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Latest update : 2012-05-04

Greece's makeshift economy

With wages slashed, companies going bankrupt and mass unemployment, Greece has borne the full brunt of the economic crisis. Like Yannis, everyone has to find a way to feed their family. Throughout the country, hustles, scams and under-the counter payments are fuelling a black economy in which anything goes.

Greece’s biggest problem today is money. It’s all the government talks about, and for Greek people, it is not any no different.

How does one cope with little or no cash? We travelled to meet everyday Greeks struggling to get by.

Yannis is a retired restaurant owner. At 70 years old, instead of living off his pension and enjoying his final years, he’s had to keep working after his pension was slashed.

His days are spent standing in Korai Square, just a few blocks from the Greek Parliament, selling lottery tickets.

At 2 euros a ticket, Yannis needs to sell at least 10 tickets before he can go home. In an average month, he can make between 500 and 700 euros, and up to 900 at Christmas time.

It’s humiliating and tiring, but Yannis has no choice. His monthly retirement fund was cut by 180 euros, and in the next few months, he will lose even more.

Other Greeks choose to sell their belongings to raise some extra cash. Makis needs money to move to Australia in order to join his wife and children who immigrated there last year.

So Makis decided to sell his gold and silverware to a pawn broker.

Stores buying precious metals have sprung up throughout the country. They have always existed, but now authorities estimate there are around 2,500 across Greece – and more than half of them don’t have a licence.

Pawnshops will buy your gold – but watch out for how much they offer. We decided to visit a few shops with a hidden camera, since no one would agree to speak to us.

The first shop owner we spoke to was aggressive when we asked to interview him, and the chances are he’s profiting from the crisis. That would explain why he moved back to his native Greece from London, where he was a metals trader. Now, he has several pawnshops – the newest of which just opened up weeks ago, right next to Makis’ house.

In the port city of Volos, north of Athens, a group of people have decided to forgo using the euro altogether – as far as that is humanly possible. Certainly, to pay taxes and bills, only the euro will do. But with the Local Alternative Unit, or TEM in Greek - an alternate, virtual currency - people are evading the euro. The idea is already two years old, and it’s catching on fast. New members sign up every day.

In the end, there are those who find ways to get by – and those who don’t. Dimitris Christoulas killed himself on April 4th, just metres away from the Greek parliament.

His suicide has become a symbol for people suffering from the country’s severe austerity measures. But he is not the first to have taken that fatal decision, nor will he be the last.

By Patrick Hermansen , Shona BHATTACHARYYA

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