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New York’s Greek Community Shares the Pain of Bailout Crisis

3 minute read

With Greece now technically in default of its debts to the International Monetary Fund, voters there are preparing to cast their ballots in a referendum where the future of the country is at stake. Do they vote ‘Yes’ to support accepting a bailout plan from Greece’s creditors, and potentially condemn themselves to yet more spending cuts and tax hikes? Or do they vote ‘No’ and face the prospect of Greece leaving the eurozone?

The weight of that decision is being felt far beyond Greece’s shores, all the way to the neighborhood of Astoria in New York City, where the significant Greek and Greek-American population has been monitoring the developments from afar.

Frances Petradellis says that the “Second Athens” of Astoria is gripped by the crisis, despite being thousands of miles away. The 46-year-old, who moved from Greece to Astoria in 1976, said she hasn’t made her mind up which way she wants to vote to go. “Obviously we don’t want [Greece] to default. But sometimes you have to not give in.”

But others in Astoria are sure that a ‘no’ vote would give Greece time to recover from five years of austerity imposed by its creditors. “Greece needs 10 years just to normalize, forget grow,” said George Patrikis, 28, a first-generation Greek- American who works in Ditmas Flowers & Gifts with his brother Bill. “The whole economy has to change. The country has to change.”

For that to happen, he says, Greece must leave the eurozone — no matter the potentially dire consequences to the global economy. Patrikis says that although he does not absolve Greece from blame, he feels the conditions of the so-called “Troika” of the IMF, the European Central Bank and European Commission have been excessively punitive. “At this point, Europe is screwing Greece over,” he says.

Some earlier immigrants to the U.S. believe a yes vote is inevitable. George Katsihtis and Nicolas Makrides, who have each been in the U.S. for decades, told TIME they thought Greece would likely vote to accept the bailout terms out of financial necessity. “The majority of people don’t want to lose the little money they’re getting every month,” said Makridis, 55.

Katsihtis, who moved from Greece in 1967 and owns The Neptune Diner in Astoria, said he would prefer Greek and its creditors to reach a fair compromise than a vote in which neither result is favorable. “If they vote ‘no’ now, we’ll go back to 1950,” he said, but added he remains “in-between” because Europe is already squeezing Greece a lot. “From here, we can see things much better.”

Despite the distance the crisis can seem close to home, though — especially to the Greek-Americans who have family still there. Konstantinos Daniil, 31, the working manager at Taverna Kyclades, says his retired father in Athens didn’t receive any pension this month, and his sister didn’t receive her most recent wages. He shares their pain and anger, he said. “Whatever they feel, I feel it too.”

As for the referendum, Daniil is hopeful that no matter Sunday’s result, the country will have “better days” ahead. “We say in Greece, if you fall down, you’ll get back up again,” said Daniil, adding: “Hopefully.”

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Write to Julia Zorthian at julia.zorthian@time.com