Want to know how Greeks see the future? Get in the ATM queue and ask them


By Dimitris Dalakoglou*, University of Sussex

If one was following Greek and international media, it might have seemed as though the difference between the numbers in the Yes and No camps in the Greek referendum was tiny. However, as most ethnographers of Greece would be able to tell you, especially the ones who have spent two years doing research in Athens during the crisis, the No voters were in the overwhelming majority. And so it ultimately proved in the result.

One of the most grotesque moments in the festival of pro-Yes propaganda hosted by Greek TV channels came when a Mega Channel journalist attempted to interview a pensioner in Athens about his views on the debt crisis. The journalist had been expecting the elderly man to complain about the terrible queues at the banks. Instead, the man began to comment on how the crisis has caused thousands of suicides and that he supported the decision to let the people decide. Having failed to get the answer he was looking for, the journalist simply pushed the man out of the frame and quickly began talking over him, while the camera panned away.

Probably one of the best places to understand what is going on in Greece at the moment is in the queues forming at the ATMs of closed banks. People have to wait longer than usual to withdraw cash, and with a daily limit of €60, they are queuing more often, so while there, they just chat with each other spontaneously. Others join in the conversation until you have a small assembly. People address the “audience” loudly, agree and disagree, add comments on top of the main debate and splinter off into their own, smaller groups in the queue. Sometimes people stick around to talk even after they have withdrawn their 60 euros from the ATM.

They talk about their fear but also about their anger. They are angry at the private TV channels and newspapers that spread fear ahead of the vote. They are angry at Greece’s creditors and resent the euro as a currency. In the queue, the conversations are often about the real value of the euro. People still loudly translate their 60-euro allowance into the old Greek currency. They talk about how much they could buy with 20,000 drachma and how little they can get with 60 euros.

They also remember the last time a significant percentage of people in Greece lost substantial amounts of their savings. That was in 1999 when the Athens Stock Market collapsed, just before Greece joined the euro. The government, led by technocrat Costas Simitis had liberated the financial markets as part of the eurozone integration process.

People were encouraged to invest their savings in the financial market via governmental (and TV) propaganda. Small stock market agencies sprung up in towns and villages to help them on their way. The TV sets in the traditional Greek coffee shops broadcast stock market sessions and pink newspapers appeared on the tables. A country with 10 million people was suddenly home to more than 1 million stock-market investors.

Then came the crash. The market collapsed under the weight of several corporate manipulations and investors saw their savings vanish.

At the time, there was enough going on to distract people from the blow. The change of currency to the euro and the devaluation effect made the loss of trillions of drachmas look relatively less significant. People still recall how things that cost 100 Drachma or less quadrupled in value overnight and suddenly cost a euro.

This time around, there are no distractions. But although people fear losing their deposits while the banks remain closed – as happened in Cyprus – the fact is, very few people have much of a deposit to lose.

Beyond what people are talking about as they queue for the ATM, social theory teaches us that large groups with little to lose are a traditional danger for capitalist projects.

The threat they pose was temporarily diffused by the referendum, as they had the chance to express their discontent, but the result makes it clear that they will not be placated for long. The resounding No vote has emerged from a population with no faith in the neoliberal economic system or the mainstream media that presents it to them. They voted no because people are ready to risk losing things in order to win a new political and social deal– especially when what they have to lose doesn’t amount to much.

*Dimitris Dalakoglou is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at University of Sussex. This article was originally published on The Conversation.


  1. Sorry, but I find this commentary very disingenuous. I am an American, living in Greece. I speak with many Greeks everyday. What I hear, is completely different from what the author of this article is claiming. To be quite honest, it seems the author of this article has an axe to grind.

    Yes, I do hear Greeks blaming others, which makes no sense because it was Greeks who elected their government. These Greek governments borrowed money, signed agreements to repay the debt. Now the Greek government does not want to repay the loans they made, after spending all the money. That’s the lender’s fault ? I don’t think so, and neither does any other reasonable person.

    Greeks don’t want to pay their taxes either. So who’s fault is that ? Answer, it’s the Greek’s fault. Most of the Greeks I speak with agree with that point. They don’t blame others. The one’s that blame others I found to be poorly very educated.

    The author should talk to the massive amount of educated Greeks who have left Greece, and ask them why they left. The answers from these young, well educated Greeks who left Greece, would completely contradict what the author of this article attempts to infer. They blame Greece, for it’s own problems.

  2. Your on the money with AV Driver!!! His views are consistent with ultra-conservative rants while dismissing the hard working people of Greece as uneducated fools. The Greek people deserve support in this time of distress and not elitist opinions…

  3. So I have to apologize to you for being successful, because you have been a failure in life ? LOL, LOL, LOL.

    There is nothing wrong with being wealthy, if you obtained that wealth honestly, which I did. I worked hard all my life. I obtained an education through my own efforts, not my parents. I started at the bottom, and worked up to the top of the ladder. Just because you failed at accomplishing anything, is not my fault. It’s your fault.

    Life gives the the opportunity to be successful. It doesn’t guarantee it. I’m not at all out of touch with reality. Quite the contrary. It’s the Marxist Greeks who are way out of touch with reality.

    Some of you Greeks are under the mistaken belief you are entitled. If you want something, you should try EARNING it, instead of sitting in a cafe, drinking coffee, and whining about how tough life is, which is what you are doing now.

    I have met many Greeks that work very hard, are ethical, and are responsible. Then I have met other Greeks, that are lazy, have no ethics, and believe the world owes them a living. Guess what ? The world doesn’t owe them a living.

    Yes, I am retired. Yes, I have been successful in life, and I EARNED every bit of it. Why don’t you try EARNING a goal, instead of begging for a handout, and criticizing people that have been successful.

  4. Your logic is greatly flawed. Lending is only a two way street in relation to a borrower, and lender. When the borrower signs the agreement with the lender’s terms for repayment, the borrower is obligated to repay the loan under the terms he agreed to when he signed the loan agreement.

    The borrower made the decision to obtain the loan, and agreed to the loan terms. The borrower does NOT have the right to change those terms, after receiving the money, and is obligated to repay that money.
    There is no two way street regarding repayment of a loan.

    If Greece could not repay the loan, why did it borrow the money ? Why is Greece now wanting another loan, which it can’t repay ? If that is the case, Greece is not asking for a loan, but a free handout at the expense of the EU taxpayers of other countries. That makes Greece a parasite off the economies of other EU countries.

  5. Greece will have to pay the money back. The IMF, and the ECB, will get a judgement in an international court. It will then enforce that judgement when Greece attempt to import products. Greece will have to send money up front through the International Banking Transfer System (SWIFT). The creditors will seize that money.

    Just ask Argentina. Argentina’s assets were seized in the U.S. by U.S. courts, to pay off creditors of their bailout loans. Argentina appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost.

    The IMF, and ECB, will get money out of Greece. It may be a slow process, but they are not walking away from over 300 billion in loans.

  6. Your obsession with money is your own problem — and I feel sorry for you. Obviously, you think that this is the only goal in life, and you have a very right wing and obnoxious attitude.

    And I am not Greek, by the way. And I am not suggesting that Greeks should be given “handouts”. I am telling you that the handouts were given to incompetent German and French banks. Got the difference?

  7. Tsipras is ignoring the clear decision made by the Greek electorate, 61% of whom voted “NO” to further loans from the Troika loansharks at the July 5th referendum. Merkel and the leaders of the other €urozone nations must explain to their electorates why they took hundreds of billions of €uros from their own taxpayers and used that money to repay irresponsible loans that international banks had made to successive ND, & PASOK governments, rather than letting those banks lose the money they’d lent. I’m sure Merkel and Schäuble will try their best to avoid explaining that part to the German electorate.

  8. I don’t have an obsession with money. You’re the one with an obsession. You keep mentioning money, and criticize people who have money. Why ? Because you’re jealous, are unsuccessful in life, and blame the world for your failures.

    I could care less whether you are Greek, or what nationality you are. You have a Marxist mentality, and think the world owes you a living. We have people in the U.S. like you also. People like you are a cancer on the civilized world. Always whining, and complaining, instead of coming up with solutions to a problem. You want others to do the work for you, because you are to lazy, and irresponsible.

    You say handouts were given to incompetent GERMAN and FRENCH BANKS ? LOL, LOL, LOL.

    What ? LOL, LOL. Wrong ! Handouts were given to a corrupt, and incompetent, GREEK GOVERNMENT who squandered the loan money away by embezzling it, and failing to use the loan money, to install a business infrastructure in Greece, so Greece would not need anymore loans. Now this same corrupt, and incompetent, GREEK GOVERNMENT wants more money. The EU should tell Greece “no”, because Greece just voted “no”.

    Got the difference ?