ATHENS, Greece -- Retiree Katerina Karadonti sat at a pub in Kypseli, a neighborhood just a few minutes from downtown Athens. It had been an upper-middle-class enclave until the 1990s but has since fallen on hard times as property values have declined dramatically amid an economic crisis that's coming to a head this week.
This is also the neighborhood where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lives, but he's not seen around too often these days. He's too busy negotiating with Greece's lenders, and he will be in Brussels Monday for a last-ditch summit with the European Union and Greece's other creditors, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The clock is ticking on Greece -- its next payment to the IMF is due at the end of the month, after Athens bundled four payments due in June into a single $1.8 billion lump sum.
If that payment does not happen, Greece faces the very real risk of defaulting on its debt and embarking on a path that may lead to its exit from the euro.
"I'm not worried whether there will be an agreement between Greece and its creditors because I don't believe things can get any worse," Karadonti said. "I've even stopped listening to the news. I prefer to watch any kind of stupid TV show."
Karadonti, 60, was having coffee at Beer Tales, an Irish-style pub that every weekday morning serves a cup for just 1.5 euros ($1.70) to attract low-income pensioners. She was left unemployed when the tourist agency for which she worked shut down, and has not managed to get a full-time job since. For years, she lived on money friends loaned her. Without no other choice, she decided to retire early and may now have to survive for the rest of her life on a reduced pension of less than 500 euros ($570) a month. In fact, she survives on 30 euros ($34) a week, as the rest goes to paying back loans and credit card debt. The money barely covers her grocery expenses.
Four months after forming a government, campaign promises that debt would be paid without imposing further budget cuts are becoming harder, maybe impossible, to fulfill, as Tsipras and his left-wing Syriza party continue working to scrape together $33 billion to make this year’s payments on Greek debt.
At the kiosk near Beer Tales, newspaper headlines read "Agreement Or Bankruptcy" and "Banks Might Not Open on Monday, ECB Sources Tell EU Ministers of Finance.” According to some unofficial reports, 5 billion euros ($5.67 billion) was withdrawn last week from Greek banks or wired abroad. The extent of the bank run and capital flight will not be known until official numbers on deposits will be published at the beginning of next month.
Around here many Greeks say they have had enough both of the scaremongering and of austerity, after enduring an economic crisis now in its seventh year. Unemployment has reached 26 percent -- 60 percent for young people -- and one Greek in three is living below the poverty line. Greece has lost 30 percent of its gross domestic product in the past five years, a drop that economists say is comparable only to countries at war.
Greek banks can count on European support until June 30. If there's no deal, the European Central Bank (ECB) will stop the Emergency Liquidity Assistance mechanism, which has been providing cash infusions when needed.
Timos Melissaris, a hedge fund manager based in Athens, said according to those unofficial reports, the amount of money that has left the Greek banks in the past two months nearly equals that for all of 2012 when talks about a "Grexit" from the euro started.
"Greek banks then borrowed 120 billion euros from the ECB, as they had negative equity and were in need of fresh money," Melissaris said, adding that the banks keep getting ECB money because they have been recapitalized and passed the so-called “stress tests” that prove they can withstand a crisis, and therefore have access to the ELA mechanism. That may all end with a Grexit. “A problem would occur if Greece left the eurozone," Melissaris said.
Yet, Melissaris is optimistic an agreement will be reached Monday as the Greek government's proposal, he said, is very close to what the lenders are seeking.
On the other side of Athens, in the south, Giorgos Bakozachos, 64, unemployed and dealing with heart problems, waited in line at the Metropolitan Hellinikon Clinic, one of the 17 free clinics that have opened during the crisis to help the uninsured. He was here for his regular visit with the cardiologist.
Last year, Bakozachos urgently needed surgery, but he was left without any health care after he had an accident at work and couldn't work anymore. He had to shut down his construction business, selling all his equipment for little money. While waiting in line, he stared at the ground and told his story.
"I spent my last savings helping my father who was beaten by thieves and had to be hospitalized for three months," Bakozachos said, explaining he has to wait until he is 67 to get a pension because he hasn't been employed for the past few years. "When I found out I needed surgery, both me and my wife were uninsured and were out of money. Doctors told me an operation would cost me 3,500 euros ($3,980), but I couldn't even afford to buy blood-pressure pills. I even thought I should end my life in order not to be a burden to my kids, who were also unemployed."
If it weren't for the free clinic that helped him, Bakozachos might have been another number among Greece's suicides, which have risen 47 percent since 2008. "I felt I was just a burden for my family," he recalled, tearing up despite his rugged face.
With a group of other patients, Bakozachos is now hoping to find justice at the European Court of Human Rights for being excluded from the public healthcare system. "I'm appealing to the ECHR because of the situation the previous governments have brought me and my children," he said.
Today, Bakozachos looks back at life before the euro -- which Greece introduced in 2001 to replace the drachma -- and sees how drastically his life changed. He doesn't care if there will be a deal with the creditors, he said. His life was ruined four years ago when the government introduced a law that excluded the unemployed from universal healthcare to comply with the conditions of the international financial bailout.
"It really doesn't matter to me if I have euros or drachmas in my pocket," Bakozachos said after coming out of the doctor's appointment. "Of course in the beginning it might be difficult, but we're poor and we'll stay poor."