma Square in order to hurl it at police, the most popular reaction to Greece's prolonged dance on the brink of default has been black humour.

At Athens airport, the cash machine of the National Bank of Greece was out of order and someone had helpfully scrawled their own translation in three European languages explaining that the "money had gone to the Troika".

The industrial action which has been a constant companion of the era of austerity here has even paused, or as one taxi driver put it, "strikes just aren't selling anymore".

The Greek newspapers that were spread across the legions of café tables alongside Europe's most expensive coffee yesterday were not able to match the pace of events. The sober broadsheet daily Kathimerini led with "Tough telegram to Greece" from France and Germany. Demands from EU leaders for a clear-cut endorsement from the Greeks in a mooted plebiscite were dismissed as the "copy-paste referendum" by left-leaning Eleftherotypia.

But by the afternoon, the referendum was no more and Greeks were turning to radio and television news, or failing that, calling each other to find out if anyone knew what was going on.

Yesterday's upheavals weren't of the kind that have filled the city's squares with tear gas and rubble, they were of the political sort that are played out with raised voices behind closed doors.

After watching the Prime Minister George Papandreou retreat embarrassingly from his shock call for a referendum,in response to crumbling support inside his own party, businessman Nikos Moraitakis openly questioned the leader's sanity.

"I always suspected the government and the opposition never took the problem seriously and now that confronting it is inevitable they are mentally and professionally incapable of dealing with it," he said, adding: "Papandreou is either a madman or a genius for the brinkmanship. I tend to believe he's just a madman."

Diane Shugart, a magazine editor anticipating an onslaught of critical foreign headlines, said: "This is not a Greek tragedy.

"It is an Aristophanes farce and we are the dung beetle."