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Greek crisis vexes Astoria immigrants

Vasilios Gatzonis, 72, shows a picture of his home in Greece. Gatzonis, who works at an Astoria meat market, says mismanaged government money and a coddled workforce have led to Greece's financial crisis. Photo by Rebecca Henely
TimesLedger Newspapers

Astoria’s Greeks characterized the approval of a new property tax intended to stave off the growing financial crisis in their home country as the unfortunate but inevitable consequence of years of waste and overspending by the government.

“It had to be done,” said George Giannoutsos, 39, who works at the Pita Pan, at 37-17 30th Ave. in Astoria. “The government needs money.”

Greece’s parliament, currently led by Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou of the Socialist Party, voted 155-142 with three abstaining to approve the property tax, which will be collected through electric bills, Sept. 27.

The property tax is expected to raise a significant sum for the government and cut into 80 percent of Greece’s households, which could pay the equivalent of $1,045 to $2,041 in euros a year at a time when 16 percent of the population is unemployed, The New York Times reported.

Yet despite the new tax, Greece’s financial problems have hung heavily on the stock market in recent weeks, dragging down the major indexes in the United States and Europe.

“This situation is very bad and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” said Jimmy Tromaras, 54, who works at Mediterranean Foods, at 28-13 31st St. in Astoria.

While some Greek citizens have protested and others are threatening not to pay the taxes, Greek residents of Astoria, which has the largest Greek population outside the country, said the austerity measures were needed.

Tromaras said it was time for Greeks to pay taxes that they had not for many years, although he questioned why all of the deficit needed to be paid off right away.

“It’s hard for the middle class people to survive,” Tromaras said.

Vasilios Gatzonis, 72, who works at the Akropolis Meat Market, at 31-04 30th Ave. in Astoria, put the blame equally on the politicians, who he said took money meant to develop Greece for themselves, and the civil servant work force, which he said enjoys huge benefits that he does not get working in America.

“The government, they don’t work more than 35 hours a week,” Gatzonis said. “And plus, they don’t do their jobs.”

He said the government should work to pay back the money and the young people in Greece should pay taxes instead of protest. He also said Greek youth needed to learn to do manual labor jobs instead of immigrants who come in from other countries and send the money back home.

“The same when I come into this country,” Gatzonis, who sent money back to Greece when he was younger. “But this is a big country. Over there, there’s not enough.”

Dimitris Iusifidis, 23, said he was not too concerned by the situation since his home is now in America, but he pointed out that many were trying to move out of Greece. His own family had moved to Cyprus and he does not expect to go back for five to six years.

“They expect the problem is going to get worse,” Iusifidis said. “They expect three or four generations to fix this.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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Rudy from Astoria says:
The Greek people in Astoria don't pay taxes.
Sept. 7, 2013, 10:05 pm

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