Page last updated at 09:45 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 10:45 UK

Angry Greeks 'carrying the can' for politicians

Protesters on the streets of Athens

By Kate Forbes
BBC News, Athens

Like the sting of police tear gas, popular anger hangs heavy in the air as protesters take to the streets of Athens, for the third time in less than a week.

Some Europeans have been surprised by the extent of Greeks' anger over government cuts in wages, pensions and increases in VAT - all measures needed to get the Greek economy back from the brink of default.

The measures are a condition for the huge bailout agreed by the IMF and EU, amounting to loans to Greece worth 110bn euros (£95bn; $146bn).

Why are Greek people so angry? From the outside, it looks like a spendthrift country getting what it deserves in painful cuts to public spending.

At street level, however, the anger stems from a sense of injustice. Many feel that the average citizen is now paying the price for corruption and government spending that they did not benefit from.

Thrasyvo Paxinos
I'm feeling more and more angry every day, because those who got us into this mess are not held responsible
Thrasyvo Paxinos

A civil servant in the finance ministry spoke on condition of anonymity. "Greek people are willing to contribute and make sacrifices. The vast majority of people do want to contribute to ease the economic problems of our country," he said.

"But first of all they want to stop political corruption. So if we see the people responsible for this being brought to justice, we are really willing to pay and make sacrifices."

"In the past I've seen government offices or committees being set up which don't actually do anything. They are designed only to give important political supporters a wage. In the ministry we've highlighted these and said 'Really, don't do this! We can't afford it!' But no one listens."

"Also we knew for years in the ministry about the wrong figures being shown to the world about our GDP and our debt. We protested to our seniors but again no one would listen. We are very unhappy about it - taking to the streets is really our only option."

'Strangling business'

The mood on the street is bitter because of this sense that pensioners and public sector workers on some of the lowest wages in the European Union are paying for these so called "ghost workers" in government.

However, lots of those marching in Athens this past week have accepted the need for cuts.

Odysseas Roussos
There's not much I can do about it - we could burn Athens down but that wouldn't be the solution
Odysseas Roussos

Evyenea owns a ceramics shop in the tourist district of Placa.

"This mess started 30 years ago but the politicians are shoving the responsibility for their bad management [of finances] onto others who can't afford it," she says angrily.

"If they need to cut big salaries of civil servants of course do so, but to punish those on pensions by cutting them is really not fair."

"I'm worried about VAT increases because that's going to have a knock on effect on business as people will spend less. The Greeks have no money to spend so the smaller shops like mine are closing, and soon the only thing we'll have left is the multinationals."

Odysseas Roussos owns a jewellery shop just down the street. He feels that the cuts imposed are unfair.

"Those that have to pay don't have the means to pay," he says.

"And they are strangling small businesses. A lot of people with shops and businesses are finding that the trade has gone down by around 50%. I'm worried that with people earning even less they will spend less and there'll be a recession. My wife has already lost 3,000 euros a year from her salary, which is about a 20% cut."

"There's not much I can do about it - we could burn Athens down but that wouldn't be the solution."

'Tough on the kids'

Thrasyvo Paxinos, a teacher with three children, has seen his salary cut by 12% and he faces another cut in the next few months.

"We have cut back on luxuries of course," he said. "Cigarettes, wine, cheese, using the car. Although maybe cutting back on cigarettes is a good thing!" he concedes.

"But it's also tough on the kids - we used to take them out at the weekend, to the zoo or whatever, but VAT increases with our pay cuts will mean we really won't be doing that so much anymore."

"I am willing to take a cut, because we all have to. But I'm feeling more and more angry every day, because those who got us into this mess are not held responsible. Their children aren't going to suffer because of this."

Most Greeks we spoke to acknowledged that sacrifices would have to be made, and some were in support of cuts.

But nearly all referred to lower paid workers "carrying the can" for decades of mismanagement and political corruption, and it is this sense of injustice which is propelling people out onto the streets.

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