‘Black Monday’ as bank lockdown spooks Greeks

Published June 30, 2015
ATHENS: People exit from Metro as a man sits on the ground and holds a plastic glass waiting coins from the people at Syntagma on Monday.—AP
ATHENS: People exit from Metro as a man sits on the ground and holds a plastic glass waiting coins from the people at Syntagma on Monday.—AP

ATHENS: It has been dubbed “Black Monday” — jittery housewives, shoppers and business owners queued in vain at cash machines in Athens, as the country grappled with capital controls and shuttered banks.

“I have a baby to feed, what am I supposed to do?” secretary Zoe Kallis, 32, told AFP after failing to get money out of the third ATM she had tried in the wealthy Kolonaki district.

For a country used to dealing largely in cash rather than credit cards, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to close banks for seven days and limit withdrawals has unnerved Greeks.

The measure is expected to hurt: cash in hand is more likely to be stashed under mattresses rather than splashed on new clothes, restaurants or the wages of those working in the vast black economy.

Cafe tables were laid out in the sun all over the city, but owner Nikos Gyallitsis said he expected a 50-per cent drop in customers, with people keeping their money for essentials like food and petrol.

“To shop you have to be happy, be confident, and now you don’t know what will happen the next day,” he said.

Nearby, clothing shop owner Panayotis Vergetis said he was slashing 30pc off his wares this week in a bid to lure people in.

Not only could Tuesday turn out to be the day that Athens defaults — the government’s coffers are bare, and it is unlikely to make a 1.6-billion-euro ($1.77bn) payment to the International Monetary Fund — but it is also supposed to be pay-day for many.

‘No money, no hope’

“I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job, to be broke,” said Sofia Chronopoulos, who works in a fabric shop. “The banks are closed, the boss has no money, there are bills to pay,” she said.

With a referendum looming on July 5 on whether to accept the latest bailout deal, there was a ‘vote No’ demonstration planned for the evening, with a ‘vote Yes’ parade scheduled for Tuesday.

An emotional outburst by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker — who said he felt betrayed by Tsipras’s government over the breakdown in bailout negotiations, and urged voters in Greece to say ‘Yes’ — was met with scepticism.

“I feel like I’m voting for sudden death or slow death,” said office manager Maria, 38, who wants Greece to stay in the European Union but failed to see how she would pay her taxes if they were raised any further.

She said the heated exchange — in which Juncker insisted a ‘No’ would be a no to Europe, and Athens cast doubt on the EU chief’s ‘sincerity’ — suggested “someone is lying, or rather, they probably both are. It feels like it’s game over.”

‘Calm before the storm’

While cash withdrawals are officially limited to 60 euros a day, many Greeks said they had tried and failed to get any money out at all.

A panicked-looking Chris Bakas, 28 and unemployed, was sweating as he stared at the ATM screen.

“No money, no hope, how did we get in this situation? This is Black Monday,” he said.

Others said it was all being made worse by a “pack-like fear”, urging fellow Greeks to keep their heads.

On the city’s historic Syntagma square, the scene of fierce riots in the past over biting austerity measures imposed by the country’s international creditors, tourists snapping photographs of the parliament buildings said they felt the tension in the air.

“There’s a sort of eerie calm, perhaps the calm before the storm,” said Jestin Marina from France, on holiday with her husband and son for three days.

The family brought extra cash with them and had been warned about the possibility of being targeted by thieves, but said, “We’re not afraid.”

Fellow tourist Michele Ammann from Switzerland said he too had brought a lot of cash with him.

“We’ve been budgeting to make sure it doesn’t run out. Our hotel is in the suburbs and people there seem very tired, very worried,” he said. “I feel sorry for the Greeks, they’ve been asked to sacrifice everything, right down to their underpants.”

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2015

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