Astoria Greeks track debt crisis

TimesLedger Newspapers

Astoria’s Greeks were pessimistic about the future of their home country after the Athens government Monday voted in favor of another round of austerity measures to stave off default that inspired demonstrations and riots.

“The poor people are going to get hurt,” said 70-year-old Nick Psomos, who was having coffee Monday in the Lefkos Pyrgos café, at 31st Street and 23rd Avenue in Astoria.

After already passing measures requiring a new property tax and layoffs last year, Greece voted 199-74 with 27 abstentions to pass a 22 percent cut in the benchmark minimum wage and 150,000 layoffs for government workers by 2015, among other Draconian steps.

The cuts were passed so the government does not default on a critical bond issue in March with its debt now at 160 percent of gross domestic product, according to The Wall Street Journal. The hard measures have triggered demonstrations and looting.

The news concerned many Greeks in Astoria, home to the largest Greek population outside the country.

An employee at the Foodoni Grill, at 23rd Avenue and 27th Street, who gave his name as Bobby, 35, said the rioters should be concentrating on finding a job.

“We work 14 hours a day, 15 hours a day,” he said. “Cut out the fiesta and go to work.”

But James Bouzas, 55, said it made sense that people were rioting in Greece, where unemployment is running at 21 percent.

“There’s no production, no factories, no job, low payroll,” he said.

Bouzas said he blamed the country’s current problems on George Papandreou, the previous prime minister who resigned in November so a unity government could take over and tackle the debt crisis. Papandreou was a member of the Greek Socialist Party, which his father founded.

“Papandreou family destroy the country,” Bouzas said.

Frieda Bletsas, the cook at Gregory’s 26 Corner, at 23rd Avenue and 26th Street, said she disagreed.

“His father was a good politician,” she said.

Nick Psomos’ brother Demitrios, 73, said he did not believe the European Union was properly protecting Greece and that France and Germany’s proposed escrow account for Greece to pay off its debts with interest was setting the country up to fail.

“I think they use Greece right now,” Demitrios Psomos said.

But another patron at Lefkos Pyrgos, who declined to give his name, said the Greek people should learn to be responsible.

“I think the Greek parliament, when they voted the other day, did the right thing,” he said.

Larry Panagiotopoulis, 65, of the Igloo Cafe, at 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard, said he thought the Greeks needed to adopt a more hardworking mentality, but he acknowledged that the situation was difficult.

“If the people, they decide they’re going to live without money, maybe they’re going to make it 20 years from now,” Panagiotopoulis said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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