'The most important election in the past 50 years'
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Voters in crisis-hit Greece returned to the polls on Sunday as they attempted to elect a viable government for the second time in as many months. We asked some to share their fears and aspirations over the outcome of this crucial election.
Europe holds its breath as austerity-hit Greeks head to the polls Sunday in an election that could threaten the country's membership of the eurozone. The race is tight between pro-bail out New Democracy, and the radical left-wing Syriza that has vowed to tear up the country's loan agreement in protest over the cuts it demands.
Greece's coveted links to the European Union have turned into chains of austerity dragging the country deeper into a spiral of recession. Greeks, burdened by these punishing measures that have kneecapped their economy and thrown thousands into destitution, are increasingly feeling isolated. And yet, polls suggest an overwhelming majority would like to remain part of the European family.
Agis Kolivas, bicycle store owner
Agis Kolivas, 40, decided to open a bicycle store in the midst of the financial crisis -- one year ago. It took him a long time to get a loan for his shop but the effort was worth it: business is going well despite all odds. Stores like these were considered the backbone of the Greek economy and account for 98.7 per cent of businesses. Weary and disillusioned with the political establishment, Kolivas didn't use to vote in the past, although he is an otherwise active member of his community. In these elections, he says Greeks shouldn't bow to fears but rather aspire to a much needed change.
"I think they are the most serious and important elections in the past 50 years at least. I will vote, usually I don't vote. I believe in direct democracy but in these elections I will definitely vote. (...) I am concerned that maybe Greece is going out of the eurozone and it will definitely have an effect on my business. But I am not scared and I don't think that people should impose fears on elections and people and how they vote."
Nick Geronimo, hotel manager
The son of Greek migrants, Nick Geronimo was born and raised in Australia. Ten years ago he decided to retire to Athens with his Scottish wife and open a hotel. Tourism is the biggest employer in the country with an estimated one in five Greeks working in the industry. Geronimo, like many Greeks, is disenchanted with the country's political establishment and wants an end to corruption. He's also worried Greece might be forced out of the eurozone, making life more expensive.
"There is a great discontent with the political system and the politicians and people express their anger and hostility to the system by not turning up to vote (...) We can't allow and it is not possible to allow Greece to leave Europe. If Greece goes back to the drachma, then anyone that has a business and anyone who has any interest of going on holidays outside Greece or buying something that is not Greece can kiss that hope goodbye (...)"
Dimitra Kitsou, PHD student
Dimitra Kitsou studies environmental economics in the port city of Volos. Happy with life in Greece, she had never considered looking for job opportunities abroad. But with half of the country's youth unemployed, her chances of a career in academia in Greece are dwindling. Her father, a university professor, has seen his salary drop -- like all public servants. But there's more she says. As the crisis continues to hit hard, poverty has violently reshaped Greece into a country she no longer recognizes.
"(...) I think that when Greeks will go to vote they will have in their mind, not the future, if Greece will be part of the European Union and all this, but rather if they have money for their food for their houses for their holidays for everyday. So maybe they will not do the correct choice. The crisis changed the beliefs of the Greeks. (...) Now I see too many fights, too much anger, too much fascism if you like."
George Tzogopoulos, political analyst
George Tzogopoulos is a research fellow at the Eliamep think tank and editor of its website. He is the author of "The Greek Drama in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press", and "US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism". He is a regular commentator on the Greek crisis for international print and TV news outlets.
"(...) Greek citizens will vote for party that can renegotiate the bailout package, but it is hard to say that it is a referendum on the euro because all the polls suggest that approximately 80 percent of Greeks support staying in the common currency. (...) The threat that Greece can exit the eurozone is an existing one and it seems to me that the European Union is right now better prepared to contain the consequences of a Grexit -- Greek exit (...)".
Dimitris Nakas, garage worker
Like scores of other businesses, Dimitris Nakas, 30, was forced to shut his own not long ago. Today, he survives by parking cars in a privately owned garage near the tourist area of Plaka, in central Athens. His income has been halved despite his twelve-hour shifts and he can barely afford to pay for much else than rent. He hopes the winner of these elections will be able to negotiate a better deal for Greece while the country remains a member of the euro family.
"We can no longer take these austerity measures, we just can't. They should catch the people who have stolen the money of the Greek people. But of course we want to stay in Europe because if we leave, everything will be far too expensive and life will become intolerable. So the most important thing from these elections should be to stay in the eurozone and give Greeks their life back. Greeks need to smile again. Because if we go bankrupt and leave the euro, we'll be over."