On the streets of Athens: 'If things get any worse, I won't be able to survive...'

For ordinary Greeks, the effects of austerity are becoming intolerable

Athens

Maria Svoronou has three jobs and was finishing a 12-hour day as eurozone leaders were finalising Greece's rescue package in Brussels. For all her hard work, she earns only €870 (£730) a month and says that "if the situation gets any worse, I won't be able to survive".

Ms Svoronou, aged 33 and with a degree from Edinburgh University, has a job teaching film at a private college in Athens, for which she is paid €10 an hour. Her second job is teaching primary school children road safety; the third is translating the dialogue in Bugs Bunny cartoons from English into Greek for €1.60 a page. She likes all three jobs, adding: "I am better off than all those Greeks who are unemployed." But she is thinking about emigrating. Greece is full of well-educated but poorly paid people who expect their pay to drop further or to lose their jobs entirely.

In central Athens, mental health workers have occupied the Ministry of Health building, protesting that swingeing cuts are having a catastrophic effect on their patients' care.

The protesters point out that the suicide rate in Greece has risen 40 per cent because of the crisis in the latest period for which figures are available. Andonis Sakellaris, who works for the mental health department of the Ministry, says: "The people who are killing themselves include businessmen who have lost their assets and even teenagers who see no future for themselves." The suicide rate, once the lowest in Europe, is now the highest.

The 400 mental health workers taking part in the occupation mill about gloomily, chain smoking and playing cards. The police have made no attempt to remove them, but nobody is taking much notice of their action, which started on 9 February. Many work for state-funded NGOs that are about to go out of business while others are expecting their salaries to be cut further.

Markos Ephthimolous, who works with Alzheimer's victims, says: "Our average monthly wage is €900, which is being cut to €600, and you can only live on that for 15 days. Most of us have not been paid for three to five months and some got nothing at all in 2011." Health workers say the out-patient care they have been giving to people suffering from autism, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, will soon be abandoned. "People will be sent back to mental asylums," says Antonis Dimaris, one of the leaders of the occupation. "We are going back to the Middle Ages."

Their complaints underline the drastic effect of the austerity measures and their arbitrary nature.

Not everybody is a casualty of the crisis, though. A 40-minute drive south of Athens, down a long, ugly highway lined with car showrooms and dealerships, Christos Ioannou, the manager of Autocredit company, runs a pawnbroking business for rich people with a sudden need for cash. They hand over expensive cars, motorcycles and even yachts in return for a loan. "Business is good," he says.

Mr Ioannou estimates that about 20 per cent of his customers cannot make repayments, so he keeps their vehicle, or they ask him to sell it on their behalf. He reels off the names of the cars – Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes – that have passed through his hands. Many of his customers these days are in construction or property, sectors that have been devastated by the crisis. In a garage behind his office he shows off a large black vehicle. "It is a Ferrari California worth €313,000 and was brought by a man in the construction business." Nearby sits an exotic American motorcycle, theoretically worth a lot of money, but Mr Ioannou says he is having difficulty selling it: "Nobody in Greece has the money to buy it."

Most of the vehicles left on his books go to Germany, "because there is no market in Greece for big-engine cars". He adds that "for the moment there is no money in Greece for any business activity".

This is hardly surprising. All Greeks live in an environment of complete uncertainty that has paralysed activity. Nobody knows if they will have a job in a few months and, if they do, whether or not they will be paid. If they are paid, they do not know if will it be in euros or devalued drachma.

The one group of people in Greece who have always said the Greek state was rotten to the core are the anarchists. Sitting around a table in a building called Nosotros, Nikos, who did not give his family name, says: "Greece suffers from a clientist system based on corruption. Parties used patronage to buy millions of voters. The bourgeoisie has never invested its money here." I said this sounded very much the analysis of the Troika (EU, IMF and European Central Bank) emissaries, but Nikos is unembarrassed.

The anarchists had all taken part in the demonstrations, not to change government policy but to show solidarity with other protesters and demonstrate their opposition to the state. "People don't believe in the political system any more," said Vangelis, another anarchist. "It is not a question of saving the banks or the euro, but changing Greek society from the bottom up." He may be right but both the Troika and the anarchists, in their different ways, will have their job cut out to do this.

Arts and Entertainment
books
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
people
Voices
Nigel Farage arrives for a hustings event at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Tuesday
voicesA defection that shows who has the most to fear from the rise of Ukip
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Life and Style
Brave step: A live collection from Alexander McQueen whose internet show crashed because of high demand
fashionAs the collections start, Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Teacher

£22000 - £33000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: ICT TeacherLeedsRandstad ...

Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution