The age of austerity looms large over the Greek people. But what impact is it having on its citizens? Yahoo! News reports

Greek MPs finally voted through a controversial austerity plan in return for a £110billion EU bailout as rioters clashed with police in the streets outside.

Without the cash injection the country would have faced the prospect of defaulting next month when it ran out of money.

But what is it like living in a society buffeted by all this turmoil?



Born in Athens to a Greek mother and English father, PAUL KIDNER returned to the Greek capital four years ago after 14 years working in various countries around the world. He recently started up a business and here he gives Yahoo! News a personal insight into the crisis gripping his country.


I’ve stopped watching the news. Every day feels like Groundhog Day. We watch the same drama on our screens – crisis, default, the drachma, unemployment, downward spiral – and it is getting increasingly depressing to watch.

For those living outside Greece the footage of rioting in the streets is in complete contrast to the cultural imagery handed down since the 1970s. Older women dressed in black, men playing backgammon in cafes, black coffee, ouzo, delicious food and beautiful beaches.

And now? What have we to show for the 'fast-food tourism' which developed from our cultural brand? Very little apart from vast debts and an all-pervading sense of gloom.

To give an indication of how it affects our daily lives, to keep bills down people have taken to switching off their central heating. One friend told me her family even uses a quick blast of a hair-dryer to keep warm.

They can’t afford expensive diesel-powered heating systems any more. It also begs the question of why we even use diesel in a land of wind, sun and rich geothermal energy sources?


But we do, the state-owned electricity grid still uses lignite – known to be one of the most inefficient fuels. And that is indicative of what little change takes place here. Things never change – except for the worse.

Since the austerity measures kicked in one business is closing after the other. Unemployment jumped from 11% last year to a current level of 21% and rising.

[ Related story: Greece still to convince Europe over rescue deal]

 
Among my immediate circle, I know of three people who have lost their jobs, and another who has remained unpaid over the past eight months. He’s finding it difficult to make ends meet and moved to a smaller flat with his girlfriend to cut down on costs.
 
Now one of the three has found a job but that involves taking a severe pay cut. 'I’m back to where I was in the 1990s,' he says. One friend who owned a printing business is now working as a security guard for €600 (£500) per month.

Many are thinking of emigrating.

On top of this there are the tax bills, one after the other. I had to pay 600 euro (£500) - the basic monthly salary in Greece - for a 'solidarity tax' a couple of months ago. At first the government said it was a one-off payment but there are fears it will be demanded again.

I earned a respectable salary last year but left in order to start my own business which still isn't profitable. But I still had to pay this tax.

After that there came a 'special tax' for anyone who owns property – it is worked out according to the area in which you live and how large your property is.

I own a small flat, so I 'only' had to spend a further €500 (£419). But -  like many others - I found it hard to pay my mortgage as well as paying this new bill.
 
And it adds to a sense of unfairness that I have to pay an additional, brand-new tax on top of other property taxes I’ve already paid. The way it was implemented shows the government knew how unpopular it would be. So the property tax was taken through your electricity bill.

Anyone who didn’t pay would have their electricity cut off. What one side of the fence calls austerity, another calls extortion.


The middle-class feel they are constantly the ones who have to front the bills. We are the easy target, the people who can’t hide from the tax system. The rich move their money to off-shore accounts, while small businesses don’t issue bills making it impossible for the taxman to track their earnings.

A friend recently moved to a flat which needed work doing to it. But neither the painter, the electrician nor the plumber would issue a written bill.

[ Related story: Greece calls snap elections for April]

So we get hit each and every time.

Taxes erode the middle class, while leaving systemic failures untouched. On top of that, despite many political scandals, no one with large pockets or ‘good connections’ has ever been punished. The sense of injustice infuriates the public.

The problem is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Greeks feel that there are little prospects and no plans for growth. And there is little to choose from the political parties.

If the EU was really concerned about Greek debt, why are we not talking about cutting our defence spending? Greeks believe this is because EU countries benefit from lucrative defence contracts.



Most Greeks would agree that the country needs fiscal re-structuring, that the tax system has to be automated to reduce graft, that bureaucracy needs to be minimised and a business-friendly environment needs to be introduced. One that doesn’t require two weeks of queues and umpteen civil servants to stamp one piece of paper.

But the current measures on offer are seen as simply harsh, unfair and unsustainable.

As people’s wealth is being eroded so is their silence. Greece is going to begin to roar and its creditors are not going to like the consequences that this instability will bring.
 
Our leaders and the EU also bear responsibility for this need to communicate to the Greek people how they plan on making things better, how they will create jobs, efficiency and clamp down on tax evasion.
 
There is a Greek proverb which says 'hope dies last' but if we are ever to survive this collective anguish we need to find a source of hope - and quickly.

Video: Greece backs bailout as Athens burns