Stoic Greeks believes in Papandreou, for now

By Renee Maltezou and Dina Kyriakidou – Analysis

ATHENS (BestGrowthStock) – Athens florist Lila Mastora says austerity measures have nearly wiped out her business and blames politicians for a debt crisis whose only remedy may be an international bailout.

“Yesterday we only made 10 euros. We haven’t paid the rent in two months,” said Mastora, 48, as she arranged a funeral wreath at her shop near the Greek parliament.

“Who is going to buy flowers in such hard times? Average people shouldn’t pay for this crisis. It’s the politicians’ fault.”

As Prime Minister George Papandreou prepares Greece to swallow the bitter pill of EU/IMF international aid and avoid bankruptcy, polls show a stoic public has faith in him, if not his policies during 6 months in power.

An opinion poll on Friday showed two thirds of Greeks are dissatisfied with his socialist government’s performance but his own approval rating actually improved slightly to 68 percent.

Papandreou has cut public salaries, hiked taxes and frozen pensions. He is trying to impose tough measures to cut budget deficits and convince that the measures are just. The public appeared to be giving him more time but not for long.

About 66 percent of those asked in the Public Issue poll believed social unrest will mount in the coming months.

“I don’t believe things will get better. I am not prepared to make more sacrifices because I don’t think these measures or any future cuts will get us out of the crisis,” said office clerk Anastasia Griva, 49. “This is not our fault. The rich, the politicians, the tax evaders must pay.”

Analysts say voters are willing to give the government time but, come autumn, they will demand visible results to show that their sacrifices are paying off or take to the streets.

BLAMING POLITICIANS

Polls show the public blames decades of political corruption for cronies for the country’s ills. Many in the private sector say they resent paying taxes to spoiled civil servants. Nearly one in five Greeks work in the public sector.

“I just went to a ministry and only two out of six employees were actually working,” said Elena Plexida, 51, a court clerk on lunch break. “They have to fire them because they don’t work.”

The government has said it wants to discuss the terms of a 40-45 billion euro EU/IMF package, stopping short of activating the mechanism agreed by euro zone partners.

In a country where the word “spread” — the premium Greece has to pay over Germany to borrow — is heard in cafes and taxis from non-English speakers and regularly makes the front page, debt costs hang like a Damoclean sword over average people.

During the first recession in 16 years, unemployment hit a five-year record high of 10.3 percent in the last quarter of 2009 and is not expected to peak any time soon.

Many say there is no option but to seek outside help.

“Unfortunately the country is not experiencing the happiest of days,” wrote columnist Antonis Karakousis in the daily To Vima. “To be honest, within days we will be under international monitoring and tutelage.”

DEBT BURDEN

Investors have pounded Greek markets amid concerns over the country’s solvency. Greece carries a 300 billion euro debt load and borrowing costs have risen to euro era record levels.

Most Greek opposition parties oppose the aid package, saying the tough conditions that come with it will hurt the poor, and unions have announced strikes. But economists and industrialists have asked the government to bite the bullet.

“The most realistic choice is to ask the activate the mechanism immediately,” said Dimitris Daskalopoulos, president of the industries association SEB. “There is no point in negotiating … a time table of implementing reforms that we should have done ourselves years ago.”

The socialists came to power in October to reveal the defeated conservatives had grossly under-reported the budget deficit, launching a fiscal crisis that has reverberated across international markets.

“Who’s fault is this?” said central Athens garbage collector Panagiotis Fasoulas, 56, while piling bags on his truck. “Politicians and their governments took our money.”

The conservative opposition is still reeling from its defeat, the price of a string of scandals and destructive riots that froze Greece for weeks, and a leadership change has not appeased a bitter public.

“I usually vote for the right but let’s support Papandreou so he can get us out of the crisis,” Fasoulas said. “My salary was cut, I can barely make ends meet but I will be patient.”

Stock Market Research

(Writing by Dina Kyriakidou; Editing by Janet McBride)

Stoic Greeks believes in Papandreou, for now