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Greeks Divided Ahead Of Eurozone Vote


Greeks vote tomorrow in a referendum that's been interpreted as a verdict on austerity, as well as the country's place in the eurozone. The question itself is based on a bailout deal with eurozone lenders that's no longer even on the table. In a massive rally Friday night, the Greek prime minister urged Greeks to vote no. It's expected to be a close vote. But as Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens, many Greeks are making their choices with trepidation.



JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told a cheering crowd of supporters last night that voting o'hi, the Greek word for no, was about dignity. O'hi was the word that Greeks had chanted when they resisted Italian fascists in 1940.

MARIA BAIRAKTARI: There is no alternative, either no or nothing.

KAKISSIS: That's Maria Bairaktari, who is at the no rally. She's 45 and can't find a job. And she says the European Union and the eurozone have not helped her. She wants out.

BAIRAKTARI: At this moment, we are not ready to leave European Union and euro currency. Hopefully soon we'll be powerful again and return to drachma. That will be ideal for us.

KAKISSIS: The drachma was Greece's currency before the euro. Konstantinos Kotitsas says it would be a disaster for Greece to revert to the drachma.

KONSTANTINOS KOTITSAS: (Through interpreter) I've been thinking about voting yes on the referendum. I'm afraid we're going to get kicked out of the euro unless we vote yes.

KAKISSIS: I meet Kotitsas in his apartment in a modest suburb, where he lives with his 12-year-old daughter, Androniki. She imagines terrible things happening in Greece if it leaves the eurozone.

ANDRONIKI KOTITSAS: (Through interpreter) I'm scared that we're going to go bankrupt, that there will be war and that we will go hungry because we have no money.

KAKISSIS: Kotitsas is struggling. The construction company he founded with his father and brother Dimitris is barely breaking even. Dimitris Kotitsas now drives a taxi to support his wife and two young children.

DIMITRIS KOTITSAS: (Through interpreter) My brother and I are already doomed with the way things are. But we can't doom the kids. We have to make sure they grow up in a healthy country and have good prospects. They don't have that now.

KAKISSIS: Konstantinos's daughter Androniki wants to be a civil engineer when she grows up. But he worries that if Greece cannot pay back its debts, the economy will never improve. Konstantinos brings up a friend, who, after months of searching, finally found a part-time job.

K. KOTITSAS: (Through interpreter) And when I asked her how much they were going to pay her, she told me that for working six hours a day, six days a week, she would get 190 euros a month.

KAKISSIS: That's only about $200. These are labor abuses, says Euclid Tsakalotos, the alternate foreign minister who leads the Greek government team that was negotiating with eurozone and International Monetary Fund lenders. The Greeks, he says, want a deal that's fair to workers and pensioners, but the eurozone dismissed their proposals as amateurish.

EUCLID TSAKALOTOS: We did come with very serious proposals. It's just that the other side were never willing to accept proposals on a different logic than theirs.

KAKISSIS: This impasse led to the prime minister calling the referendum, which Tsakalotos describes as part of the negotiating process.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: It's unclear to the Kotitsas brothers if that process will ever start again and when Greek banks, closed all week, will reopen. European leaders are urging Greeks to vote yes, but the brothers decided to vote no. Like many Greeks, they worry what either choice will bring. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.