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World

Greek Voters Want Their Government To Show Some Fight

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Earlier this year, voters in Greece swept a defiant left-wing party into office. The new government promised to fix the economy and stand up to European leaders and their tough austerity measures. But Greece could run out of cash next month, and its leaders have had to compromise. As Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens, that's bothering many Greeks.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Early last month, just three weeks after the leftist Syriza party had won elections in Greece, Vassilis Kafetzopoulos attended one of the first pro-government rallies in recent Greek history. He stood out in the crowd. He was tall and serious, built like a linebacker holding a sign that read, we are not Merkel's colony. Merkel as in German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Here's what he said then.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VASSILIS KAFETZOPOULOS: Merkel is a symbol of a Europe that is not Europe of its people. It is just a financial means of banks and private investors getting richer.

KAKISSIS: Fast forward six weeks. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who once called German-led austerity policies barbaric, is in Berlin with Merkel greeted by a military band playing the Greek national anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRIME MINISTER ALEXIS TSIPRAS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: And the prime minister smiled as he recalled Merkel's words to him that it's better to talk to each other than about each other.

KAFETZOPOULOS: They're trying to negotiate.

KAKISSIS: This is Kafetzopoulos, the guy that was holding the we are not Merkel's colony sign. I caught up with him this week at a cafe in Athens near the hospital where he works as a medical researcher. He wants they - that's the government - to show some fight.

KAFETZOPOULOS: They give too much when they negotiate, and they do not fully take advantage of the many political weapons that they have.

KAKISSIS: By political weapons, he actually means Democratic ones. Greeks voted for Syriza in part because they wanted more sovereignty, something they had to give up in exchange for bailout loans. It used to anger Kafetzopoulos that technocrats from Brussels would tell previous Greek governments what to do.

KAFETZOPOULOS: The previous Greek government was totally submissive to the European Commission and the German Chancellor. It was like their yes ma'am.

KAKISSIS: And yet, he says, playing nice got Greece nowhere. In his view, the country's still being vilified.

KAFETZOPOULOS: The world thinks we are thieves or thinks we are tax evaders, and we just want money to finance our vacations.

KAKISSIS: But the Greek Government actually needs those eurozone loans to pay pensions and run hospitals. And it won't get any more money unless it gives detailed financial reforms to the eurozone this week. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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