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In A Twist, Greeks Demonstrate In Favor Of Their Government

A woman wrapped in a Greek flag makes her way in to a demonstration to support the new anti-austerity government in Athens on Thursday.
Louisa Goulimaki AFP/Getty Images
A woman wrapped in a Greek flag makes her way in to a demonstration to support the new anti-austerity government in Athens on Thursday.

In A Twist, Greeks Demonstrate In Favor Of Their Government

Melina Kotzaki and Nikos Vlastaris, two 70-year-old retirees living on small pensions, stood side by side outside parliament in Athens last week along with thousands of other Greeks, holding hand-written signs about freedom.

"This is the first time I've seen a rally supporting the government in my life," says Vlastaris, a former merchant marine officer. "And we have to support our new government. We are in an economic war that has made us a poor country without a voice."


The new Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, presents his economic and policy plans to parliament on Sunday. Greeks are eager to see how their new leader, elected just two weeks ago, plans to revive the country's ravaged economy while also ending deeply unpopular austerity measures.

Kotzaki, a retired airline employee, says she doesn't care that the new leftist government is inexperienced. These new politicians are a huge improvement over the previous leaders who bankrupted Greece, she says.

"Those bums who governed us for years just sold us out and taxed us to death," she says. "People can't pay. There was so much misery. People looking through garbage bins for food or begging so they can buy baby formula. Enough!"

Vlastaris says he's also tired of Germany — which has funded most of the eurozone bailout loans to Greece — treating Greeks like beggars. He says he's willing to suffer for a Greek leader who will restore the country's economy and its dignity.

"If there's a leader that says, look, you may not get your pension for two or three years, that you will have to suffer so things will get better, so that Greece is free, beautiful and strong again, then I will stand behind him," Vlastaris says.


For thousands of Greeks like Kotzaki and Vlastaris, that person is 40-year-old Tsipras. Shortly after the new parliament was sworn in last week, he told deputies from his anti-austerity party, Syriza, that Europeans must respect Greece as it negotiates a new plan to get itself out of debt.

"Greece has a voice, its own voice," he said. "And Greece has offered proposals. We have offered them respectfully to our European partners, and we are waiting for proposals from them."

But European leaders haven't been forthcoming. The European Central Bank said it would cut off all debt issued or guaranteed by the Greek government. Germany says it won't lighten the Greek debt load.

Medical researcher Vassilis Kafetzopoulos says the ECB and Germany are too focused on protecting banks. He says they need to listen to the democratic message sent by Greeks fed up with austerity.

"It's not a technical problem — how we will name our debt or how we will name our collateral," Kafetzopoulos says. "It's a problem of politics. And if we have the power as the people, then the problem will be solved in a way that is mutually beneficial for all European people."

Holdng a sign that reads, "We are not Merkel's Debt Colony," Kafetzopoulos says he's happy the prime minister is standing up for Greece. Greeks must now support Tsipras, he says, so Tsipras can follow through on his promises.

"For the first time in modern Greek history, the government is doing what they promised to do after the elections," he says.

A recent poll suggests that most Greeks agree with the demonstrators. They want Tsipras and his government to get Greece out of its economic depression while restoring its dignity.

"I don't want to think about failure, which means being like the walking dead, like we were before," Kotzaki says.

"Whatever the costs, I do not want to go back," Vlastaris adds. "I do not want to go back to feeling like we were going nowhere, forever."

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