Graffiti in the rundown Athens neighborhood of Psiri depicts a woman clutching a sack of euros, a golden halo on her head and the title, "40 Years of Debt-ocracy." The street artist goes by the tag Bleeps.gr.
Graffiti in the rundown Athens neighborhood of Psiri depicts a woman clutching a sack of euros, a golden halo on her head and the title, "40 Years of Debt-ocracy." The street artist goes by the tag Bleeps.gr. Sylvia Poggioli/NPR
Debt-burdened Greeks go to the polls Sunday to choose between an establishment party, and continuing harsh austerity measures, or a leftist party that vows to replace the current bailout deal with less punishing conditions.
But many Greeks are aware that whatever the outcome, they face years of hardship in a rapidly unraveling society.
A recent TV news report on medicine shortages illustrated the anguish rippling through the country. The piercing screams of a woman in a pharmacy can be heard as she shouts, "Where am I going to find my medication?"
Her plight struck a chord in a country where the government can no longer pay for drugs, including vital cancer and diabetes medicines. The health system is crumbling, and hospitals lack basic staff, equipment and supplies.
In its fifth year of recession, the economy slumped by 6.5 percent just in the first quarter of this year. Latest data show unemployment rates at record highs — almost 53 percent among the young.
The worsening economic crisis takes a devastating toll.
"It is ruined the society, it is bombed," says George Malouchos, a commentator for the daily newspaper To Vima. "It doesn't know where to go, how to go, what to do, what is the solution, if there is a solution. Greeks have despaired."
Desperation is clearly visible on Athens streets. Shop after shop is shuttered. In 2011 alone, 68,000 small businesses closed down. Bankruptcies are gathering pace.
A drive through Athens is a tour through a new art form: crisis graffiti reflecting the frustration and anger of an increasingly powerless people. Nothing's spared — the eyes of a statue of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, are spray-painted with a black blindfold.
In the rundown Psiri neighborhood, graffiti depicts a woman clutching a sack of euros, a golden halo on her head and the title, "40 Years of Debt-ocracy." The street artist goes by the tag Bleeps.gr. His works are allegories of the effects of the crisis on ordinary lives.
One — a female figure with a disability — was inspired by the TV show Greece's Next Top Model.
Street art by Bleeps.gr are allegories of the effects of the economic crisis on ordinary Greeks.
Street art by Bleeps.gr are allegories of the effects of the economic crisis on ordinary Greeks. Sylvia Poggioli/NPR
"She misses one leg under the knee and it's replaced with a wooden leg," he says. "She is doing the catwalk. Next to it I wrote, 'Greece Next Economic Model,' which is an ironic comment of what was to happen because I did it a year ago."
Greeks feel led astray by their politicians and besieged by EU leaders, especially Germany's Angela Merkel who, many claim, treats Greece as a rogue state, an enemy and no longer a partner in need.
Many Greeks turn to mythology to interpret the present.
Novelist Vassilis Danellis wrote a parable based on the Euripides play Iphigenia in Aulis.
In the original, King Agamemnon, leader of the Greek fleet about to set sail for Troy, is required to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to placate the wrath of the gods. Danellis says that in his version, "Merkel is Agamemnon, the leader of European Union, who decides to sacrifice Greece in order to contain the wrath of markets."
Fear of Greece's sacrificial expulsion from the eurozone has been dubbed by the media the "Iphigenia syndrome." Other myths are also invoked: the austerity package as "Pandora's Box" and the "Rape of Europa," not by Zeus but by the gods of money.
Commentator Malouchos zeroes in on the key victims. "The heart of the Greek middle class is dying," he says. "When you don't have a middle class, you don't have democracy. You have nothing."
Danellis says the outcome of the current Greek drama is still unknown and whether the gods will spare it from ending as a tragedy.
"Who is going to be the deus ex machina? This is the question," he says. "We don't know yet, because we have seen half of the play; the ending is open."