(Reuters) — In a traditional cafe in a working-class neighbourhood of Athens, 55-year-old musician Stelios Maragakis said he has the solution to Greece’s debt crisis: ditch the euro.
“We must return to the drachma. The only way to save Greece is the drachma,” he said, sipping from a small glass of spirit, Greek music sounding in the background.
It remains a minority view, but demands by Greece’s creditors for more tough reforms are increasing the appeal of the idea among the country’s 11 million inhabitants.
Support for dropping out of the eurozone has risen to 30 percent in polls taken in recent weeks from the 20 percent level it had held for years, said Costas Panagopoulos, the head of ALCO polling institute.
“It is still a minority but it is growing,” he said.
The reasons, he said, were not just austerity measures and seemingly endless talks with Greece’s lenders but also open talk among some politicians about regaining control over the country’s economic affairs by leaving the euro.
The drachma, one of the world’s earliest currencies, has its origins in the word “to grasp” and was dropped and reintroduced several times before being replaced by the euro in 2002.
Joining the single currency brought robust growth and a strong support for Europe, but the economy has shrunk by about a quarter since the start of the recession in late 2008, more than one in four people are jobless and the idea of leaving the protective 19-nation eurozone club is no longer taboo.
Euro zone finance ministers were holding the latest of a series of crisis meetings on Wednesday to try to keep Greece in.
Athens has offered to hike taxes and pension contributions and curb early retirement in proposals to the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, whose support it needs to stay afloat.
The idea of yet more austerity brought a grimace to the face of 65-year-old Athens resident Kostas Grammenos.
“We’re a bankrupt country, so let’s go wherever we need to go – the drachma? The drachma … and start over,” he said.
Although Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said Greece must stay in the euro and a “Grexit” is not an option, some dissenters from his leftist Syriza party have asked whether Greece would be better off outside the single currency.
Euro zone politicians have also for the first time ever openly discussed this possibility, a sharp move away from the stated irrevocability of the euro
Opinion polls issued by other Greek pollsters GPO and Public Issue over the past two weeks have also shown a marked drop in the majority support for the euro – even if it is still wide.
Although 69.7 percent of Greeks answered yes in a June 16 GPO poll when asked whether they want their country “to stay in the euro at all costs,” that was substantially down from 80.3 percent in January.
“Europe was seen as a necessity by the huge majority, but now, for a part of society, it is the enemy,” Panagopoulos said.
“A lot of efforts will need to go into restoring this and I’m not sure if at some point in the future we will be back at the past level of support for the euro.”
Queuing to get cash from an ATM, an Athens resident who gave his name as Vassilis said: “What more can we be afraid of? We’ve been destroyed for five years now, there is nothing else for us to be scared of. For me it would be better to return to the drachma, to have our own currency.”