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Struggling in austerity Greece with 800 euros a month

When his company went bankrupt in 2009, Stelios Dessypris was told he would get 1,800 a month in unemployment benefits. But after three years of mounting austerity the former air steward has seen his income drop to just over a third of that amount.


On Thursday a rumour was relayed on local radio that there would be demonstrations as violent as those that rocked Athens on Sunday February 12.

Sunday’s disorder had marked a particularly violent low point in Greece’s debt saga, with more than 100,000 protesters marching on parliament as lawmakers approved harsh new austerity measures. Buildings were torched, shops looted and running battles were fought with riot police. 

Thursday’s rumour had hardly started and already the notoriously dense traffic in central Athens was responding with chaotic U-turns as the radio announcers warned that police had blocked one of the main roads through the city centre.  

A well-behaved  protest

The rumoured violent demonstration turned out to be a small peaceful protest outside the offices of the Ministry of Labour.

Several hundred protesters lined the pavements, making sure to keep from the street and to let the traffic flow freely.

They were former employees of Olympic Airlines, the Greek national carrier that went into liquidation and ceased to exist in December 2009.

The protest was fairly standard fare, said Stelios Dessypriss, a 48-year-old former air steward, who explained that former employees came here to demonstrate regularly and he was surprised there were rumours of potential violence.

“We come here often enough and the police know very well who we are and how we will behave.”

Slide into austerity

Dessypriss and his former colleagues are fighting to keep their pension and unemployment rights, which are being gradually chipped away as Greece slides into austerity.

Their protest is entirely symptomatic of the overall situation in the country, and Dessypriss knows that he is fighting a losing battle.

“But considering the state of the country’s finances there really isn’t anything else to do but come out and demonstrate,” he said, lamenting his declining income and the despair of encroaching poverty.

“When I was made redundant I was getting 1,800 euros a month in unemployment benefits,” he said. “A year later it was 1,300. And now I’m being told that my pension will be 800 euros a month.”

Despite his best efforts, Dessypriss is extremely pessimistic about his chances of finding a new job. The situation is even worse for his wife, also unemployed, who receives no benefits whatsoever.

'This is my home’

“I’ve got two daughters, one who is 19 and wants to be a hair dresser. The other is 25 and studying psychology. Their tuition costs me 3,400 euros a year. How on earth can I support three people on just 800 euros a month?”

He also despairs for his daughters’ futures: “When they graduate they are going to experience unemployment and the precariousness of a hand-to-mouth existence. It will be a long time before they can move out of home and establish their independence properly.”

But Dessypriss cannot contemplate moving away from Greece in the hope of finding more stability and the chance of a job. “This is my home, what would I do abroad?” he asks, looking at his watch.

More than an hour has gone by since the demonstrators’ representatives entered the ministry to try to make their case.

“It’s complicated,” he says sighing. Then after a moment he clarifies: “No, it’s not complicated. It’s just bullshit.”

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