RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Next we'll hear from some people with a big decision to make. They're Greek voters who will participate next Sunday in an historic referendum to decide that country's future in the European economy. Greece has now essentially defaulted on its huge debt to the International Monetary Fund. In a new letter to its creditors, the Greek government says it will accept some of their austerity demands with conditions. NPR's Chris Arnold spoke to voters in Athens.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: At the end of World War II, Winston Churchill proclaimed, we must build a United States of Europe. And for 70 years, Europe's been engaged in a political and economic quest to make that happen. But many in Greece feel this historic reshaping of the Western world now has a stranglehold on their country.
JORDAN REPANIDIS: If it is for me to get drowned, let me drown by myself. Don't choke me.
ARNOLD: Jordan Repanidis is a cab driver in Athens. He says he's planning to vote no in the referendum. After the financial crisis, other European nations loaned Greece hundreds of billions of dollars. And in return, Greece agreed to tax hikes, steep budget cuts, many retirees' pensions have been cut by 45 percent, and it's had to keep paying back the bailout money. Repanidis says this squeezed Greece too hard and its economy can't recover.
REPANIDIS: I don't want them to kill me. I don't want that European community to kill me. I will do it by myself, and I will be pleased.
ARNOLD: But a nationwide economic suicide doesn't sound like the best idea to others here in Greece. George Deorgiadis is of the manager of the Balux Cafe in Athens. It's a restaurant and beach club popular with locals, but it's pretty empty today.
GEORGE DEORGIADIS: People are very scared and they stay home.
ARNOLD: In recent days, there have been runs on banks, causing the government to all but shut down the banking system. Deorgiadis says it looks to him like Europe is offering another bad deal, but he's worried that falling out of the eurozone would cause even worse upheaval. So he thinks he will vote yes in the upcoming referendum to take that deal to try to keep Greece in the eurozone.
DEORGIADIS: You have to protect the business, so I think you have to say yes. If this closed, it's 140 families.
ARNOLD: Deorgiadis says he's already telling many of his 140 workers to stay home. He's trying to give work to people with children to support. Yesterday, thousands of people rallied in Athens in favor of a yes vote. The day before, thousands rallied in favor of no. Deorgiadis himself seems deeply sad and unsure about what to do.
DEORGIADIS: I really don't know. I really don't know. I'm very confused about this. Forty-two years old, I am. I studied economics. It's the first time in my life that I can't decide what's good and what's wrong for my country.
ARNOLD: Of course, there's an argument that Greece has itself to blame. Many economists agree that Greece, for decades, squandered opportunities to stem corruption and pass needed economic reforms. Still, multiple Nobel Laureate economists have just written opinion pieces saying they would vote no in the upcoming referendum - dropping out of the eurozone would be tumultuous, could cause runaway inflation, but they say it would free the country from the manacles that it's in now, and they say Greece might someday find its economic footing and be better off. Chris Arnold, NPR News, Athens.
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