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Some Nostalgic Greeks Want to Quit the Euro and Bring Back Their Old Currency

After the resounding “No” vote on the bailout referendum, uncertainty, confusion, and the ever-present lines at ATMs have returned in Greece.

by Andrew Connelly
Jul 7 2015, 6:00pm

Imagen por Alexandros Vlachos/EPA

In Greece, there is a sense that a battle has been won, but the war is far from over. As the bailout referendum results began to filter in on Sunday evening, showing that the country voted a resounding "No," Syntagma Square in Athens swelled with thousands of Greeks embracing, dancing, and singing patriotic songs. After the jubilation faded, recent days have seen a return to uncertainty, confusion, and the ever-present lines at ATMs.

On Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrived in Brussels, flanked by his team of negotiators, including the new, Oxford-educated Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who took over after the resignation of renegade economist Yanis Varoufakis. Speculation has it that Tsipras wants Greece's gargantuan 323 billion euro debt slashed by up to 30 percent, with a payback period stretching over 20 years.

Around the streets of Athens, there is a growing sense of nostalgia for the drachma, Greece's pre-euro currency.

Nick, who was hired during the referendum campaign to put up "Yes" posters — despite voting "No" himself — wistfully recalled the old days before the euro. "I don't really know which currency is right, but I do remember a better life when we used the drachma," he told VICE News. "My father built a nice house, we went on holidays. With his one job he raised three children. Nowadays you need three jobs just to raise one child."

Related: Financial Chaos Looms After Greeks Reject Bailout With Resounding 'Oxi' Vote

In the Dimotiki Agora, Athens' cavernous indoor food market, fishmonger Paris Klonis waved a large, slippery red snapper in the air as he fondly remembered days gone by with the old currency.

"All the cheap fish went already, but these days we can't sell the expensive stuff, especially now with the banks closed," he told VICE News. "I ask you, does it make sense to work 15 hours a day and lose money? People who were millionaires now eat from the rubbish. Before, with the drachma, we were rich."

'People who were millionaires now eat from the rubbish. Before, with the drachma, we were rich.'

Down a shady alley, Giorgos Kosmidis sat in his family's pet shop surrounded by sacks of animal food and cages with chirping, bouncing birds. The room was dominated by one bright green parrot, resting proudly yet mournfully on her perch. A lot of Greeks now struggle to feed themselves, let alone a pet, but Kosmidis told VICE News that business has been steady, though nobody knows what will happen next.

"On Sunday, we showed our rage, and now we are waiting," he said. "They tried to scare us, saying that if we voted 'No' then we would leave the euro and get back the drachma, but I just want someone to explain the benefits of each option, because the media certainly doesn't tell us. I at least remember things were cheaper back then, and then in 2001 when we joined the euro, prices increased overnight."

Related: 'I Shall Wear the Creditors' Loathing with Pride': Greece's Finance Minister Resigns

A worker cleans graffiti outside the central Bank of Greece building in Athens. (Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

Greece is the world's third-largest olive oil producer, and farmers, many of whom fear that the banks will be forced to take money from their accounts, are demanding cash payments from distributors, who are unable to provide it as banks are expected to remain closed until at least Wednesday.

"I don't even want to think about what will happen if we left the euro," Chris Dimizas, managing director of olive oil producer Greekpol, told Reuters on Tuesday.

The experts are similarly divided. Panagiotis Petrakis, an economics professor at the University of Athens, told VICE News that returning to the old currency would be extremely difficult.

"Many people are nostalgic, but they confuse the past with the currency and the two things are not the same," Petrakis said. "One of the main reasons that people voted 'No' was that Tsipras promised the country he would fight to keep it in the euro. Although a return to the drachma remains a possibility, I think we are far from that. Right now, it is technically impossible."

Meanwhile, Stavros Drakopoulos, a professor of economic thought and methodology, told VICE News the referendum increased the likelihood of a so-called "Grexit" from the euro.

Related: What Greece's 'No' Referendum Vote Means for Europe

"Post-referendum there is now an increased probability of exiting the euro zone," he said. "The rigid attitudes of the creditors made it much harder to get some breathing room in negotiations. You of course expect that the public finds it difficult to understand these very technical matters, but the consensus is that the drachma would be worse in the beginning, but in the medium to long term, possibly better."

On Tuesday evening, the rumblings coming out of the key meeting of euro zone finance ministers were far from optimistic, with suggestions that the Greek team had not outlined any new proposals.

"It's looking likely that this is a waste of time," Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

On Monday night, the European Central Bank squeezed Greek banks further, maintaining the credit controls that have seen a daily withdrawal limit of 50 euros imposed on Greek citizens. There have been reports of major companies paying employee salaries in cash.

Back in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ominously warned that the clock is ticking for a deal to be made. "It's not a matter of weeks any more," she told reporters. "It's days."

Follow Andrew Connelly on Twitter: @connellyandrew

Watch the latest VICE News dispatch, Yes or No? Greece Again on the Brink: Greek Debt Crisis (Dispatch 1):