Europe

Greece elections: Syriza story plays out in town called Drama

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Media captionCafe owner Yiannis Tsakiris: "Europe is ready to listen after all these years"

People in Drama, in the north-east of Greece, have felt the tragedy of the economic crisis and are gradually turning towards left-wing Syriza ahead of Sunday's elections.

In Drama, they know all about the crisis.

Factories have closed, jobs have moved across the border to Bulgaria, and many people have upped and left.

"When I came back here six months ago I was really surprised by how bad it was," says Yiannis Tsakiris, who bucked the trend by returning to Drama from Manchester in the UK last year.

He's opened a coffee shop in what was a derelict plot in an old building on the town square.

"When I registered a new business at the tax office," he says with a rueful grin, "even they told me I was crazy".

"We sell Greek coffee for one euro, and we pay 43 cents in tax on every cup. It makes no sense."

Image caption Yiannis Tsakiris moved back to Drama from the UK and set up one of the town's only new businesses

The sun is shining and people are sitting at tables outside the cafe enjoying some winter warmth.

But the economic chill is proving hard to shake off.

New economy

This is conservative small-town Greece - a long way from Athens. It's a traditional bastion of support for centre-right parties like New Democracy, which leads the outgoing government.

But just down the road at Syriza's local campaign headquarters, supporters of the radical left coalition believe they can win even in a place like this, and certainly nationwide.

"It's either Syriza or austerity," says Myrta Tourtouri, a young PhD student who is running for office as an MP for the first time.

"We're building a new country, and a new economy and we're very happy about that."

It all sounds good in theory, but there have been veiled and not-so-veiled warnings from politicians across Europe.

Image caption Local industry in Drama has collapsed under austerity measures

Syriza, they suggest, could lead Greece out of the eurozone if it insists on writing off a large chunk of debt, and tries to change the rules of the game.

"I don't think threats are an option," Ms Tourtouri says.

"We're sending a message from places like Drama that this is what people want. It's a strong negotiating position, based on democratic support."

'Get well soon'

At the local hospital everyone knows that years of huge cuts in public spending have hit the Greek health service hard.

Undaunted, the local New Democracy MP, Dimitris Kyriazidis, is walking the corridors, canvassing support.

It probably helps that his son is one of the doctors here.

"Get well soon," he says to a slightly startled patient. "Make sure you get out by Sunday so you can vote."

Image caption Syriza wants to end austerity measures and reverse cuts to jobs, pay and pensions

Mr Kyriazidis admits that austerity has created real hardship in the health service, but he argues that the old system was wasteful, and needed reform.

He is dismissive of Syriza's plans to increase spending once again, on health, on education, on everything.

"Syriza says they'll spend more money, but they don't tell us where they'll find it," Mr Kyriazidis says.

"We'd like to spend more too. But right now we have to live within our means."

"We have to be serious and responsible," he adds. "We shouldn't trick people or lie to them, no matter the political cost."

Many Greeks still share his reservations, but there seems little doubt that more and more people are willing to give Syriza a chance.

Feel betrayed

In a nearby village, Ilias Perintsalis spends his time making toys for his son in a workshop in his back garden.

He is a stonemason by trade, but the work dried up several years ago as the crisis took a firm hold.

Ilias comes from a family with decades of involvement in centre-right politics, but now both he and his elderly father, Kostas, feel betrayed.

Image caption Kostas Perintsalis holds a photo of his younger self with Konstantinos Karamanlis, former prime minister and founder of the New Democracy Party

Both of them are intending to vote for Syriza.

"We've been humiliated," Ilias argues. "All the old parties are responsible - they've destroyed our democracy."

And while the election isn't over until all the votes are counted, Syriza is making ground by convincing people that it is now a viable alternative.

In Drama it certainly feels like the stage is set for change.

"It's been too far, too fast," Yiannis Tsakiris says of five years of austerity, as he rolls another cigarette.

"A lot of people here feel they have nothing left to lose."

"It rains a lot more in Manchester," he admits with a laugh, before becoming serious again.

"Maybe I'll go back to the UK. I'm worried about the future, and I'm worried about my family."

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