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Greeks Cling To Euro, But Dream Of The Drachma


Now that Europe has agreed to bail Greece out again, Greek leaders have to impose some of the toughest austerity measures to date. That means cutting government spending and raising taxes, which is hugely unpopular. And many Greeks are wondering whether staying in the euro zone is worth all the pain. Joanna Kakissis has more.



JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Stella Chatzopoulou's a beautician with two little kids. She and her husband rent a small, tidy apartment in a neighborhood near central Athens. And even though they both work, they just get by.

CHATZOPOULO: (Through interpreter) Even before this latest euro zone deal happened, I told myself that if things got just slightly worse with the economy, that we as a family would not be able to make it. If the government asks us to pay something more, I just don't know where we would find the money.

KAKISSIS: Yet Chatzopoulou says Greece should cling to the euro, the currency shared by 19 member states of the European Union.

CHATZOPOULO: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: But she says that if the government offered a good alternative, she might consider returning to the drachma, the national currency Greece abandoned when it joined the euro zone in 2001. Trade unionist Grigoris Kalomoiris says that's a great idea. He says the euro took away Greek's sovereignty and gave it to bureaucrats and banks.

GRIGORIS KALOMOIRIS: (Through interpreter) I've also never liked the euro zone because it's proven to be incompatible with the rights and needs of working people.

KAKISSIS: But Kalomoiris is in the minority, says Nick Malkoutzis, editor of the Athens-based political and economic website, Macropolis.

NICK MALKOUTZIS: The opinion polls are showing that there's still strong support for the euro. One of the things that's happened over the last few weeks is that although people are questioning whether the price of staying in the euro is too high, they have also become more aware of the dangers of leaving the euro.

KAKISSIS: Some economists argue that the drachma, as a cheaper currency, well help exports and tourism in the long run. But Malkoutzis says the short-term costs would be enormous - hyperinflation, food and gas shortages, even social unrest.

MALKOUTZIS: Because the transition to a new currency, and especially at the time the economy is in a more or less state of collapse, is so difficult, is so onerous for society, that there have to be serious doubts about whether Greece could handle it.


KAKISSIS: At the moment, Greeks seem overwhelmed by everything. This weekend, they have been battling wildfires all over the country. Eleni Argiropoulou uses a garden hose to fight one fire near her home in suburban Athens. She says she feels as trapped as her country does right now.

ELENI ARGIROPOULOU: (Through interpreter) Of course, we can't go back to drachma in the state we're in. Bankruptcy and the drachma mean devastation. And since there's no other plan, it's got to be the euro.


KAKISSIS: Stella Chatzopoulou, the beautician we met earlier, and her husband are getting their kids ready for bed. Her husband is Giorgos Evangelatos. And he says his attachment to the euro is more about security and economics. A small, troubled country like Greece, he says, cannot manage on its own.

EVANGELATOS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "Because leaving the euro could mean leaving the European Union," he says, "and that's what scares us the most." For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.