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In 'Little Athens,' Greeks torn over debt crisis fix

Greek-Americans in Queens divided over debt crisis

For residents of New York's "Little Athens," Greece's debt crisis hits close to home.

Signs written in Greek and blue and white flags pepper Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, but beneath the loyalty and pride on the streets of the Queens neighborhood, there's an uneasiness about Greece's future. If public sentiment here is any indication, Greeks are torn on what their country should do next.

"People can't go on like this anymore," said Maria Kyprianides, a 29-year-old Greek resident who has family in Greece. "It's like having a knife to your throat."

Ahead of a public referendum Sunday on the country's bailout, which could lead to Greece's exit from the euro zone, the Dow Jones industrial average closed Monday at its lowest point since February. In Greece, banks have been closed and citizens are only allowed to take out 60 euros per day, according to several residents and various news outlets. Strict controls have been put in place to monitor the flow of capital in and out of the country.

"I have money in Greek banks, but I don't feel like I need to take it out. It's a temporary problem, we are going to fix it," said Cleanthis Meimaroglou, a 69-year-old electrical engineer in Astoria who is from Greece.

Theodore Xenos, a 60-year-old from the Greek island Zante, who owns the Greek Superstore in Astoria, said if he were voting in Sunday's referedum, he would vote against continuing bailout talks with Europe.

"We don't want any more guidance, we want to be free," he said. "It's not that Greece is poor. They took us for a ride. Europe took us for a ride."

But others disagree.

The problem is the whole country's fault, said John Kamitsis, the owner of Mike's Diner, who is from the Greek island of Fourni. Although he thinks joining the euro zone hurt Greece economically—compromising its manufacturing and agricultural industry—the country should stay a part of the union, he said.

Point is, the money is owed. They have to be paid somewhere. But on the other hand, the Europeans have to understand that they have to deal with people.
John Kamitsis
owner, Mike's Diner

"Greece should be part of Europe for a lot of reasons, the protection of the economy, the protection of the borders, imagine a weak nation out of nowhere? Being out on the street? Everyone is going to gang up on them," he said.

"There are no choices. It's unfortunate to say that you have to bow your head on national issues. But the only way you're going to survive is if you compromise."

John Kamitsis, owner of Mike's Diner in Astoria, N.Y., who is from Greece, said that Greece should not exit the euro zone.

Both sides need to cooperate, said Kamitsis.

"Point is, the money is owed. They have to be paid somewhere. But on the other hand, the Europeans have to understand that they have to deal with people."

Emmanuel Dritsas, president of the Greek American Orthodox community at the St. Demetrios Cathedral in Astoria, said he hopes Greece continues to pursue an agreement with European leaders.

"I hope [Prime Minister Alexis Tsipris] does the good for the country and for the people. Anything for our country to be together with Europe," he said. "Europe cannot be without Greece."

—Video by Qin Chen