Greece's Economic Crisis Upended Middle Class Despite surviving a confidence vote, the Greek government has lost the people's trust. Tens of thousands of Greeks continue daily protests against devastating measures that have led to growing joblessness, homelessness and anxiety.
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Greece's Economic Crisis Upended Middle Class

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Greece's Economic Crisis Upended Middle Class

Greece's Economic Crisis Upended Middle Class

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Greece's prime minister survived a vote of no confidence today. Now he faces an even tougher vote on painful austerity measures, measures needed if Greece is going to get additional bailout money from international lenders.

As NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Athens, this comes as thousands of people continue to protest daily against devastating cuts already in place.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The demonstrators are not the usual leftists and trade unionists with red banners. They're mostly middle-class Greeks waving the white and blue national flag.

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

POGGIOLI: A group of actors perform in the style of an ancient tragedy. Wearing farm-animal masks, The Greek chorus chants the Orwellian phrase: all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

(Soundbite of applause)

POGGIOLI: These Greeks are outraged by what they see as the injustice of draconian austerity measures that have driven unemployment to a record high 16 percent and extended the recession into its third year.

(Soundbite of whistle blowing)

POGGIOLI: By early evening, thousands of demonstrators stand before parliament shaking their fists, shouting: thieves, thieves. They accuse politicians of dismantling the country's welfare state.

(Soundbite of whistle blowing)

POGGIOLI: Child psychiatrist Efi Bourla has protested in the streets against sharp cutbacks in public health. She says, in her practice, she has noticed a large increase in eating and sleeping disorders. Her young patients describe a recurrent nightmare about a big, scary bear they all see in a TV cartoon.

Dr. EFI BOURLA (Child psychiatrist): Constantly live with a big, frightening bear that is always behind us. Now I'm going to eat you. Now I'm going to take your job, no money.

POGGIOLI: Bourla says children's growing anxieties reflect those of their parents: burdened with mortgages and credit card debt. They hear their parents grappling with mysterious new words learned from TV: bond spreads, haircuts, and credit-default swaps. Children are beginning to fantasize, she says, the bank is going to take away their home and even their toys. Bourla says she sees more children who refuse to go to school and insist on staying home to take care of their newly unemployed and depressed fathers.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

POGGIOLI: Klimaka is a NGO that runs a shelter for the homeless. A group of people sit in a quiet courtyard under a pergola. Until recently, it was mostly for immigrants, but the economic crisis has created a new homeless generation: ordinary, well-educated Greeks who have suddenly lost their steady incomes and their homes. They're at a total loss.

Taxiarhis he declines to give his last name is 49 years old. He used to own a small coffee shop, but when he couldn't pay back the mortgage, the bank took away everything he owned. He's humiliated his life has so rapidly deteriorated.

TAXIARHIS: People, they don't need more than a job to find themselves, to feel again that they are not rubbishes. They need just a job and some money to live in a house, to live like I was living before, like normal human beings.

(Soundbite of telephone ringing)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: This is the office of a 24-hour suicide hotline. In the last year and a half, calls have increased by 250 percent.

Dr. ARIS VIOLATZIS (Psychiatrist): It's not just an economic crisis. It's an emotional crisis. It's a crisis of values right now.

POGGIOLI: Aris Violatzis is a psychiatrist and volunteer. He describes the kind of person who calls in: a family man, who always lived by the book who is suddenly told: You did everything wrong. And, he says, there's the added shock of the revival of old prejudices: being seen by Northern Europeans as lazy and living off of the work of others.

Dr. VIOLATZIS: Our identity's at stake because suddenly, being a Greek is associated with something bad.

POGGIOLI: The turmoil in Greece has been seen primarily in economic terms and in its repercussions on the single European currency. But it's now also emerging that the harsh austerity measures imposed by Greece's international lenders could be undermining the sense of European partnership and tearing apart the country's social fabric.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens.

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