Greeks here fear for kin and friends back home

Mr Alexis Tsipras arriving at Maximos Mansion, the official seat of the Prime Minister in Athens, last Wednesday, before 229 Greek lawmakers voted in favour of measures demanded by Greece's creditors as a condition for further aid, with 64 voting aga
Mr Alexis Tsipras arriving at Maximos Mansion, the official seat of the Prime Minister in Athens, last Wednesday, before 229 Greek lawmakers voted in favour of measures demanded by Greece's creditors as a condition for further aid, with 64 voting against and six abstaining.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Many Greek nationals living here feel frustrated and resigned at news of violent protests on the streets and political dissent over the Greek Parliament's vote to accept harsh austerity measures that one hardliner has deemed tantamount to "social genocide".

Many are worried for the safety of their families and friends in Greece, fearing social unrest as capital controls remain in force and the economy grinds down, with many businesses suspending operations and giving their employees summer leave.

"The banks haven't been opened for more than three weeks. I hope people were smart enough to stash money under the mattress," a Greek national here told The Straits Times.

"My aunt is a 90-year-old pensioner but she has three kids taking care of her. What's worrying are the pensioners who don't have family and are on their own. If people can't pay their bills, are they still getting utility services in their homes?"

The vote last Thursday came amid an anti-austerity demonstration by 12,000 protesters outside Parliament that turned violent as riot police battled youth hurling petrol bombs.

A final count showed 229 lawmakers voted in favour of the measures, with 64 voting against and six abstaining. But more than half of the "no" votes came from the governing Syriza party. Following the rebellion, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sacked the energy minister and two deputy ministers.

The bailout deal, widely seen as a humiliating "surrender" just two weeks after the Greeks' defiant "no" vote in a referendum, required tough reforms, including cuts to pensions and spending, sweeping changes to labour laws and tax hikes.

Passing the Bill was the first step Greece must take in order to begin bailout talks with its creditors. But concerns are now mounting over whether the package that Greece is seeking will be enough.

A diplomatic source told The Straits Times the reaction by Greeks to the vote varied, depending on age, political alignment and social status.

"Many, however, are now reconsidering their initial hopes that democratic fervour and an aggressive negotiating stance would carry the day. They are realising that things are more complicated and tougher than initially considered," he said.

Associate Professor Christos Sakellariou of Nanyang Technological University's economics division noted that a new study released by the International Monetary Fund showed it is becoming "more assertive in its belief that despite the agreement, the Greek debt is not sustainable without more restructuring".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Greeks here fear for kin and friends back home'. Print Edition | Subscribe