Euphoria swiftly dissolves in Greece as bailout plan emerges

Pro-Europe protesters attend a 'Yes' rally in Athens on July 10, 2015.
Pro-Europe protesters attend a 'Yes' rally in Athens on July 10, 2015.AFP

ATHENS (REUTERS) - The euphoria felt by many Greeks at telling Europe their country was rejecting austerity for good lasted less than five days.

On Friday, the population woke up to discover Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had promised creditors a new bailout package with austerity measures almost identical to those a majority of Greeks had voted against in Sunday's referendum.

A cartoon in the Kathimerini newspaper summed up the swift change in the public mood: a group of Greeks joyously cheering with a 'No' on Sunday next to a shot of the same group on Tuesday collectively gasping 'Oh No!'.

With the government now ready to implement a package similar to one it had called a national vote to reject, 23-year-old speech therapy student Marios Rozis reckoned the situation had descended into farce.

"Everybody was happy on Sunday, it was a mature decision against austerity. Today, I feel the referendum happened for no reason," he said, as he sipped a coffee and worked away at a laptop. "It doesn't make sense."

His reaction of bitterness mixed with resignation and exhaustion reflects the souring public mood in Greece, where the jubilance of an overwhelming victory by the 'No' camp on Sunday swiftly dissipated in the face of an expected economic collapse before fading altogether as the new bailout plan emerged.

Even before the crisis-driven concessions were unveiled, fear had spread after Greek banks closed almost two weeks ago, freezing the economy and creating long queues at cash machines for withdrawals of a maximum of €60 (S$90) a day while pensioners without credit cards besieged bank entrances.

QUICKSAND

Under the threat of a euro zone exit, Greece's government submitted the new package of tax and pension reforms to creditors late on Thursday in the hope of unlocking €53.5 billion in aid and the promise of potential debt relief.

Newspapers on Friday reacted with a similar sense of drama, with the left-wing Efimerida ton Syntakton headlining its front page "Negotiating in quicksand", while the centre-right Eleftheros Typos newspaper went on the attack, estimating the'No' vote had raised the reforms bill by €4.5 billion in five days.

'I voted 'No'. And of course this new proposal doesn't correspond to that 'No'," said Vassilis Sika, a 20-year-old unemployed Greek in Athens' central square.

"I feel like a slave. They do what they want, and we can't participate."

The Communist-affiliated Pame group responded by calling for rallies across Greece on Friday evening, saying: "Everyone take to the streets! Battle now so that we can cancel the plans to bankrupt the people. We say NO to a new barbaric bailout!"

However, with banks running out of cash and the spectre of economic collapse looming if no deal is reached, Tsipras appears likely to win the support of a majority of deputies in parliament for the new plan, even though some in his Syriza party were critical.

He now dominates the Greek political scene after a referendum in which more than 61 per cent of Greeks backed him by taking his advice to reject the bailout terms.

Acknowledging the failure of his campaign for the 'Yes'camp, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras resigned as leader of the centre-right New Democracy party the night of the referendum and the party has given its backing to Tsipras to negotiate a new deal with creditors.

For all the resentment of the new bailout plans, Thomas Gerakis of the Marc polling group said Greeks were afraid of being kicked out of the euro zone and aware that painful reforms were the price for staying in.

"This issue (staying in Europe) needs to be resolved first - the majority of Greek people want that, even with a bad deal or a worse deal," Gerakis said.

Only if and when it fell into place over the weekend, he said, would the real recriminations and soul-searching begin.