Greeks Expecting More Taxes and Pain Hope at Least It’s in Euros

Protesters in front of the Greek parliament on June 22, 2015.

Protesters in front of the Greek parliament on June 22, 2015.

Photographer: Dimitrios Sotiriou/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Christina Dimitriou, a mother of two in Athens, is just grateful she can get on with life.

Inured by five years of wage cuts, tax increases and record unemployment, Greeks know they face more of the same to satisfy creditors keeping their country afloat. Yet for many, the specifics of any deal this week are less important than simply tying it up, ensuring at least what money they have remains in euros and misery doesn’t turn into meltdown.

“I have a job,” said Dimitriou, 26, as she handed out chocolates to entice passersby to visit the beauty clinic where she works. “That is the most important thing. I’m certain there will be a third bailout, and a fourth and a fifth. And we will pay and pay and pay. I expected it and I expect worse.”

Doubts persist over whether Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Greece’s creditors will bridge their differences after another stop-watch started on taking an accord over the finish line. Tsipras told his government that his latest proposals to unlock aid haven’t been accepted as he prepared to depart for emergency talks in Brussels, a government official said.

Should they agree, expectations are new measures will include more taxes on companies and middle- and high-income earners, the abolition of early retirement and larger contributions from workers and employees to state pensions. The alternative is a default, likely by the June 30 deadline to pay the International Monetary Fund.

‘Endless Game’

Apostolos Kyritsis said his sports-marketing company won’t be hit by a planned surcharge on firms with profit of more than 500,000 euros ($559,000). But a likely increase in the corporate tax rate to 29 percent will cost another 6,000 to 7,000 euros.

“Clearly it’s not fair,” said Kyritsis, 39. “But since we have decided down this path there’s no choice. Leaving the euro isn’t a choice.”

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Five months of brinkmanship over more aid has already come at a price. The economy is back in recession after losing 25 percent of gross domestic product. Worried Greeks pulled at least 30 billion euros from banks as talks lurched from deadline to deadline.

The government has stopped paying some suppliers to preserve cash for pensions and salaries. Getting clients to pay remains Kyritsis’s biggest headache, he said.

“Every deal always seems to be put back, suspended, it’s like an endless game, it’s exhausted me,” said Antigone Rizou, 33, who works in a jewelry store in the leafy upscale Athens neighborhood of Kolonaki. “All this noise makes people scared, it has a psychological effect.”

Syriza Support

While Greek attachment to the euro is still solid, the crisis years tarnished the relationship while increasing the allure of Tsipras’s message to end austerity and restore dignity to a nation humiliated by its bailout conditions.

A poll last week on Greece’s Mega TV showed backing to stay in the euro at “any cost” had fallen to 69.7 percent from 80.3 percent in January when Tsipras’s Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, won an emphatic election victory.

In a working class neighborhood near the center of Athens, right across from the headquarters of Syriza, Thanasis Kontogiannis has run his tiny bakery and breakfast joint since 1972, when Greece was under a military dictatorship.

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He has fired employees, leaving just his wife and daughter to run the place with him, kept prices fixed for four years, and his most expensive item is a small pizetta for 1.70 euros. Still, he said, things had never been worse, pointing at the shuttered shops dotting the street with his flour-covered hands.

His sales have shrunk by half, forcing him to fire three workers. While he didn’t vote for Syriza in the last election, he’d vote for them now, he said, impressed by the government’s efforts to stand up for Greece.

“We must support the party no matter what comes,” he said, as Tsipras prepares to rally his lawmakers behind whatever deal may emerge. Kontogiannis stood near some graffiti with a message: “Never a victim, always a fighter.”

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