Athens: Millions of Greeks are heading to the polls on Sunday for a crucial referendum on Greece`s bailout. Here are short profiles of people determined their `Yes` or `No` votes are the only way to save the country.
Nikos Vichos heads up an 118-year old company importing Swiss watches. He is voting `Yes` in the referendum because he sees it as the country`s “last hope” to avoid financial chaos.
A silver fox who wears his 62 years lightly, Vichos says the capital controls brought in this week by the government after negotiations with its international creditors collapsed have hit his business hard.
“Nobody needs luxury items right now, even people who can buy would feel insane with guilt if they did.”
The company was expecting a shipment of watches on Monday, but due to the capital restrictions the 72,000 Swiss franc (69,000 euros; $ 76,000) order had to be cancelled.
The father of three has been forced to cut 15 percent off the salaries taken home by his 22 employees, and says “if the banks stay closed for even two more weeks the problems will be huge”.
The company has already seen turnover drop from 17 million euros five years ago when the crisis hit, to under one million euros today, and Vichos is “desperately worried” about losing the firm.
“No one is buying houses, cars, luxury goods anymore, everything died after January” when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his radical-left Syriza party swept to power on a mandate to renegotiate the bailout.
“I`ll vote `Yes` and believe we`ll win. I have to believe that, to stay positive. Because it`s our last hope.”
Yanis, 29, is one of the country`s army of unemployed youths. He is voting `No` because he believes it`s the only way to pull Greece out of the profound economic slump it has been in for the past six years.
“I know Monday will be difficult. But pride forces me to say `No` because `Yes` would mean harsher austerity measures, and approving the political line which has led us into this situation,” he said.
He blames the European Union for “not respecting the Greek people`s sovereignty” by calling fairly clearly for a `Yes` victory. And he thinks “Europeans should support Greece” by saying no to austerity.
“Despite propaganda from some media who do not correctly address the consequences of a `No` vote, Greeks understand that we need a change,” he said.
“There is no hope here to see better days. The solution lies outside the EU and the euro.”
At the end of his fishing rod, pensioner Giorgos Trentsios has hung a Greek flag.
Taking part in a `Yes` rally on Friday night, the 66-year-old said “if the `Yes` camp doesn`t carry the day, from Monday there`ll be turmoil”.
“Nothing will work, the banks will still be shut and the whole economy will be paralysed,” the former mechanic said.
Five years of austerity has hit pensions hard: his has been cut by 600 euros and taxes have gone up.
“I tightened my belt like everyone in Greece. But if we ever returned to the drachma, that would be much worse,” he said.
The choice between accepting austerity measures or leaving the eurozone “is a bit like if you asked me: would you rather be amputated from the wrist or the arm?”
Trentsios is even beginning to regret having sold his land in his home village in the Peloponnese. “At least if things go wrong I could have survived on my vegetables,” he said.
He added that he would thinking of his grandchildren when he votes on Sunday.
“I am old, I have lived well, I can survive a return to the drachma. But I don`t want my grandchildren`s future to be ruined. They have the right to live a normal life.”
Corina Iliadou, in her fifties, teaches political education in the city of Thebes. She was at the `No` rally in Athens on Friday evening which welcomed Tsipras to the stage like a rock star.
But she said: “We`re not here for a leader, but for our future”.
A mother to two children aged 16 and 14 years old, she and her husband earned a combined 3,200 euros a month in 2010, when the creditor-demanded austerity measures began to kick in.
They now earn a combined 2,400 euros, with 1,300 of that amount going to pay off loans.
It`s not only financial difficulties which have persuaded her to vote `No`, it`s also national pride.
“They treat us as if we were a colony, or as if we were the servants of (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel.”
She says a `No` victory is needed to “re-establish hope in something better” and “strengthen the government in its negotiations with the creditors, so that we won`t have new austerity measures”.