Greece's International Bailout Ends, But That Doesn't Mean Immediate Improvements

Aug 20, 2018
Originally published on August 20, 2018 6:30 pm
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The international bailout of Greece formally ended today. The loans provided by the EU and IMF saved Greece from financial collapse and kept it in the group of countries that use the euro. But those loans came at a huge cost to the Greek economy. The program forced the country into eight years of austerity, cuts which led to political turmoil and social upheaval. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Eight years ago on the remote island of Kastellorizo, the Greek prime minister at the time, George Papandreou, revealed that previous governments had run up Greece's debt. The country had been frozen out of financial markets.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE PAPANDREOU: (Through interpreter) We have inherited a situation that's like a vessel that's ready to sink. We are going on a difficult journey, a new odyssey for the Greeks.

KAKISSIS: Roberto Sidiropoulos and his daughter Maria both remember hearing that their country had run out of money. Roberto is 57 and works in a shipyard.

ROBERTO SIDIROPOULOS: (Through interpreter) It came as a shock because most Greeks had never experienced something like this. They had gotten used to the state telling them that money would never run out.

KAKISSIS: Maria is 30 and has a degree in communications.

MARIA SIDIROPOULOS: (Through interpreter) I was a student then. And most students like me didn't realize the gravity of what was about to happen. I was optimistic about my future. I didn't think this would change it.

KAKISSIS: Both father and daughter thought this was an opportunity for Greece to change, to modernize. But instead, they heard there would be huge salary and pension cuts, that the EU and IMF would tell Greece what to do from now on.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

KAKISSIS: Both Roberto and Maria protested outside parliament, along with tens of thousands of others. Roberto still blames politicians for the mess.

R SIDIROPOULOS: (Through interpreter) People wanted real change, no huge cuts to their salary. We wanted the state to work properly and transparently. We wanted society to work properly and transparently.

KAKISSIS: Roberto is among the lucky ones who kept his job, but he expects his pension to be half what he expected when he retires. He has friends and co-workers who cannot pay their mortgages who live hand to mouth. Unemployment is down from 25 percent to around 20 percent, but many of the jobs available are low-paying and temporary. Maria knows this firsthand.

M SIDIROPOULOS: (Through interpreter) I might spend the rest of my life in these temporary jobs, always uncertain, working some months out of the year on contracts, a state of constant insecurity.

KAKISSIS: Most of her friends have left for jobs in Germany, the U.K., Denmark, along with hundreds of thousands of other young Greeks. Maria is trying to be hopeful. There's some sign of growth in the Greek economy. But the country will remain under tight financial monitoring by the EU. One EU official says he's celebrating the end of the bailout by drinking ouzo, the national drink of Greece. Roberto Sidiropoulos is not impressed.

R SIDIROPOULOS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "If that guy comes here and lives with us and really sees how hard it is to get by," he says, "I doubt he'd be drinking any ouzo." For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.