ATHENS — Greek voters’ decisive rejection of Europe’s plan to bail out their country cast them closer than ever to doomsday scenarios: A collapse of the banks. An exit from the euro zone. A return to the drachma.
But it is a price that 42-year-old Georgia Imsiritou said she is ready to pay.
“That’s the only logical thing to do,” said Imsiritou, who was among the 61 percent of Greeks who voted Sunday against accepting the austerity measures that European officials have demanded in return for releasing more aid to the debt-ridden country. “We all have to sacrifice something.”
The toll has already been significant. Greek banks have been closed since negotiations over the country’s bailout package collapsed a week ago. Banking executives said Monday that the system will remain shuttered through Wednesday, and it was unclear when — or even if — banks would reopen. Long lines formed at ATMs across Athens as people waited to withdraw the daily maximum of 60 euros, or about $67, a cap imposed to help forestall a run on the banks.
The European Central Bank has been providing emergency funding for Greece’s financial institutions, but that money is quickly running out. The ECB’s governing council on Monday said it would not increase its lifeline to the banks. Without a bigger cash infusion, banks are at risk of running out of money this week.
But for many Greeks, the pain of the past week is just the culmination of a broader economic crisis that has spanned the past five years. A quarter of the workforce is unemployed. Pension payments have been slashed. The gross domestic product has tumbled more than 25 percent since 2010.
Neither side in the fight for Greece’s future knows what will come next. With the economy at a virtual standstill Monday, roadways in downtown Athens typically heavy with traffic were sparsely traveled. Workers poured into parks and cafes — talking lots, buying little. And as the ramifications of Sunday’s vote began to unfold, many said they have little left to lose.
“I’m not worried, because I don’t have any money,” Imsiritou said as she stood in line at an ATM with her 10-year-old under the blazing sun.
At a drugstore in the heart of the city, pharmacist Mary-ann Vamvaka said she will no longer fill large prescriptions, because she is worried about running out of medicine. The banking freeze means that electronic payments to foreign drug manufacturers and suppliers are frozen, and the pharmacy has a limited amount of cash. So Vamvaka doles out smaller quantities to patients in hopes that the pharmacy’s stock outlasts the shutdown. Some hospitals are postponing elective surgeries, and many businesses are operating day-to-day.
Germany’s vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, said Monday that the European Union should be ready to provide humanitarian aid to Greece to ensure adequate supplies of medicine and other essential goods.
“The people there need help, and we shouldn’t deny it to them just because we’re not satisfied with the outcome of the referendum,” Gabriel told reporters in Berlin.
Tasos Papanastasiou manages the restaurant Meatmeatmeat on bustling Tsakalof Street in an upscale neighborhood of Athens. He pays the store’s roughly 20 suppliers each day in cash but is unsure how long he will be able to do so. That’s why he voted in favor of Europe’s bailout proposal Sunday. Now, there is no clear path for the future — not for his store, and not for the country.
“No one can tell us what comes next,” he said. “The only solution this time is to sit at the same table. . . . I believe and I hope they will find a solution.”
The euro zone’s leaders are to meet Tuesday, and Greek’s political leaders scrambled to pull together a new bid for a bailout package ahead of the gathering. Though the proposal reportedly includes a controversial request for debt relief, one of the country’s most polarizing figures will no longer be at the negotiating table. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stepped down Monday in an effort to signal that Athens is ready to make a new deal.
Many analysts are not so optimistic. Greece is facing a July 20 deadline on bond payments to the ECB — and it will almost certainly have to default if it cannot reach a new deal with its creditors. A report from Barclays predicted that missing a payment would force the central bank to cut its financial lifeline to Greek banks, essentially rendering them insolvent. The only option left for Greece would then be to revive its old currency, the drachma.
Georgia Maleme, 65, said she wants Greece to remain a part of the E.U., but not under the current regime.
“This is a German Europe,” she said, blaming Chancellor Angela Merkel for Germany’s hard line on austerity requirements for Greece. “Merkel has to change unless she wants Europe to backfire in her hands.”
On Monday morning, Maleme waited in line with half a dozen others to withdraw money at a bank just across the street from Syntagma Square. Thousands of opponents of the European bailout plan had rallied there the night before, and the ATM was plastered with stickers bearing the word “Oxi,” Greek for “no.” In the streets there was no sense of panic, just a steely resolve to face the unknown.
“Things are hard. We know that. But we have to fight for it,” said Maleme, who lives on a government pension. “We have to get out of austerity. We have to get out of this cycle that has no end to it.”
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