Greece economy strike
A firebomb explodes near riot police during clashes with demonstrators in Athens, GreeceAris Messinis/ AFP

At a petrol station in Ayia Paraskevi, an upscale Athens neighborhood, Vasiliki Tryfonopoulou, 30, said that fuel taxes had risen by 30% amidst Greece's ongoing financial crisis. This, coupled with a new levy on car owners imposed by the government, has forced many Greeks to leave their vehicles at home.

"We used to be nine employees here. Now we're five," she said, as her co-workers pumped gas and washed cars outside.

For the owner of one of Greece's gas companies, Jetoil, the burden was too much. Last week, Kyriakos Mamidakis committed suicide. He owed €314m (£269m) to lenders as well as outstanding payments for social security funds and other worker benefits.

Until last year, Greeks were hopeful that the economy would turn around after the Syriza left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras promised to oppose the austerity that Greece's EU creditors had demanded in exchange for refinancing debt. In a national referendum, Greeks voted 61% to reject Europe's demands – despite warnings that voting 'No' could lead to Greece leaving the European Union.

But in Greece the outcome of the referendum wasn't respected. The government interpreted the results as a 'Yes' and called for early elections. Syriza won against the weak opposition and accepted the harsh austerity measures imposed by the lenders that remain in Greece today.

Given that recent history, Greeks watched the EU referendum in Britain with interest. Tryfonopoulou, who was in favour of a 'No' vote on July 5 last year despite the risk of a so-called Grexit, said that while she supported the prospect of leaving the EU then, having seen what has happened in Britain since June 23, she was no longer so sure.

"While there was a scaremongering campaign of what would happen if 'No' prevailed and we exited the EU, I thought that it's about time something changes - and I didn't fear a possible Grexit [then]. [But] Greece doesn't have a heavy industry, like the UK does. We don't produce anything. So I assume a Grexit would be even harsher for us," Tryfonopoulou explained.

For others, the economic problems that have beset the UK in the two weeks since British voters opted to leave the EU, has not dampened support for Greece following its lead. The number of Greeks who believe they could weather a Grexit storm has increased to 37%, while another 9.5% was undecided, according to a poll conducted last May by the University of Macedonia, in northern Greece.

Alexis Tsipras
Alexis Tsipras promised to end his country's 'humiliation' at the hands of foreign bankersReuters/Alkis Konstantinidis

Yannis Zerdelis, member of the leftist LAE, or Popular Unit, and former Syriza MP said many Greeks look up to the British and their decision to leave the EU, despite the uncertainty that may occur.

"What you've been experiencing in the UK and what led to the Brexit vote – unemployment, a decline of the welfare state – we've also been experiencing in Greece and possibly in a much greater degree," Zerdelis said.

"And that's why I believe many people in the UK voted for a Brexit. It wasn't the far-right that won, but the people of lower classes that have been hit by the cuts in the welfare system."

Zerdelis believed weaker countries like Greece should not have joined the Eurozone and believes that a Grexit would in the long-term, lead the country out of the crisis.

"When you have a strong currency and can export high technology, like Germany, you can benefit," he said.

"But Greece can't benefit. It's only producing tourism and agricultural products. We can buy the high technology, but have a hard time exporting our own products. I think this has led to the distortion of how the EU works."

This EU isn't hospitable to us anymore.

Greek unemployment stands at 24%. Among youths, joblessness increases to 60%, while half a million others have moved abroad.

"The EU has been pushing its member states to adopt economic measures and like inflation and primary surpluses," said Zerdelis. "People stopped being the epicenter of politics. Money has replaced them. We borrowed billions to recapitalise the Greek banks. As a result, the next generations will have to pay for that."

Some hope a Grexit would make Greek products cheaper to export and lure more tourists to the debt-stricken country. "We need a public debate that will examine the political, the social, and economic dimension of a Grexit from the Eurozone and to return to a national currency," Zevdelis said.

Valia Barbatioti, a 33-year-old bookstore owner on the Greek island of Lesbos, said something in the economy needed to change. Barbatioti keeps her optimism in her everyday life, but says that many things have to change for the country to recover.

"As a business owner, I can tell you though that we shouldn't be interested as much about whether there will be a Grexit or not, but more of whether we'll have a true development and then we can decide what will happen," she said.

According to her uncertainty was the worst part of the crisis: "You don't know how much business will slow down or if you're an employee you don't know how much your salary is going to be cut," she said.

"Things have changed so much that now, with €400 or €500 euros left for me a month, I'm happy. At least I'm doing what I love and I can still keep my shop open. So we're constantly lowering our living standards in order to support an investment or job that we love."

She strongly feels the EU needs root-and-branch reforms.

"The EU should tell us what it wants from us, and we should tell the EU what we want from it. And if it works, OK let's stay in the EU. But this EU isn't hospitable anymore [to us]. So I can't be sure," Barbatioti concluded.


Nikolia is a freelance journalist. She's been covering the Greek economic crisis and is also covering the European refugee crisis. She now shares her time between Athens and Lesbos, Greece.