ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: C’est ainsi que les Grecs vivent…
by Fabien Perrier

Translated Wednesday 7 March 2012, by Pauline Harrowell and reviewed by Henry Crapo

The Greek people have been subject to endless austerity for two years now: wage and pension cuts, removal of collective labour agreements, VAT increases, destruction of public services… How are the Greeks managing to live? Some ordinary people tell us about their daily lives.

Special correspondent

87-year-old Stelios Sandalakis is queuing at a soup kitchen in the Psiri district with around a hundred others. He used to have a mobile fruit stall. His retirement pension is 600 euros, a derisory amount that is not enough to live on day to day. “I’ve had to come here to eat for the last two years,” he explains, and goes on: “I gave everything I had to my children, but they can’t help me either.”

At Aspropyrgos, in the Athens suburbs, the workers of the Greek steel company Helleniki Halivourgia, have been on strike since 1st November following the loss of 16 jobs on 31st October, 18 more on 1st November, and further losses after that. Dimitris Papadikolao, 29, is one of the strikers. He was fired on 2nd December. Before, he was earning “1200 euros before tax; now I’ll get unemployment benefit for 6 months,” he explains. How much is the benefit? 359 euros under the new arrangements. “I’m a single man without any children. All I can think of to do is to go to Saudi Arabia or Qatar,” he says, sadly.

Andreas Makris is a hospital porter in the Athens public hospital. In October 2009 he was earning 1100 euros per month net, over 12 months, with two bonuses of around 900 euros net. “I could manage OK on my salary, but now I only get 739 euros a month net over twelve months and two bonuses at Christmas and Easter of 380 euros each. Rent in Greece costs at least 300 euros,” he explains. His working week has increased as well. In 2009 and 2010 he was working 7.5 hours a day, 5 days a week. Since 2011 it has gone up to 8 hours a day.

Even senior civil servants are not immune. Barbara, around 40 years old, is one of them. Before the crisis she was earning 3200 euros net. Now she only gets 2000 euros. On top of this, she doesn’t even know if the organisation she works in will still be in existence. What does her future hold? “Unemployment, clearly! I don’t know what I’ll do!” she wonders, and adds, as if to cheer herself up “Because of the crisis I’ve given up my flat and I’m sharing with my best friend.”

Most people in Greece are finding any way they can to make savings. In restaurants which are increasingly empty it’s not unusual to see customers leaving with a little bag containing food they haven’t been able to eat.