THESSALONIKI, GREECE // Greek retiree Giorgos Chatzifotiadis had queued up at three banks in the city of Thessaloniki on Friday in the hope of withdrawing a pension on behalf of his wife, but all in vain.
When he was told at the fourth that he could not withdraw his 120 euros (Dh489.71), it all became too much and he collapsed on the floor in tears.
The 77-year-old says he broke down because he could not stand to see his country in such distress.
“That’s why I feel so beaten, more than for my own personal problems,” Mr Chatzifotiadis said.
“I see my fellow citizens begging for a few cents to buy bread. I see more and more suicides. I am a sensitive person. I cannot stand to see my country in this situation.”
The image of Mr Chatzifotiadis sitting outside a bank, openly crying in despair with his savings book and identity card on the floor, was captured by a photographer illustrating how ordinary Greeks are suffering during the country’s debt crisis.
On Monday, Athens imposed capital controls and shut all banks to stem a haemorrhage of cash, but two days later allowed some branches to reopen for three days so that retirees who have no bank cards could withdraw their pensions – capped at 120 euros.
Recounting how he had gone from bank to bank in a futile attempt to collect his wife’s pension, Mr Chatzifotiadis said that when he was told at the fourth that he could not take out the money, he just collapsed.
Both he and his wife, like many Greeks in the north of the country, spent several years in Germany where Mr Chatzifotiadis says he “worked very hard”, first in a coal mine and later in a foundry.
And it is from Berlin – which is being blamed by many in Greece for its hardline stance in demanding that Athens impose more austerity measures in exchange for fresh international aid – that Mr Chatzifotiadis is receiving his wife’s pension.
“Europe and Greece have made mistakes. We must find a solution,” he said.
But Mr Chatzifotiadis feels that he can do little to change the situation – he is not even sure if he will be able to vote at Sunday’s referendum on whether to accept international creditors’ bailout conditions.
European leaders have warned that a ‘No’ vote would also mean no to the eurozone, and Greece’s subsequent exit.
Pointing out that the polling station is 80 kilometres away, Mr Chatzifotiadis said: “I have no money to go there, unless perhaps if my children would take me in their car.”
* Agence France-Presse